It goes to show you never can tell...

>> Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Back in 2000, I was one of those people who voted for Ralph Nader.

I had my reasons. Some of them turned out to be based on incorrect premises, but with the knowledge I had or thought I had, they made a certain amount of sense. For instance, one of the biggest reasons for voting for Nader in 2000 was that I erroneously believed it would help the Green Party receive public matching funds in future elections--which wasn't an unfounded belief, but turned out to be incorrect insofar as North Carolina went with the Greens not actually having a ballot presence, or something along those lines. (Honestly, I could look up the legal details I used to know that explained why I thought I was helping and how I wasn't helping, but it's beside the ultimate point of this entry.)

Another factor, of course, was that North Carolina was going to George Bush as a given thing in 2000. If I'd lived in Florida, or if the polls in North Carolina had been as close eight years ago as they are this year, of course these would have been things to think about. I'm not saying for sure my final decision would have been different--Gore ran an awful campaign with a crypto-Republican running mate, Dubya-2000 seemed like a mostly harmless Amway salesman, and I don't think anyone had ever seen Nader act like a douche the way he did in 2004.

It's those last bits that start honing in on what prompted this entry. There are at least two Al Gores and two George Bushes. We'll come back to the Messrs. Bushes in a minute, but as for the Gores. There was this one Al Gore who was constipated, cranky, centrist Democrat beholden to the conservative DLC. And there's this other Al Gore who is kind of a firebrand who--right or wrong (I'm not trying to start a debate on anthropogenic global warming with this post)--is passionate about the environment, says what's on his mind, is self-effacing, and has a dry but very funny sense of humor. One of those Al Gores is somebody I would have voted for, but the other one actually ran for President. And the sad thing is that I really hope the one I'd vote for never does run, because I think he's happier and cooler and more-effective as a not-President, plus I'm afraid the other Gore ("Evil Al Gore," you could call him) will beam in from space or possess Cool Al Gore via a cursed tiki statue if somebody talks Cool Al Gore into running. And I really detest Evil Al Gore, let me tell you.

But that's also off on a tangent--as we wind into our subject, we should talk about the two George Bushes. The first George W. Bush, the one who ran in 2000, was this kind of harmless-seeming conservative businessman-type who I didn't much agree with--I'm opposed to his politics and have no use for his religion--but he seemed mostly harmless, really, and one had to concede (even if one disagreed with him) that he really genuinely seemed to care about education and juvenile issues. Whether that was the woman behind the throne or something innate to him hardly matters. And if one didn't agree with his views on government spending, well at least his opposition to what he called "nation building" suggested a restrained military and foreign policy agenda, not necessarily a bad thing, you know?

What we didn't know, of course, and it might have changed my vote, was that religious extremists were well into a plot to destroy a few buildings and kill some people. And we didn't know, of course, that George W. Bush, the mostly-harmless-seeming reincarnation of Hoover (and that should have been a tell!) would react badly. "Badly" as in "make a sweeping executive power grab and invade the wrong country" badly.

You never, as the old folks and Chuck Berry said, can tell. Maybe there never were two Bushes, just the one who took off his mask after September 2001. Or maybe there were a pair of them, muddled twin and evil muddled twin, vying for power in George Bush's psyche as seen in so many bad thrillers where the main character has the Hollywood version of Multiple Personality Disorder. Maybe, as some cynics have suggested, the Iraq invasion was just one of those things destined to happen, and not a neoconservative fantasy given shape and motion by a shocking (but really, in the great scheme of things, small) national disaster. (Can we admit that it was small, finally, seven years later, or is it still too soon? Are we finally, at last, allowed to say that the deaths were violent and horrible and senseless, but that most deaths are, and to confess that what really shocked us, more than anything else, was that we all felt in our gut that it couldn't happen here? That we were used to these things happening in Dublin and Beirut and on the Isle Of Cyprus, why yes, but in New York or DC--no, these things happen overseas, don't you know that from CNN and the morning papers? These things happen overseas and usually to foreigners or maybe the occasional American tourist or Marine or diplomat, okay, but not to people sitting in their offices checking e-mail and drinking lattes in New fucking York, not to them and certainly not there on a bright young morning....)

And now, now we finally begin to come to the point, the raison d'être of today's entry. That this man who is President now isn't recognizable as the man who ran for President in 2000, and is so far from the man he ran against, for that matter, that it boggles the mind. In 2000, frankly, I found the two men a little indistinguishable. Bland men in suits, they were, who sometimes had trouble speaking clearly and had vague policies, who distanced themselves from their obvious forebears (Gore from Clinton, Bush from his father). It was even hard to tell their running mates apart from a distance, or at least to figure out which running-mate was actually more conservative. Sure, the differences are obvious now: Al Gore wouldn't have invaded Iraq, wouldn't have expanded executive authority, wouldn't have authorized torture, probably wouldn't have spied on Americans, wouldn't have just partially-nationalized the banking industry--

Aha. There it is. We finally got to the thing that inspired this post. The news that we--as in all of us, as in the United States, as in We The People--are buying $250,000,000,000 worth of bank stock.

