What's goin' on?

These days it's hard to tell one political party from the other.

I was brought up in a political home. My parents were immigrants and my dad a union leader. Furthermore, we were a white family living in a black and Hispanic neighborhood during the civil rights era and later the Black Panther, Brown Beret, KKK, Yippie, Weatherman, SDS, SLA and any-other-letter-combination-you-could-think-of days.

We used to talk about political issues around the dinner table and it was never boring. Of course, politics took on a certain life-and-death urgency back then. During just one year while I was in school, we lived through the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy, horrible inner-city riots, the Tet offensive in Vietnam, Chicago Democratic Convention, the ascension of redneck George Wallace to national prominence and election of Richard Nixon, among many other things. And to put an otherworldly exclamation point to 1968, the year ended with astronauts orbiting the moon and reading from the Bible. Still and all, those were heady times.

Alas, politics these days are more closely associated with a different part of the body. They stink out loud. This election year might be relatively interesting in other parts of the country. However, here in Arizona we tend to have only two kinds of elected officials--those who cling desperately to whatever power they have accumulated and those who are attempting to claw their way up to a higher level on the Power Ladder.

For whatever reason--maybe it's the heat--we tend to elect a high percentage of morons. Occasionally, you might get someone that the media tries to portray as colorful, but in the end, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is merely a buffoon.

And look at the idiot who's heading the state Senate. Randall Gnant has, in an incredibly short period time, managed to alienate just about everybody. He lies; he backs out of deals. He insults entire races of people. (Dude, it's been decades since it was considered OK to make political hay by screwing Indians.)

To be fair, Gnant may not have been in complete control of his faculties at the time. See, he had to stand up to vote and all the blood rushed out of his head, because, for the past several months, he has apparently been bent over, grabbing his ankles, for the racetrack industry.

However, not all of the jerks are that easy to identify. In fact, it's often hard to tell one party from the other these days. For example:

Both sides claim to be for education. Democrats do so partly because they need to keep the teachers unions. Republicans do it just to see if there's anybody stupid enough out there to believe them. A Republican's idea of aid to education is to give some rich guy who sends his kids to private school a tax credit for having done so.

On this issue, while they both make public claims, Democrats care infinitely more about education than do Republicans. Of course, when one side cares zero, all the other side has to do is post a number equal to or greater than one to provide an infinite margin.

Plus, while Republicans despise teachers unions, I lament the fact that we live in a society where teachers are forced to form unions just to get about half the pay they deserve.

Both sides publicly support George W. Bush's foreign policy, although I suspect that if the Israel mess gets any worse (and how can it not?), we're going to see Bush's approval numbers fall off a cliff. The Dems don't want to appear unpatriotic, while the GOP guys keep buying lottery tickets because you have to ride a streak of dumb luck.

Oh, there are some issues on which they publicly disagree. Democrats are generally in favor of protecting the environment at all costs, while Republicans are gleefully willing to destroy it as long as the cost comes with a profit.

Republicans want tax cuts for the rich. Democrats want to balance the budget. The GOP screamed for years about the importance of balancing the budget, but when the Demos went ahead and balanced it, the GOP said, "Well, it's not that important." Since stealing the White House, the GOP has spent every hour of the George W. Bush administration trying to un-balance the budget.

For the most part, it's getting harder and harder to distinguish one candidate from another. We need something substantial with which to tell them apart. So, over the next few months, as the elections heat up, I'm going to provide a public service on these pages. I'm going to go beyond the issues to provide real insight into those who are standing for public office. The questions may be a bit offbeat, but the responses will be enlightening.

Now, imagine if I asked people to name their favorite Marvin Gaye song. Environmentalists would pick "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Demos would go for the politically charged "What's Goin' On?" (Republicans would opt for the version now being used in commercials, taking obvious delight in how his cry in the wilderness had been co-opted to sell a product.)

Libertarians would choose "Let's Get It On," and the Greens would pick "Sexual Healing." And if the candidate is with the Christian Coalition, they won't choose anything, because they'd refuse to listen to anybody named "Gaye."

I've got lots of categories and I'll drop them in from time to time as the election nears. The candidates' responses will simply be for entertainment purposes, but then so too are most of their "stances" on the issues.

By the time November rolls around, I want you to go into that polling booth and say, "I'm voting for this guy. He thinks 24 is a much better show than The Sopranos.