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On Third Party Candidates

vermin-supremeOne day and counting. In thirty-six anxiety-soaked hours we are likely to have an idea of who will be the next President of the United States of America and, quite possibly, an indication of whether the “Great American Experiment” has failed. It is not an exaggeration to consider that the viability of long-term, large-scale representative democracy faces a symbolic referendum when the polls open tomorrow morning. Really.

Full disclosure: while Hillary Clinton wasn’t my original candidate of choice, I’ve come to respect her for her dogged perseverance in the face of ludicrous assaults — most notably the Benghazi embassy attack (blamed for security lapses following years of repeated funding reductions dictated by Republicans) and even more absurd email server hyperbole (in which her actions were perfectly legal and in keeping with historic precedents set by preceding republican administrations) –and, from her opponent and his allies, an unceasing hurricane of foaming-mouthed lies and invective. Through it all she stuck to her points, refused to sink to the barbaric tones being vomited from the other side, and maintained her dignity. She is a solid, if not particularly exciting candidate, and I mean her no disrespect when I say that I would vote for just about anyone standing against the craven demagogue the Republicans shat out as their choice this time around.

What I won’t be doing is voting for a third party candidate, nor can I respect the naive idealists determined to write in Bernie Sanders, or the clenched-jaws anti-system warriors getting ready to darken the oval next to Jill (Who?) Stein, that Libertarian guy, the other libertarian guy, or anyone from any hopped-up semi-serious party with an ax to grind and an interview to give — not even New Hampshire’s Vermin Supreme who, despite his considerable list of eccentricities, would still make a far superior President than would the Republicans’ resident Oompaloompa.

I just can’t help but look down my nose at the hubris of candidates, and their supporters, who materialize from the deep ether every four years as candidates for “third” (or fourth, fifth, sixth…) parties, but not because I’m satisfied with the very, very limited menu we’re given.

The idea of an outsider candidate, and the daydream of tearing down American political orthodoxy and building anew in the shadow of its ruins, is enticing, even intoxicating. Given the success of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, and its progressive influence on Clinton’s centrist core, I know I’m not alone. Sanders was, of course, the ideal candidate — a morally clean, long-tenured independent with a track record of walking the walk and a willingness to brandish big ideas. It may take another 20 years before we see someone possessing anything close to his tangibles — and therein lies the problem.

That person is surely not Jill Stein or Gary Roberts any more than it has been Ross Perot or the boob from Sunday morning television — what was his name? Pat Buchanan. Or Jerry Brown, or Ralph Nader, who despite being the best of the bunch, fell far short of what was needed to grind out a viable candidacy. Some of these people may have made perfectly adequate leaders, but the problem isn’t really them. They’re guilty by association. Who walks into an office and expects to be considered as a contender for any job with no experience and no background?

Some (mostly young) friends still chide me about “making a stand” and “sending a message” about the two-party system, and tell me that the stakes are always going to be high, and that at some point we need to accept short term losses — and the disastrous administrations that follow — as inevitable examples of losing battles but winning wars.

My grandfather would have called that a cockamamie idea. To me, it is just misguided, ignorant bullshit. Not only does that philosophy overlook the long-ranging tumult that would follow a Trump presidency — the likelihood of three (3!) far-right supreme court justice appointments alone would generate waves of regressive, authoritarian influence thirty years into the future, the repeal of Roe v. Wade, the adoption of climate change denial as a federal policy, the dissolution of military and trade alliances and alienation from those allies, increased economic stratification, and — though it is seldom talked about — the chilling revocation of first amendment free speech rights, the very cornerstone of our nation. Not only are these things — and the many other frightening changes that will quickly go into place — not worth the dissolution of the two-party precedent in American politics, they are changes from which a society never recovers. Indeed, we are facing the prospect of Trump’s “America Is Not Great” mantra as self-fulfilling prophecy.

None of this means that we do not desperately need louder and more varied opposition. I’m skeptical of multi-party governments in general, given the necessity of building political alliances and coalitions — a process that is somewhat approximated by the state elections and nominating conventions — but clearly we will benefit, particularly on the left, from more influence going to viable outliers, much in the way that the Republicans have their Teabaggers and their Evangelicals. Still, it is arrogant for advocates of these factions to demand a seat at the big table “just because.”

