Riding Shotgun: Two Johns, a Jackass, and
Why Honors English Teachers Should Review All Campaign Speeches

Politics … what a mess.

July 6, 2004

Well, the ticket is set. Bush and Cheney vs. Kerry and Edwards. The title bout of the new millennium. Two old white dudes vs. two somewhat younger (but not really because 50-something is still over the hill, even if he does wear the years well) white dudes. The biggest political fight since Aaron Burr asked Alexander Hamilton if he’d like to step outside.

The Republicans are standing firm in their role as the bastion of patriotism and American might. The Democrats are getting ready to dodge and weave as the cagey underdogs in an election that will decide the fate of this country … and Iraq … maybe Afghanistan. Actually Saudi Arabia, Israel, Iran, and, if Tony Blair can somehow fit his head any farther up into Bush’s patoot, Great Britain as well.

Big fight. Big stakes. It’s Vegas, baby!

The Republicans are wagering that the political giants of Bush, Inc. will weather the economic fallout and casualty count and coast in on a wave of patriotic pride fanned up by the watching ghost of Ronald Reagan.

The Democrats are wagering that they won’t.

Kerry and Edwards. Edwards and Kerry. Doesn’t exactly have that ring to it, does it? Butch and Sundance. Starsky and Hutch. Lewis and Clark. And now, Kerry and Edwards.

It makes me want to fucking cry.

Here the Dems are, going up against what their hard-liners view as the most dangerous, incompetent and criminal administration since Nero pulled a Jack Benny on his Stradivarius.

“What fire, man? I’m just fiddlin’.”

Here they are, going up against Darth Vader without the helmet and his wacky sidekick Texas Pete, and they’ve got … John Kerry and John Edwards. The Two Johns. John Squared. Square Johns. Could these guys be any whiter? I’m the palest person I know. I’m part Scottish — a country that hasn’t seen the sun since the Earth cooled — and I feel downright ethnic next to these honkies.

Even the name John. It’s the name you give the nameless: John Doe, a hooker’s johns, Johnny-come-lately. I know it’s JFK’s moniker, and he was a New England cracker too, but he was fucking Marilyn Monroe. I don’t see Edwards or Kerry banging Gwyneth Paltrow anytime soon.

Bland. Lifeless. Unmemorable. Edwards could walk into my office and give me a lap dance, and I wouldn’t remember him five minutes later. And no matter how much snowboarding he does, Kerry still looks like he stepped out of the tuberculosis page of a medical textbook.

This ticket is like a cheese sandwich on Wonder Bread with extra mayo, thank you very much. Sure, it’ll take care of the hunger pangs, but it’s about as satisfying as … well, as a lap dance from John Edwards.

And I’m still going to vote for them.

I gotta say, I wasn’t surprised about Edwards, and I wasn’t overjoyed either. I learned about it as it was announced, over cereal this morning. My first thought was: Bland. Bland. Bland. Bland. Bland. Bland. Bland. Bland. Bland … But at least he’s not Gephardt.

Gephardt had been the politicos’ favorite for the pick in the days leading up to the announcement, and he’d have been a lead weight — a lame-duck albatross (pardon the foul metaphor) around Kerry’s neck going into November. Sure, he’s a big-name Dem with Midwestern clout, but he’s vied for the Democratic nomination twice now, and those who know him only peripherally already equate the name with failure. He’s been around forever, and people figure that if he was any good, he’d have been president already. Thus the lame duck label.

And he has no eyebrows. That’s creepy, man.

So what does Edwards bring to the table?

According to the DC wonks who are supposed to know about this shit — the same wonks that were betting on Gephardt — Edwards brings the South, or at least some of it. Edwards is a senator from North Carolina and has been for all of six years. And when the leadership of the Democratic Party thinks Southern white person, they think of the warden in “Cool Hand Luke,” or maybe an amalgamation of the cast of extras from “Inherit The Wind.”

They envision that the thought process of the average white Southerner goes something like: “Well, I don’t know about what that there Bush is doing with the economy and Iraq and all, but at least he’s a good Southern boy. That Kerry fella’s just a Yankee without any zip and fizz.”

