Raging Bull

Kerry's a wuss. Dubya's a doof. How can anybody vote for either of these clowns?

Looking like the nation's homeliest eagle scout, John Kerry snapped off a salute and announced to his convention, "Reporting for duty." George W. Bush had already embraced "Mission Accomplished" on an aircraft carrier flight deck in his après-combat flight suit. With each of these two nimrods trying to convince me of their warrior stones, I say, "Make mine a double."

The president and his principal challenger conclude their debates here in Tempe, Arizona, on October 13 amidst a new world order of ballot boxes, beheadings and suicide bombers. The afternoon of the debate, Michael Moore also appears here at the Celebrity Theatre to whip up anti-Bush sentiment. Everyone from big arena rockers to local artists is up off their ass and stirring the pot.

But not me.

The characters of the 2004 election: a liar, a wuss, and a doof.
illustration by Daniel May
The characters of the 2004 election: a liar, a wuss, and a doof.
Anti-war, anti-Bush ASU professor John Jota Lea–os 
reviews artwork with student Brigitte Ochoa.
Jackie Mercandetti
Anti-war, anti-Bush ASU professor John Jota Lea–os reviews artwork with student Brigitte Ochoa.

Every four years I endure a presidential campaign that leaves me estranged, feeling like an illegal, a mojado, in my own country. The choleric isolation is worse this year because of the choices and the consequences. Here stands the morbidly irresolute John Kerry. And over there is George W. Bush in all his bantam banality. In the corner wetting himself is the ascetic conspiratard, Ralph Nader.

These are not my countrymen.

When asked who I will vote for, I shake my head in disgust and reply, "Yo soy Mexicano."

Friends and colleagues expect me to vote for John Kerry. But they misjudge me. Kerry does not deserve to be president. In the weeks leading up to the first debate, he could not protect his own combat medals and Purple Hearts from the pranks of a draft-dodging college cheerleader and his allies on the Swift Boat controversy. How the hell will Kerry protect Americans from the razored tactics of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?

I do not feel that Kerry or Bush is competent to lead us through a religious war waged by terrorists.

With nearly 3,000 Americans dead in New York, Pennsylvania and Washington, D.C., I wanted Osama bin Laden's blood. With another 1,000 soldiers fallen in Iraq -- and the inevitable pictures of slaughtered innocent civilians -- I also longed for a vigorous, honest examination of how we got here. Instead, the president fought the 9/11 Commission tooth and claw. His opponent is no better. As a jibe, flip-flopping hardly captured the number of stiff-limbed sentiments Kerry expressed on Iraq. Kerry adopted so many positions on the war that when viewed side by side, the sheer number of clumsy policies gave one the same queasy feeling as looking at a photograph of Mia Farrow and her brood of Third World kids.

And in some ways we got the leadership we deserved. There is a willful ignorance amongst voters that is staggering in scope. In mid-September a poll found that 42 percent of Americans still believe, despite all of the contrary evidence, that Saddam Hussein was involved with the September 11 attacks.

Those too lazy or dull-witted to stay abreast of the news are abetted by a popular culture that feeds prejudices instead of curiosity. And despite Fox news and the handful of conservative tub-thumpers like Ann Coulter, the overwhelming tidal surge of performance is anti-Bush.

The president has motivated more than 100 authors to finish books about him; his father inspired roughly half a dozen. The current work ranges from Bush Must Go: The Top Ten Reasons Why George Bush Doesn't Deserve a Second Term to the disturbing Checkpoint, in which the popular Nicholson Baker conjures up an unhinged but recognizable leftist bent on assassinating Bush.

Remarkably, there are four anti-Bush movies currently playing: Fahrenheit 9/11, Silver City, The Day After Tomorrow and The Manchurian Candidate. Kerry also has a biopic in play: Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry.

These are not subtle undertakings. When Scott Rudin and Daniel Pyne came on board The Manchurian Candidate as producers, the movie's villains were terrorists. Apparently bigger villains were needed.

"When I got involved, it wasn't about businesses -- Halliburton and Bechtel," said Rudin in an interview. "But Dan and Tina [Sinatra] and I had to face the fact that we had to make a post-9/11 movie."

In other words, get rid of the al-Qaeda terrorists and substitute American businessmen as the bad guys.

While the sheer number of anti-Bush movies playing at the same time is unprecedented, cinema is far from the only cultural response to challenge the president. At times it feels as if America's entire creative community is on the road performing; all, apparently, are solidly anti-Bush.

Cabarets and clubs are featuring anti-Bush comedy tours. Large arenas are booking everything from dinosaur rock to hip-hop devoted to toppling the president. This entertainment Zeitgeist has moved beyond the demonization of Bush and onto the belittling of anyone who is a Republican. The GOP convention in New York provoked an unprecedented outpouring of smug sneering relentlessly directed at the delegates. One writer, Thomas Frank, was so confounded in his animus that he devoted an entire book, What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, trying to parse how it was possible that anyone, particularly Midwesterners, could vote for Bush.

Sam Shepard rushed his latest play onto the New York stage to première in time to, hopefully, influence the election by performing "a takeoff on Republican fascism."

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