Finding One’s Way Home Through the Electoral Mazes of Oz

There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job.

— The Book of Job

Remember “the end of welfare as we know it”? Wasn’t that Bill Clinton’s luminous phrase?

Ever hear of “our first Black President”? That was Clinton, right? Who said it? The Blacks who needed a helping hand and instead got “the end of welfare as we know it”?

Remember the Kyoto Protocols? Clinton sent his favorite Green, pointy-headed liberal Al Gore, to talk up a storm in Kyoto. Made headlines around the world. Then, when Gore got back, the dynamic duo failed to risk pushing the Kyoto Protocols on our khaki (not Green) colored Congress. Fine to talk up the Protocols in Kyoto, but never mind advocating them at home. Too risky for Gore’s chances. You know—politics!

(Gore continued to play it safe when he ran in ‘08. He kept Clinton hidden like a skeleton in the closet–wouldn’t let him campaign for/with him. Ralph Nader called for a meeting to see where he and Gore could find common ground on the environment, etc. Gore met with him, then said, No deal. When he lost—even his own Tennessee—Gore gave the the Bushwacks’ hanging chads a pass, and blamed it all on Nader!)

Remember NAFTA? Before the election, the charmy-smarmy sax-playing Bill swore up and down the Rio Grande (and elsewhere) that he was mucho contra NAFTA. After the election, he had a miraculous conversion. Suddenly, do it pronto!

Remember Yugoslavia? There are youngsters going to vote for the first time in ‘08 who never heard of that brave, little country that stood up to Nazis, then walked a fine line for fifty years between Western neo-colonialism and Soviet hegemony. Then, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the E.U. and U.S. decided it was time to pull that neutral state into NATO’s orbit. Who was it that unleashed aerial bombardments of 78 successive days—the worst aerial campaign in Europe since the Second World War? That’s right—good old Bill.

Why do I bring up the past? Because past is prelude.

Remember Hillary? Remember she wasn’t going to “stay home baking cookies”? She promised she would be her husband’s political partner. Get two for the price of one, they promised. She hawked her book: It takes a village to raise a child.

She gathered a small village to help her with her health care plan. There was Hillary meeting with Senators. Hillary, again, meeting behind closed doors with CEOs of HMOs and HMOs of CEOs. Hillary smiling, flirting. Hillary busy, officious, professional, efficient. And, in the end, Hillary failing. She couldn’t assemble the right coalition. Her “village” couldn’t save one little kid. And after her failure, she never tried again. Is that commitment? She sat on the board of Wal-Mart for six years and that was okay, she could handle it. Try re-packaging her health-care proposals? Not a peep from her. Not practical, not politic, too many cookies in the fire.

Speaking of cookies, remember Monica and her “presidential knee pads”? Don’t you just love Bill and Hill now, putting the nation through all that? Remember Newt-the-newt Gingrich closing down Congress? How ‘bout that song, “Stand By Your Man”? Hillary had said she wasn’t that type of woman, and then she had to sing it aloud!

How ‘bout Waco? Over 80 people—adults and children—incinerated. There was no other way to deal with those lost souls in that Texas compound? Clinton had to sic mad-dog Janet Reno on them?

Speaking of mad dogs … how ‘bout Madeleine Albright? She told Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes that the loss of a million Iraqi children to U.S. sanctions placed on Iraq’s import of medicines was “worth the price”. (Leslie crossed her pretty legs, but forgot to ask for whom it was “worth the price.” Isn’t the person paying the price supposed to make that decision?) Madeleine looked very serious. She must have felt really, really bad!

Remember the swinging 90s when everyone got rich? Well, if you remember that you bought into a lot of Wall Street bull-dinky because average Americans actually got poorer, average wages continuing a steady, downward spiral that had begun in 1973. Alan Greenspan, whom Clinton wanted to clone, whom everyone hailed as the economic savior doesn’t look so savvy these days—with the sub-prime mess, collateral debt obligations, foreclosures up 57 percent this year, and the price of wheat (wheat?) up 25 percent.

