Letter From America #1 [May 2007]
Our presidential election is eighteen months away, which means right now the overwhelming majority of Americans couldn't care less about the election or who might win it. But that will change. By voting day only a simple majority won't care, according to the polling data. Given the thousands of Americans who have died over the last 230 years to protect our right to vote, that citizen disinterest in the electoral process must be incomprehensible to those for whom voting is still only a fervent dream, or a recent reality. You never know how valuable something is to you until you lose it, and Americans won't ever lose their opportunity to NOT vote. Or so they think.
Some defend citizen disinterest by claiming that the candidates are, as always, a lackluster group of dispiriting similarity. But at least in these early days, there's an astonishing breadth of people who want to replace George Bush. The Project Vote Smart website (www.vote-smart.com) currently lists 133 candidates, plus five more who have already withdrawn, including Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack (who got tired of people saying "Tom who?") and William Blakely, whose only executive experience is as president of a Ranlo, North Carolina fishing company.
Vote Smart lists 19 candidates as "potential," including former NATO Commander-in-Chief Wesley Clark, Al Gore, Ralph Nader and Fred Thompson, an ex-Senator/current actor, which is partly why he's described as 'Reagan-esque." Reagan-esque is an important thing to be for conservative Republican voters, now that being "Bush-esque" is the kiss of death, given the President's abysmal popularity.
That leaves 114 declared candidates for President—grinning, hand-grabbing men and woman who for months have been spreading out across the nation like so much gooey Sauce Bearnaise, issuing position papers, stumping through factories that make Real American Stuff, and holding neighborhood Meet-The-Candidate coffee hours. Only Democrats Clinton and Obama and Republicans Giuliani and McCain are really familiar to the general public. The rest desperately seek Name Recognition, without which you cannot be elected. So we have candidates like John Kennedy, a former male model who is no relation to THOSE Kennedys, but hopes his name will sucker in a few dumb voters who haven't heard about what happened in Dallas in 1963. And it will.
Regardless of how known they are, every candidate is looking for money—the many millions of dollars they will need to land a job that pays $400,000 a year, plus a free white house and a Boeing 747. Well, maybe they all aren't looking for money. Candidate/stock broker Jackson Kirk Grimes lists his party affiliation as 'Union Fascist.' Candidate/actor Yaphet Koto's unpublished autobiography claims he's slept with practically every female star in Hollywood, including Lassie. Candidate/welder Robert Winn lists as his political experience the fact that he was a "prisoner" in a psychiatric ward. Money is the least of concerns for these and many other fringe candidates. Establishing their sanity comes first.
But not, unfortunately, establishing their intelligence, for the fringe or anybody else. A year ago Congressman Westmoreland of our Georgia proposed a bill righteously demanding that the Ten Commandments be displayed in all governmental buildings. Television interviewer Stephen Colbert politely asked him to list the Ten Commandments from memory. Westmoreland got three of them before he just ... stopped. This moment of painfully embarrassing stupidity for the congressman was apparently not stupid enough for Georgia voters. A few months later he was re-elected.
Out of 133 candidates, there just has to be somebody smarter than that, or so we voters hope. But for now we have all those people to pick from, fanatics and crazies, the sincere and the hopeless. I don't even know if elections in Georgia—your Georgia—have such people coming out of the woodwork to run for President. If not, you will some day, and I can only hope yours are as entertaining as ours.