Electile Dysfunction

Reflections on democracy inaction

Has uncertainty over the outcome of the presidential race sent our republic hurtling toward a constitutional cataclysm?

Nah.

The sky isn't falling.

The soft money isn't hardening.

This is good fun, and more interesting than the Subway Series. Historians are actually getting face time on TV. Perhaps our electile dysfunction will stimulate a new era of political awareness and activism.

Nah.

Sadly, the government as we know it has not disintegrated. Nor will it. The machinery chugs on, impervious, preserving life, liberty and the pursuit of low-commission Roth individual retirement accounts.

Yet the media -- particularly A.D.D.-afflicted broadcasters -- are apoplectic. They're doing the voice-over for a dubiously dubbed Japanese disaster film in which venomous, vote-sucking butterflies descend on Palm Beach. They crease their brows, stare portentously into the camera and ejaculate the latest incomprehensible vote totals. They testify that the Free World hangs in the balance -- a prospect that necessitates their immediate and vigilant reportage in Florida, on a network expense account.

Something must be done, and quickly, dammit, to exorcise the demon of doubt, to flee the precipice of anarchy, to restore global faith in the American Way.

This is inanity on steroids.

Anyone espousing the quaint notion that the federal government reflects the will of the people suffers from mad cow disease. Government serves an elite cadre of capitalists and dot-communists, first and foremost. Any benefit derived by the rest of us is purely incidental.

It will remain this way, regardless of which scarecrow litigates his way into the White House. Al Gore would still be a Republican and the son of a senator. George W. Bush would still be the son of the former director of the CIA. I'm fairly certain I'm smarter than Dubya.

In any case, what's the big rush?

Is Russia annexing eastern Europe? Are Shiite Moslem militiamen parachuting inside the Beltway? Has Wen Ho Lee acquired the powers of Bruce Lee? Is Bill Gates mounting a coup? Is Hillary?

Nah.

Gabriel has not sounded his horn. Bill Clinton is still slick. Our stealth fighters are still invisible. Mel Carnahan is still exceedingly dead. Al Greenspan is still very much alive. My e-mail still works.

Nothing is changing. Nor will it.

Disfortunately, the authentic structure of power in America -- the corporate state -- remains intact, in boardrooms and penthouses and political action committee suites. These are the habitués of the true policy potentates, and nothing that transpired during the campaign caused any dyspepsia therein. There won't be any heartburn once our new leader is determined, either. When the executive staff of Archer Daniels Midland marches on Washington, we'll know the revolution has begun.

It's a condition that evokes sympathy for the rhetoric of such unstatesmanlike characters as John McCain, who undoubtedly flagellates himself for not running as an independent. This was McCain's year. Who knows if he's blown his opportunity -- he will turn 68 before the next presidential election.

Federal candidates spent $3 billion in this election, and begot a stalemate not only in the presidential race, but in the Senate, where it takes 60 votes to pass legislation of significance. Given the choice of evils, we chose neither.

What exquisite futility. What provocative performance art. Neither candidate will have a mandate for the inaugural ball.

But paralysis looms, the CNN pontiffs pant. Our nation will be disabled.

This is lunacy on crank.

Our nation has been paralyzed below the scalp for a decade.

If it weren't, we would not -- amid unprecedented prosperity -- have 44 million citizens without health insurance. (That $3 billion campaign tab, by the way, would have covered a tenth of them.) Nearly one of five children in America would not live in poverty.

If government were of, by and for the people, gleeful corporations would not have seen their federal taxes decline by 2.5 percent in 1999 while their profits increased by 9 percent. The $150 billion Americans paid for corporate subsidies and tax breaks would not have outweighed the $145 billion spent for Aid to Families With Dependent Children, student aid, housing, food and nutrition, and all direct public assistance (excluding social security and medical care). Corporations' share of the nation's tax bill would not have withered from 50 percent after World War II to 25 percent today.

If government were genuinely ambulatory, 32,436 people would not have died from firearm-related deaths on U.S. soil in 1997 -- a sum nearly equal to American deaths in the Korean War. In 1996, a total of 9,390 Americans would not have been murdered by handguns, while only two died under repressive juntas in New Zealand, 15 in Japan and 30 in Great Britain. (If we must tolerate such carnage, would somebody please bust a cap in Bernard Shaw?)

A lucid government would not have arrested 3.7 million Americans on marijuana charges in the past decade -- 83 percent of them for simple possession. It costs an average of $25,000 a year to incarcerate these people, most of whom pose no danger.

Rest assured, this election is more about histrionics than history.

Have we forgotten that just 20 months ago, the House of Representatives impeached the freaking president of the United States? The nabobs averred that that event was epochal, too. But beyond further corroding confidence in our representative republic, it didn't make a quark of difference.

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