Or isn’t there a connection? Don’t we know how to make connections anymore in the land of John Wayne and the Green Berets, John Wayne Gacy and dead kids, Lucille Ball and Britney Spears? In an Attention-Deficit-Disordered culture, does making connections matter, does history compute?

I’d been wondering about these strange affairs, trying hard to remember, when I saw the light thanks to Oprah.

Of course, everyone loves Oprah. Just as Charlemagne crowned himself King and Napoleon crowned himself Emperor, Oprah crowned herself Goddess sometime in the 21st Century. She tells us what to read, how to dress, how to love our bloated bodies, and, recently, she’s been telling us about “the One.”

Ms. Winfrey has been reminding us about The Autobiography of Miss Jean Pittman. (I remember that TV movie—in those paleolithic times, one could still get the occasional good show on network TV.) Oprah recalls how Miss Pittman (beautifully played by Cicely Tyson) kept going around asking young Blacks who evinced a modicum of leadership qualities, “Are you the one?” At the end, hoary, ancient Jean addresses the baby she cradles in her arms: “Are you the one?”

Before we can dry our tears and blow our noses, Oprah tells us she has found “the One.” Then she introduces Barack Obama.

It is just a little disappointing when Mr. O! does not float onto stage bathed in a tapestry of celestial rays. Mr. O! is a reasonably attractive young man who makes preposterous statements. While addressing his fans, and those he wants to win over, he actually says: “Sometime during this evening, a light will shine through that window; a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany … and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Obama.” And, he actually garners reactions like this from supposedly sober journalists like Hardball’s Chris Mathews: “I have to tell you, it’s part of reporting this case, this election, the feeling most people get when they hear Barack Obama’s speech. My … I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often. No, seriously. It’s a dramatic event. He speaks about America in a way that has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with the feeling we have about our country. And that is an objective assessment.”

What an “objective assessment” has to do with “a thrill going up” his leg, I’ll let Mr. Mathews work out with his Id. But … am I really supposed to think that this “dramatic event” has “nothing to do with politics”? What then is politics? Isn’t it about power-relationships, and isn’t Mr. Obama totally involved in such relationships? Is “The One” not guided by the policies of the Council on Foreign Relations’ many; the Trilateralists and Bilderbergers, as well? Before he performs his miracles of walking on water and dividing the loaves and fishes, does this pitchman for “hope” and “change” not consult with Carter National Security puppet-master Zbigniew Brzezinski and with multi-billionaire George Soros, two notorious Russophobes who dream of encircling Mother Russia with a host of European Union and NATO dependent states , moving American bases ever closer to the heartland of Eurasia, with “listening” posts in the Czech Republic and our missiles in Poland? Isn’t the goal to recognize the “independence” of autonomous regions in Russia, just as we now recognize the “independence” of the E.U.-U.S.-created state of Kosovo within Serbia, effectively rendering null and void whatever treaties and understandings were reached with Belgrade during Clinton’s “Dayton Accords” media circus?

Actually, it was the notion that Mr. Obama was somehow above the political fray that first alerted me to the danger of his appeal. I asked an acquaintance—a 50ish, well-to-do, retired-white-man-suburbanite—why he had flown to New Hampshire on his own dime in order to trudge through the snow for the Obama primary campaign. He told me something like this: If Obama entered a room—any room—all eyes would be drawn to him, he would be the most charismatic figure, and he would immediately know how to make anyone in that room his friend and supporter. I was assured that the only other person with that kind of “power” was Bill Clinton. Such adjulation for a basically unknown political entity like Obama caused concern which only heightened when, a few weeks later, I asked my acquaintance about Obama’s health care plan. He responded that he didn’t know much about it, but he didn’t think it was as “extensive” as Hillary’s.

