The American Crawl, or, Happy Pre-Election Day

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This November morning, a three-day-old headline was still circulating above the fold on the website of the French paper, Le Monde.

 

The French, or the French news industry at least, are rather interested in our political nature despite what certain puss-filled warts and crusted shingles on Uncle Sam might want you to think of les gens de la vigne (my own term, I have no idea if the French actually describe themselves as the people of the vine). America has long arms that affect many nations. It makes sense, in that respect, that foreigners might cover our national politics more heavily than we cover theirs.

 

But reading their coverage of our political system is a habit worth having if you happen to be a news junkie, and happen to have time, which most people certainly do not and should not. Heart attacks are still a real threat, and a sudden aneurysm is in all likeliness a not that fun thing to go through. Yet, today what I remember are other elections, in other years.

The first score on that bone in my head occurred when I found out what a chad was, and why it had the same name as an African country (which I actually knew at that point because of a Pauly Shore film I reluctantly admit now that I thought was funny then, but I was 14, and incredibly stupid). The chad marks an abominable and pathetic part of our history. Votomatic style punch cards were used to tabulate votes. The cards were read by a machine after a piece of paper was punched through leaving a hole. The piece of paper removed by the hole punch was/is called a chad. Sometimes a “hanging chad” resulted when a hole punch did not fully remove the piece of paper. The serious problem began when the machines would not count voting slips with “hanging chads”.

 

 

If we had a more democratic system of electing a president, we could imagine all that money saved, and possibly one less war on our hands.

 

 

The year was 2000. The election was presidential. And the difference was George Bush, two wars, and a sadistic vice president. The other possibility was Al Gore, then Vice President to Bill Clinton. The only reasonable speculation I’ll make about Al Gore is that he wouldn’t have allowed Iraq to happen, because after the election and 9/11 attained a gruesome addition to its meaning, Gore demonstrated through restrained public condemnation that he felt that President Bush (many Americans now feel this) had used the destruction in lower Manhattan in 2001 as a lever to pry Congress from its last bit of logic and rush into Iraq.

 

Bush was given the election in 2000, but it is at the very least conceivable that he would have lost Florida had a proper recount occurred. We will never have the truth because the Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s recount was unconstitutional. Gore won the popular vote that year, but lost because of the electoral college, which was the only reason Florida mattered more than other states in that election, and in most elections. More people voted for Gore than Bush, by roughly half a million American votes, but Bush won by 537 votes in Florida, and won the state’s electoral votes, and thus the presidency.

 

If we had a more democratic system of electing a president, we could imagine all that money saved, and possibly one less war on our hands.

 

But for much the same reason why no one sticks around for a porno’s credits (if they even bother to make them anymore) the memories of the chad and that election are avoided or forgotten, because they are covered in latent shame few want to remember, myself included.

 

The second scarring event I will not forget is the fact that at a certain point in the aughts of this new century, we as a nation renamed “french fries” to “freedom fries”. It was a reactionary and stupid move.

 

 

The problem, the big one anyway, is that the men and women in Congress are left to fix their own system. For instance, we haven’t needed an electoral college since the telegraph was invented. And sometimes the only reason I think it exists is simply so mainstream news outlets can paint states various shades of red and blue on an overly simplistic map of America.

 

 

Simply because our multi-century-long ally across the pond did not want to fight alongside American oil-covered vultures (I do not like the term “war hawk”) in a region of the world that does not see itself the way that we do, that we frequently and continually misunderstand, Americans insulted them with a childish demonstration of label change.

 

By the way, I refuse to apply the term “war hawk” to anyone currently in politics — the hawk is a magnificent creature of precision flight and sharp vision, and she does not deserve the disrespect of having her name duct-taped to a hungover Sunday morning pile of vomit such as most current Congressional politicians.

 

The story that caught my eye: “Etats-Unis : un sérieux risque de paralysie après l’élection” or “United States: a serious risk of paralysis after the election”. The story in Le Monde (which is a great newspaper to read if you’d like a foreign take on international events, or even American events) highlights partisan bickering in American politics, and the fact that whoever wins will have a hard time getting someone across the aisle to meet their hand.  A pathetic idea in the first place, but it would be wonderful in a sad way to see how they’d act if Congressional members had assigned seating that went Republican, Democrat, Republican, Democrat, with the occasional Independent in there. Looking back on forms of disciplinary action in the classrooms I grew up in, that was a rather simple one that sucked, but never hurt anyone, and in all likeliness improved the ability of the class to function as a place where a kid might pay attention and say to himself or herself something like so that’s what division is, and look around and see just how divided Congress is. Congress is persnickety, to use an old-time term. Obsolete. Atavistic. Fully loaded with malapropisms.

 

I ignore the fact often enough, as I assume do many Americans who prefer not to walk around wanting to punch glass or kick rocks. The problem, the big one anyway, is that the men and women in Congress are left to fix their own system. For instance, we haven’t needed an electoral college since the telegraph was invented. And sometimes the only reason I think it exists is simply so mainstream news outlets can paint states various shades of red and blue on an overly simplistic map of America. Because remember, if our presidential elections were simply based on a popular vote, the color of a state would not matter anymore.

 

Rest assured, tomorrow is more than two hundred years after the first time Americans went cynical and angry to the polls to vote. I suppose that makes it American, that cynical state. A thing to me profoundly hilarious and full of socking taint at the same time. This country was founded by a bunch of individuals who wanted better, and tried to do so. Despite how terrible things might seem in this country, tomorrow is still another attempt to do better.

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