Tonic Time

Presidential Politics Needs A Jolt Of Medicine.
By Jeff Smith

YOU TAKE THE high road and I'll take the low road, and I'll be in Scotland afore ye.

Smith ...which comes to us courtesy of the legendary political spin-doctor Robert Burns. Of course Burns also wrote about mice. "Wee cow'rin, skeekit, tim'rous beastie," he called them, so what the hell has he got to say to the sons and daughters of the American pioneers today?

Well as near as I can make out from the tea leaves, chicken bones and entrails, the Nostradamus of the heather sees Bob Dole forsaking Kansas for the Scottish highlands. Let's get real about this: Bob Dole is about to get hammered as bad if not worse than George McGovern or Barry Goldwater when they ran for president against comparably amoral, but nonetheless popular, presidents. Bob Dole is a proud man: If he must slink away with his tail between his legs, he'd just as well do it out of sight of the American public eye. Bob Dole is a pragmatic man: He's helped agribusiness megacorporations like Archer-Daniels Midland turn his native midwestern air foul with the stench of processing and profiteering, so a lilac-scented heath in the land of the dour and the Dewars makes good sense. All these references to the Republican candidate by full name make me sound like Blob Dough himself.

Anyhow, Bob has taken the low road, and it damn sure ain't taking him to the White House, so Scotland afore ye seems the logical destination. I can't say I'll miss him; nor, for that matter, will the nation. Not in any substantive sense. Sure, the right wing will sentimentalize over his parting and mourn his defeat, and they'll predict dire things of ominous portent, in the manner of those other famous Scottish seers, the witches from MacBeth, and some of those things will come true because Bill Clinton is not, after all, a man of pure and deep conviction. But if the conservative movement in America really had the right product and the right pitch, they'd have made a sale. They didn't and they didn't.

Neither as product nor as pitchman did Bob Dole win the hearts or minds of a majority even of his own party, which is why he took the took the low road, why he lost and why he will not be missed.

He just made a very ugly spectacle of what by rights should be a wholesome and holy ritual in America.

I am not nearly the fan of William Jefferson Clinton that I was four years ago when I saw hope embodied in the man from Hope. My hopes were for universal health care, public financing of political campaigns, an end to pissing away cash on some phony war on drugs and a reallocation of that cash into education and treatment of addiction as illness.

Didn't see it happen. What I didn't expect was a sniping war against the Bill of Rights and other guarantees of individual rights like the writ of habeas corpus. Got too much of that.

But for all that disappoints me about Bill Clinton, I am not willing to replace him with a man who belongs to the Rich White Lawyers and Capitalists Club from the U.S. Senate. Especially one who has made it so embarrassingly clear he thinks the presidency is a bone he should be thrown for a lost arm and a long and lost career on Capitol Hill, and who will swim through the sewers to win it.

I am not surprised questions of impropriety in campaign fund-raising have themselves been raised by candidate Dole. What surprises me is the monotony of Dole's message, as to substance and to style. Hell, he repeats everything three times, each rep getting a little duller and a little flatter. Kind of like Kansas. What surprises me is that he has nothing else to say, that it seems not to have dawned on him that everybody knows he and his fellow Republicans are similarly bought and sold--to many of the same influence buyers--and that neither his message nor his medium is selling to the American public.

And this bit about being the most optimistic man in America? Jesus, he's so out of touch with reality and truth it's positively frightening.

At least it would be if I weren't such a slut for black humor.

What I hope comes out of this demeaning mess of a presidential campaign is the realization that we simply can't leave our most important political decisions to two-party apparati and a cast of power-greedy/cash-generous moneychangers. The only way to reform the process is to take money out of it as far as is possible, and that is by taxpayer financing of election campaigns. I don't buy the current Supreme Court dogma that to deny a rich man the opportunity to buy an election is to deny the man his right of free expression. I know that to allow this is to deny the millions of others who are not rich their First Amendment rights.

I expect, within my lifetime, to see this simple reform happen. And when it does you will truly be amazed what a tonic it proves for the entire American political process. TW

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