A few weeks after that, I met a Democratic Party “operative” (not sure what else to call him) at a little party in D.C. This white man, also 50ish, a free-lance artist of some sort, was holding forth to a group of the faithful about Obama’s “electability quotient,” which, he had determined, was much higher than Hillary’s and really the only thing that mattered. I inquired about Obama’s policies in such fraught places as the Middle East. After all, when Obama spoke about drawing down our forces in Iraq, he didn’t imply withdrawing from the Middle East, he was talking about re-deployment–just as Democratic Senator John Murtha had spoken about it before the ‘06 election. Obama might lip-service the “two-state solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but what kind of walled-in state with no right-of-return was he offering to Palestinians suffering from over 40 years of Israeli occupation? How could Obama present himself as a “peace” candidate when he proposed expanding U.S. armed forces by 100,000? The “operative” met my earnest inquiries with a bemused stare, then muttered again, through a mouthful of cashews, something about “electability.”

“Well, it’s a long, long time from May to December,” Jimmy Durante crooned, “And the days grow short as you reach November.” This has already been a god-awful long campaign, beginning years ago, and the days of the American Imperium indeed grow short. Or, so one hopes as one wanders through Oz, watching the munchkins dance with the stars, searching for a brain, a heart and courage.

Lest one begin to feel legubrious about choices that are not choices in the Democrats’ rigged primaries—remember Kucinich? Remember Gravel?—there’s the prospect of John McCanine to scare the living shit out of the munchkins. With all his talk of a hundred-years’ war and his “straight-shooting” about the “sacrifices” the already sacrificed sheep will have to make to ensure the survival of predatory capitalism unto the year 2525, one may be forgiven a little cynicism about the value of torture. Apparently, McCain’s being tortured in Vietnam—his proudest credential—did little to ameliorate his views on the necessity of human suffering. Like his mythological forbear, Antaeus, when thrown to the ground, he rises, grits his teeth and smilingly proclaims, “What does not kill me makes me strong.” (To what extent his mind may have been killed in the cells of the Hanoi Hilton is another matter entirely—and only glancingly addressed in this essay). Within the chasms and arroyos of McCanine’s unsubtle mind, hobgoblins marked “waterboarding” are catalogued as “torture”; hobgoblins dropped from U.S. bombers that rip limbs and eyes out of children’s bodies are the necessary costs of bringing “democracy” to the benighted people who sit upon vast reserves of the world’s oil.

“The mind of this country, taught to aim at low objects, eats upon itslef,” Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, and I thank him for it, and thank Susan Jacoby who called it to readers’ attention in a February 17, 2008 article in the Washington Post. About a week earlier, I’d caught Jacoby colloquizing with my favorite Mainstream Media guy, Bill Moyers, on his eponymous “Journal.” Jacoby’s latest book is The Age of American Unreason, and she has much to tell us about our anti-intellectualism: a “basically cyclical phenomenon” often manifesting as “the dark side of the country’s democratic impulses in religion and education.” Those who can still think, wonder, question and challenge know that we are already “in danger of losing our hard-won cultual capital to a virulent mixture of anti-intellectualism, anti-rationalism and low expectations.”

First and foremost to account for our “steadily defined downward dumbness” is the loss of our print culture to the video culture. (Those who are under 50 may recall the days when TV came as a humble “guest” into our living rooms. Now the guest is a maniac baby sitter for our children, a pill-pimp for pharmaceutical companies and a mesmerist constantly creating an illusionary world of glitter and excitement that chews us up and spits us out. Even the great Eric Blair, who imagined George Orwell, could not have imagined this: It is not so much that Big Brother is watching us, as that we are watching Big Brother. Well, now, after 9/11, it is pretty much both, as we lock in a death dance towards ecocidal perdition.)

Of course, it’s not just our frightful ignorance that appalls, but our arrogance about it. That lowers the common denominator a few more notches towards zero. As Jacoby has it, “The toxic brew of anti-rationalism and ignorance hurts discussions of U.S. public policy on topics from health care to taxation.” I’d certainly include “war” as one of those topics. If we can’t talk rationally, armed with information, about our government’s need to kill other humans so they don’t kill us (or so we can take their resources)—to frame the argument as simply and simplistically as possible—then what do we mean by “freedom”?