They hope Edwards will reverse that.

As for the average black Southerner — well, they just get written off by both parties: By the Republicans who figure they’ll never win them over, and by the Democrats who figure they’ve got them locked in.

There about eight good solid things wrong with the above statements, not the least of which is that I completely made up the phrase “zip and fizz,” for which I apologize to everyone below the Mason-Dixon.

Here are the other seven.

  1. Bush isn’t a Southern boy because Texas is not really “the South,” just like Florida isn’t “the South,” and neither is Maryland, no matter what people in New York think.
  2. Democrats don’t envision the thought process of the average white Southerner, because they believe white Southerners don’t actually have thoughts.
  3. The majority of Southerners know exactly what Bush is doing with “the economy and Iraq and all,” because a good chunk of them are out of work and/or in Iraq and all.
  4. The Democrats do not have the black vote locked in.
  5. The Republicans can win them over, but only if they embrace the economic needs of the working class and convince the magic toad that lives in the wood to grant them their three wishes.
  6. The vote in the South cannot be split along racial boundaries. This is perhaps the biggest fallacy. The vote in the South can be split (just as it can throughout much of the country) along financial boundaries. A poor white man has more in common in regards to needs and ideology with a poor black man than with an upper middle-class white man.
  7. And even in “the South,” where they drink their tea real sweet and everyone is a supporting character in an Uncle Remus featurette, nothing is simple enough that slapping a local boy on the ticket is going to work on its own.

So yeah, I don’t know about Edwards.

July 13, 2004

I saw Ralph Nader last night. That’s right, Nader. Champion of the consumer. Third-party cover-boy. The Republican’s secret friend. The bane of Democrats everywhere.

I decided he’s not half as stupid as I thought he was. No, “stupid” doesn’t describe Ralph Nader. Blind, ignorant, incompetent and horrendously out of touch with the country, its people and the state of the world, but not stupid.

Maybe I’m being harsh, but somebody has to. Somebody has to slap this man’s nose with a rolled-up newspaper and tell him to stop pissing on the carpet.

Now, I know there are a lot of Nader-lovers out there reading this and shutting your brains down to what seems to be a Democrat still ticked off about Florida four years ago. Well, let me set the record straight. Gore lost Florida four years ago because of Gore, not because of Nader, not because of hanging chads or the Florida State Supreme Court or the vast right-wing conspiracy. He lost that election because he ran one of the most stupefyingly inept campaigns in the history of politics and deserved to lose. Although the country did not deserve to get Bush.

I hold no particular animosity toward Ralph Nader. I just think he’d make a shitty president. Yes, he was a champion for the little guy, but that was 30 years ago and he’s done little over the last few years except run for president.

Yesterday, he was at the Borders on the corner of 18th and L, half-stumping for his campaign and half-promoting his new book. That he can take an hour-and-a-half to sit before a hundred or so people squished between the beginning of the fiction section and the Hallmark cards might be laudable, but hardly lends to his credibility as a serious candidate.

It’s standing room only and I’m in the back, so no real looky-loo for me. I do get the little thrill of having Nader slide past me to get around to the front. It’s over in an instant, and the impression I’m left with is gray. Gray suit. Gray hair. Gray skin. Gray man.

Over shoulders and between heads, I get a window on his face, and it’s a cigar-store Indian. No expression. No smiles. He looks dour, a man best left alone to his whiskey and beer in some Michigan steelman’s bar. He looks like a man working with negative charisma, and I’m right.

The first question out of the gate is, “Why are you running for President when you’ve got no chance in hell and all you’re going to do is split the liberal votes and get Bush back in the White House?” or something like that. And we’re off.

From the beginning, he’s fighting an uphill battle against a mainly hostile audience and his own misconceptions. He denies that he’s doing the Republicans any favors.

“I’ll be taking votes away from the Republicans,” he says with a straight face, maintaining that he will draw more votes from conservatives sick of Bush than anybody else.