Voters will start taking third parties seriously when they begin to take the process seriously. That means no candidacies that are “sending a message.” When I see a viable candidate, with a history of vigorous civic engagement from the ground up, I’ll listen. In the mean time, I demand more work earning this legitimacy and viability. That means serving on local and regional commissions and boards as volunteers, running for and winning local elections right down to the level of school boards and town councils, mayors and commissioners — while identifying themselves and proponents of their ideologies. That is how the parties can be built, by legitimizing them in the community’s perceptions while building candidates who rise into state houses, leaderships, then congress, then the Senate, governorships, and on. Throwing out a didactic intellectual every 4 years to keep up the status quo really isn’t striving for much more than meeting the lowest requirements for parties to remain on the ballots — which is good for those working for a party, but gives nothing to the folks who support it.

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Trump Draws Me Out of My Groundhog Hole

I’m sticking my head out of my rabbit hole…or, to be more regionally themed, let’s call it a Groundhog Hole, in honor of my neighbor to the north, the venerable Punxsy Phil?  I didn’t go into the hole to hibernate, rodent-style, but to focus on the oh so slowly progressing final draft of the part-time novel. My slothlike pace notwithstanding, the novel is going well enough, though somewhat hindered by age: I fall asleep more easily and more often, rendering the old caffeine-fueled process of long-hour writing binges impossible. I’ll be fifty years old in a few weeks, and I seem to be fucking immune to caffeine, which is grim. Many of you who stop by here are writers of some sort or another; you must understand?

The Groundhog Hole. If you’ve never been to Gobbler’s Knob, where Phil makes his annual prognostication, here’s the scene. The Hole is not a hole at all, but a sort of hutch that Phil is taken to from his nice warm full time home at the local library. It is usually bitterly cold and dark, and the hutch is surrounded by thousands of mostly drunk and/or stoned revelers and fanatics and the proverbial shit-tonne of media. Phil is shoved in the back door of the hutch and prodded in the ass until he lurches into the glare of dozens of film crews and hundreds of flash bulbs. Sometimes he freezes in place–like that groundhog you hit with your Buick last spring–or tries to lunge to one side or another. That means an early spring. A late and bitter winter is predicted when he recoils back into the hutch, horrified by the spectacle outside.

That’s pretty much what I’m facing, poking my head out of my own Groundhog Hole–horror. And not like any old horror; we’re talking  Heart of Darkness horror.

I maintained a pretty good attitude about the USA’s political mess for the longest time, and resolved to double down on the novel specifically because I didn’t want to get caught up in the whole thing. It took me a while to get over Bernie Sanders’ loss, and during that time I determined to sit back and revel at the comedy of it all, and from that perspective, Bilious Billionaire Donald Trump has not disappointed. From a primary that so many of us quickly identified as a metaphorical clown car, the 2016 election has exploded into a full-scale circus.

Well, it hasn’t been funny for a while. When my wife and I sat down to watch the third and final debate last night I did so with a distinctly queasy stomach. Trump isn’t the first politician to elicit a distinctly negative physical response. Gingrich and Cheney come to mind, but the smugly pseudo-intellectual serial philanderer and the robotic hate-bucket pale in comparison to the utterly hideous Trump. I look at him and I want to vomit. Then I want to beat him into submission.

I  hate bullies and I hate dumb people who lie to my face when we both know they’re lying. I hate spoiled, entitled pricks; and I hate people whose sheer awfulness compels me to feel that feeling–hate. Growing up, my mom always took me to task for using that word–hate–loosely. “Now that’s an awfully strong word,” was her line. Did I really hate this person or that person?

Sorry mom, I hate Trump. I’d like to beat his stained, flaccid face to pulp–and not in the least because I know that I could. And I can’t help but wonder if that makes me the bully?