The English poet Richard Lovelace framed the argument metrically:

“If I have freedom in my love,
And in my mind am free,
Angels alone that soar above
Enjoy such liberty.”

Freedom to love, freedom rationally to choose who and what one loves and admires because one’s mind is free, and not polluted with a daily diet of mass hypnosis media-mishmash—is this not the great object, the very purpose of life? Losing that purpose, have we not forfeited the jewel in the lotus?

Eugene Debs wrote from prison: It is better to vote for what you want and not get it, then to vote for what you want and get it. The System—Communist, Capitalist, Christian Inquisitional, or what have you—the System that fears the unfettered mind, the questing, questioning heart and mind, imprisoned Debs as it imprisoned Galileo, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jesus Christ, Cindy Sheehan, Kathy Kelly and innumerable others. It thrives on fear and manipulation, half-truths and myths.

For me, there are only two rational choices to make in this silly season of electioneering that goes on and on forever now, numbing the senses, diverting attention into horse races and handicapping. Neither will be popular with the “operatives” and the pundits who make their livings on falsehoods and mendacity. For the courage he has shown in forty years of public service, I’d vote for the man in the rumpled suit, the man with the brain who warned us way back then that we were a culture that was “Unsafe At Any Speed.” Ralph Nader is not “the One” in some silly Oprahish sense. He doesn’t have Obama’s oratorical skills and he doesn’t have McCanine’s ability to frighten the bejesus out of the credulous. He simply connects the dots: he shows us how we have become a corpocracy in which “legal entities” subsume and digest the rights of individuals. He tells us that our endless wars are killing us, killing our souls; that the money spent on these wars of “choice” steal bread from the poor, education from our children, rivets from our bridges.

The only other rational choice I see is not-voting-on-principle. That’s an argument even more difficult to frame because the spinmeisters sharpen their knives and cry “Apathy!” and my neighbor says, “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” But I say that complaining is a human right. If I have “freedom of speech,” I must have freedom to criticize and complain. If I am thoughtful, I may adduce constructive solutions to nettlesome problems.

After all, the Declaration of Independence was not voted upon by citizens of a republic; it was a cri de coeur of men who wished their minds and hearts to be free. It was first and foremost a rejection of the status quo. It was a rejection of the legitimacy of the British Crown and Parliament to exercise power over a people who earnestly sought, reasonably and carefully explained, and altogether merited a divorce. That document, and not the deeply flawed Constitution that followed it, is our greatest inheritance—the right to say no to falsehood, delusions, irrationality and illegitimacy.

We have the right to pull back the curtain and expose the little, phony wizard. Great men and women have dedicated their lives to declaring that right and living accordingly as truth-seekers and truth-tellers. Shall we tire of reaching higher now at this tipping point of planetary peril? Can we learn to think again, to remember, to reject the false and seek the true? Can we connect to the best of what humanity has been and may yet be?

Poet-playwright-journalist-fictionist-editor-professor, Dr. Gary Corseri has published work in Dissident Voice, The New York Times, Village Voice, CommonDreams and hundreds of other publications and websites worldwide. His dramas have been produced on PBS-Atlanta, and he has performed his work at the Carter Presidential Library. Gary can be reached at Read other articles by Gary.

2 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Max Shields said on March 3rd, 2008 at 5:05pm #


    Great piece. You are the rare progressive intellectual who can actually write.

    I think there’s a book (or allegory) in the McCain story and you’ve touched on it.

    I like Susan Jacoby, but while we need that kind of piercing intellect to correct the daily non-sense, even rationality should be questioned. I’m reminded of Dostoevsky who struggled with the extemists – Notes from Underground.

    Keep up the great expositories.


  2. Don Hawkins said on March 4th, 2008 at 3:18pm #

    Very nice. Obama when I listen to him talk he does have the words down but the mind is not keeping up. The funny thing is the change part. For years I thought at least they knew, no I think not. Not only do they try and fool you but they are fooling themselves. What is fascinating is this change part. I don’t think many have any idea the change that is coming about three tears it should be evident to most people. Can we learn to think again yes and the sooner the better.