He shrugs off accusations that right-wing groups are trying furiously to get him on the ballot in an attempt to draw votes from Kerry. He defends his candidacy by attacking the two major parties, calling them one and the same and accusing both of being in the pockets of large corporations.

He throws out issues that no one’s thought about in three years: safety, accessible health care, environmental poisoning, the growing chasm between the poorest and richest of Americas citizens. It’s all good stuff, but it gets lost in his own poorly-crafted sound bites that come off like orphaned punchlines.

He seems defensive and a little indignant and worst of all, naive, which is the last thing you want to be in this kind of dogfight.

But then he says the smartest thing of the evening. The only redeeming point. “Make them answerable,” he pleads. “Don’t give Kerry a free ticket. Make him answer these questions.”

An Anyone-But-Bush philosophy will give that Anyone a free pass to the highest seat of power in the land without having to work for it, he contends. By all means, get Bush out, but don’t give away the country while doing it.

Funny thing. Shortly in, I realize that Nader is convinced that Bush is going to lose. And he knows that he won’t be the man to beat him. Ralph Nader has more faith in John Kerry’s success than most Democrats do. That’s why he’s not afraid of running and drawing a tiny percentage of liberal voters. That’s why he’s not sitting this one out. That’s why he has no problem pissing off 50 percent of the nation to get his point out there.

It’s a little ironic.

Wanna know something else that’s funny? While Nader’s point is that this country desperately needs more choices, that it needs to break the two-party cycle with viable third-, even fourth- and fifth-party candidates, he’s definitely not the man for the job. He’s a narrow-visioned, uncharismatic policy wonk who has never held elected office and probably never should.

If he believes otherwise, then that makes him blind, ignorant, incompetent and horrendously out-of-touch. If he believes he shouldn’t, and is campaigning purely to make a point, than he really is the selfish spotlight addict that the Democratic leaders accuse him of being.

Either way, he’s the wrong face to put on serious problems. On the other hand, he’s perfect for the Before shot in an ad for Prozac.

July 30, 2004

The Democratic National Convention is over. Four days, a thousand balloons, a billion and one speeches from the Good (Bill Clinton), the Bad (Ted Kennedy), the Ugly (Dennis Kucinich) and even the Unknown (Barack Obama) of the party’s elite.

Oh, the thrills. Oh, the chills. Oh, the something else.

How to describe this spectacle, this conflagration of delegates, lobbyists and sex workers? Well, why not use the party’s made-to-order tag line? “HOPE IS ON THE WAY.”

“When you wake up and you’re sitting at the kitchen table with your kids and you’re talking about the great possibilities in America, your kids should know that John and I believe to our core that tomorrow can be better than today,” vice-presidential nominee John Edwards told the crowd. “We choose hope over despair, possibilities over problems, optimism over cynicism.


“HOPE IS ON THE WAY!” (That’s what the crowd chanted back at him.)


(So now, that’s the semi-official tag line of this campaign, and none of the Kerry-Edwards handlers are denying it.)


Ah, yes. Hope. It’s on the way.

It’s not here right now, but it’s coming. Right now, at the present, hope is not here. We are, currently, hopeless. We are without hope. We will be with hope shortly (it’s on the way, after all) but right now, we’ll have to do without.

Nope, no hope here. We like hope. We think hope’s a good thing. We are definitely pro-HOPE. We would like to HOPE that John Kerry’s campaign will take him to victory in November. We would like to HOPE that the Democrats can take back Congress. We would like to HOPE that the Kerry/Edwards team can snatch the White House from the clutches of Dick Cheney and the Masters of Evil and use their quantum technology powered by wavy hair and smiles to put right what once went wrong.

We would like to HOPE these things. But we can’t. Because HOPE’s not here yet. Don’t worry. It’s on its way. Sometimes they can’t find your apartment, but it’ll be here. And if it isn’t here in thirty minutes, it’s free!

I certainly ho… anticipate that a speech writer, somewhere, is getting severely reamed for this.


I hope.

Article © 2004 by Steve Spotswood