The impulse disturbs me. Is the violent disdain I feel for Trump what bullies feel when they’re seeking a vulnerable target, picking a victim to cut out of the herd?  I imagine pummeling the man, his scrawny country-club limbs flapping like something between duck wings and tyrannosaurus arms, and I know it’s ugly, but the smug arrogance, the classification and ensuing dismissal of entire broad swaths of my fellow Americans, begs for it. Maybe the thing about Trump is that he plays so much like he’s a tough guy, when he’s really just another prissy, pasty rich guy. Who disagrees? Who wouldn’t want to knuckle-wipe that smug, entitled smirk from his face?

Fortunately, I have no access to Trump, no chance of being close enough to him that he couldn’t run away and, even if I did, I have something he could never understand: impulse control. (Take note, Secret Service)  Of course, should he happen to hear about my daydream beatdown and seek to call my bluff, I’d be more than happy to oblige.

And, finally–and even more importantly–the one element of a prototypical bullying scenario is missing from the electoral dynamic. A bully seeks a weak victim, and thus far Trump has come up empty. Secretary Clinton, an imperfect candidate on her best day, has proven more than capable of standing up for not only herself but for the countless demographic groups Trump despises. Thus far she has delivered repeated metaphorical beatings of her own–reminding me of the viral video in which the snotty little kid is mercilessly hounding a big, gentle boy right up to the point where the soft kid picks the douchey little kid up and body slams him.

In case you missed it, Trump is the douchey little kid, and just like that punk, when he staggers back to his feet he’s crying like a baby.

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Cruz Vs. Clinton

Screenshot_10I was laughing when I lifted this from Twitter, planning to include it with the other funny posts I referenced in a post of #tedcruzcampaignslogans, but the more I thought about it the more I thought: this ticket would be ideal.

First and foremost, these two aren’t the idiots most of us think they are–oh, they’re simple enough, but the characteristics we deride as stupidity and are actually cynacism.  Politicians like Cruz, and sideshow performers like Palin, know their target demographic: older, conservative, poorly educated, resentful white people.  Their strategy is to rile up the disaffected, rally the numbers, and ride the wave. Cruz wants power, but (bristle if you want, it’s true:) Palin makes millions by running her mouth and posturing; as a candidate she would need to woo moderates and delivers possible solutions–it’s easier to just keep ranting and count the money as it flows in.

That said, despite a field of abrasive, much-loathed contenders like Wisconsin’s Scott Walker and wingnutty Rand Paul, who spits more poison than a cobra, the Republicans have a significant advantage: malaise.

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Hillary is almost a foregone conclusion as the Democratic candidate, and will remain so until some dark horse can buck the political machine and work her way to the top by  coloring outside the line. That horse isn’t coming from Vermont. This is Hillary’s time, and while I supported her enthusiastically against President Obama back in 2008, I really no longer give a single damn.  She would probably make a good enough President, if she could bust through the Obama model of opacity and ponderous bureaucracy and lead in a manner that seems or, better still, actually is hands-on and engaged.

Even if she did that, I’m not sure I’ll be interested.  Ms. Clinton has been at the forefront of current events for 23 years and counting, for good and for ill.  Maybe it is just me, but I’m not feeling a rush.  If anything, I’m dreading the next election cycle, the relentless negativity that has become genetically linked with national politics, the endless posturing to niche groups and special interests, and the fear of provoking the same, that all but eliminates productive debate from either side.

Screenshot_9A Cruz candidacy virtually assures the early segments of the campaign will be lively–there’s no telling what will come out of his mouth, and the outrage should be both palpable and engendering of a certain electrical charge that might just awaken people.  Of course, should he emerge from convention season, nomination in hand, we’ll see Cruz dial things way back in a determined effort to win centrist and undecided voters.

 

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Ted Cruz Campaign Slogans

When manna like this falls from heaven it’s almost enough to make you believe in, well, heaven.  I’m generally frustrated at the realization that I’m basically a man without a political party–too poor and yet too smart to be a Republican, and too smart and yet too practical to be a Democrat–but there are times when, along with double the disgruntlement, that I enjoy double the hilarity.  It is in times like these that I thank the Great Spaghetti Monster for men like Ted Cruz, and the n’er-do-wells who mock him.  This is going to be fun.

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