Now, here's the rub: regular readers know I'm a lefty. A recent online political test even called me a "socialist" to my face, and I beg to agree, frankly. That is, I'm not sure I'm really still a socialist, but I used to self-identify as one in my youth, and seeing it in pixels warms the cooling cockles of my heart and reminds me of when I was less cynical and resigned--ah the glory days of my youth, when I believed in things! So I'm not opposed to the government running certain industries or being invested in them; matter-of-fact, I think government can probably run some things more equitably than the public sector, guaranteeing that certain necessities like healthcare remain accessible to the consumer even when they're unprofitable for the provider. I know several of my regular readers, even the more liberal ones, disagree with that, and starting a debate on economics isn't really the point of this post, either. No, the point is: oooooh, the irony!

See, here is the very last thing I expected in 2000, when I wrote Ralph Nader's name on the screen as a passive-aggressive, futile left-wing gesture: the very last thing I expected was that one of the last major acts of the slightly-more-conservative, Republican candidate for President would be to partially nationalize the banking sector. This is why William Gibson quit writing science fiction, kids, because it is just too fucking weird to be believed. "So wait," my 2000 self would have said to my time-traveling future self if I'd dropped by to say hello, "you're telling me that George fucking Bush is going to semi-socialize the largest banks in the United States through a stock buy?" And then my 2000 self would have punched my time-traveling self in the nose and told him to go to hell. I mean, what the ever-loving fuck?

So I voted for Nader in 2000. What can I say? I didn't know. Nobody did. Go figure. Huh. How about that?


Ilya Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 1:02:00 PM EDT  

I'd say that as a single terrorist act 9/11 was still monstrous - what other non-wartime act has caused deaths of almost 3,000 people in one swoop? But I see your point about unbelieveability of it happening on the US soil being the biggest shock.

Eric Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 1:29:00 PM EDT  

Any terrorist act that causes the loss of life is monstrous, and so are many that don't.

I absolutely do not want to diminish the murders of 3,000 people. Indeed, I replaced the word "deaths," which I started to write, with "murders" because we are talking about the wanton, cruel, premeditated act of killing thousands who, if they were at war with religious extremists, didn't know it.

But I also want some sense of perspective and honesty back. We've tried outrage, and look where it's gotten us. We need, as a country, to step back and take a long, deep breath, and to hold it, and to let it out, and to take an objective look at the what and how and why of what happened; that it had happened before, and will happen again, that it was different in degree but not kind, that terrorist attacks on American lives when they have happened in the past, haven't always been at the hands of foreigners (c.f. Oklahoma City, 1996 Atlanta Olympics, sundry acts by serial-killer Ted Kaczynski, et al.). We need to learn to see 9/11 not as a beginning, nor as an ending, but as a series of events with history behind them and consequence trailing after.

Nathan Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 1:48:00 PM EDT  

On the semi-nationalizing of the banks...yeah. Holy Shit. And I haven't seen any news media getting at all excited over it. It's only a fucking monumental sea-change.

On 9/11...I've said this before, but I think our reaction to it should have been solely to go after Bin Ladin. I think pretty much every other development in "Homeland Security" has been a horrible mistake. The money we've spent, the freedoms we've eroded, the time we've wasted, the inconveniece we've tolerated...all of it a huge fucking waste. And I'd say the same thing even if there'd been a follow up attack. The proper response to terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized.

vince Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 8:02:00 PM EDT  

I think what all of this has shown is that events change people - sometimes for better, sometimes for worse; sometimes in predictable ways, sometimes in wholly unpredictable ways.

Kathy,  Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 8:18:00 PM EDT  

I agree about Al Gore--he was lame as a candidate but is totally cool as an eco-crusader, even calling for civil disobedience recently. Maybe there's something to that "power corrupts" thing and he's over it now. I was glad when he did not step up to run this time around--we need him much more where he is. Here's hoping Barack Obama doesn't have an evil twin!

And, oh, I wrote in Ralph Nader's name as a futile lefty gesture too. It felt good at the time...

Jeri Tuesday, October 14, 2008 at 11:34:00 PM EDT  

Way back when, I actually voted for Perot the first time around. (I wasn't much into detail-level politics when I was that young.) My thinking was that the economy was so totally screwed up that a kazillionaire businessman would probably do better at the reins than a traditional politician.

Plus, I like the Ferengi. ;)

I'm not sure how I feel about the nationalization of the bank system. Unlike you, I don't view nationalization with optimism, as a chance at balance & equity... I have grave concerns about inefficiency, insufficient oversight, administrative corruption and lackadaisical execution.

I guess we just need to wait and see.

Eric Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 1:01:00 AM EDT  

Tell ya' the truth, Jeri, this whole thing is so out of the middle of what-the-hell-ville that I don't know how I feel about it yet. As I said, I'm not opposed to nationalism, but this is really pretty damn bizarre, and like Nathan said, nobody seems to be paying that much mind to just how weird it is that a conservative Republican has just semi-socialized the banks.

It's kind of like if someone went out and got you something you wouldn't mind having--an XBox360, let's say, or you can substitute something else you'd rather have--and then hit you in the back of the head with it while you weren't looking, shouting, "Here, bozo!" while he did it. You might eventually be appreciative of the fact you now have an XBox (or whatever), but for the present moment you're, you know, lying on the ground with blood pouring out the side of your head wondering what the hell just happened.

Eric Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 1:03:00 AM EDT  

Er--that should have been nationalization, not nationalism. Sorry. It's clearly time for me to go to bed.

Nathan Wednesday, October 15, 2008 at 9:57:00 AM EDT  

My knee-jerk reaction to nationalizing anything is "Oh crap. I'm in Cuba". Without putting a great deal of thought into it, I just don't see it as a path to success.

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