Homesick for the Country I’m Living In

How is it, do you suppose, that a couple of nice Kiwi lads are able to express the precise mix of hope, fear, nostalgia, and regret that the final phase of the 2004 presidential campaign is inspiring in me? From the Finn Brothers’ new Everyone Is Here comes Homesick (4.4 MB mp3 file):

At the shopping mall
I’m surrounded by a parking lot
Walking down the aisle
I was thinking about what I had lost

On a Sunday morning
My hometown is feeling strange to me
In the stadium
Dark forces are gathering

For the people that I live with
For the spirit I’m missing
For the country that I’m living in

What kind of country am I living in? Is the willingness of half of it, more or less, to vote for Bush actually, in Janeane Garofalo’s words, a national character flaw?

Dishonesty is rampant. Joshua Marshall talks about the supreme wackiness of Allawi’s performance on the Newshour tonight: An amazing exchange… The “votemaster” at points out how polls are swinging wildly, sometimes by 10 points or more, for no particular reason. “Such wide swings are just not believable in the absence of major news. The only variable being changed is which pollster is doing the reporting.” Indeed.

I also really liked this cartoon from Jeff Danziger:

danziger cartoon

So if this kind of dishonest politicking can work, what does it mean about the state of democracy in this country? I know there are thoughtful, informed voters who nevertheless intend to vote for Bush, but I’m not really worried about them, and Bush isn’t focusing on them. No, as throughout his presidency, he’s taking the low road, focusing on voters who can be misled with an appeal to their gut, as long as they don’t bother doing any fact-checking. Ted Rall wrote a piece recently where he talked about the triumph of the stultocracy, and proposed that the ignorant be required to pass a basic political literacy test before voting. The idea has a certain appeal, I admit, but in practice it wouldn’t solve anything; once started down the slippery slope of limiting which citizens were worthy of the franchise, it would just be a matter of time before anti-democratic forces were rigging the tests to guarantee their own side’s success. No, this is just an inherent risk of democracy: you let the people get too complacent and ignorant, let them be raised on television while letting public education atrophy, and you get the government you deserve. This is the electorate we’re stuck with; the nation will rise or fall based on the quality of its collective judgment.

But it isn’t a foregone conclusion, at least at this point, that the electorate will prove inadequate in the face of Bush’s dishonesty. In a little over a month the election will be over, and based on the outcome I’ll be telling myself one of two things: that the American democracy really does work, or, if a few votes go the other way, that it is in fact thoroughly broken, and we’re doomed.

But the country will actually be pretty much the same country either way. Maybe Jeb will (or won’t) be able to use assorted skullduggery to deliver Florida. Maybe the Supreme Court Five will reprise their role of leaning on the scales. Maybe we’ll even end up having the election decided by a state-by-state vote in the House of Representatives.

But whatever happens, whichever way the ball bounces, the United States will remain the same thing it was before: at once familiar and strange, depressing and inspiring. It’s my country, for better or worse, and it is what it is.

First you make me hungry
Then you feed me something I don’t want
There’s no satisfaction
For an aching heart
But life goes on


2 Responses to “Homesick for the Country I’m Living In”

  1. IXLNXS Says:

    And wondering what became of Democracy should lead you to understanding how both present political parties have been bought out. Bush and Kerry cut from the same mold with the differences soo subtle as to be non existent.

    And yes a Nader vote is a wasted vote, but………….

    If enough people vote for Nader we could get a third party on the ticket with matching federal funds. I myself would rather two new parties emerged giving America a one in four chance of getting someone who actually has the best interest of all Americans in mind rather than the two party system that forever caters to corporations and the rich.

  2. thomas Says:

    In the 2000 election I thought what you proposed was a grand idea. I, living in Texas, cast my vote for Nadar. Logic being there was no way a Democrat was going to take Bush’s home state and matching funds to the green party would really get the environment the attention it deserves. I thought to myself that I can’t be the only person that thinks this way, using a vote in a productive manner to advance democracy. Nadar got less than 2% of the vote in Texas in 2000. I was shocked. Problem is, IMHO, that people just do not think rationally in this manner. Emotion carries the day.

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