W is for "Whew!"

by Greg Method

Take a deep breath. Inhale through your nose, let the oxygen fill your lungs, and slowly let it out through your mouth.

Didn't that feel good?

It's nice to be able to breathe deeply again. For six years now I think a lot of us have had a general suffocation feeling around our lungs. What can I say, sheer terror and sorrow can have a paralyzing effect on a person.

I know I wasn't alone in waking up each morning fearfully wondering what ill-conceived or liberty-compromising bill had been passed and signed into law in the middle of the night. It was always a crapshoot: one morning it could be something about wiretapping, the next it could be about dragging a comatose invalid to Washington to keep her on life support. Could be peaches, could be lunch meat.

The problem was simply that there was no oversight; no one to step in and say, "Now, hang on a minute...." Checks and balances became a thing of the past. The once mighty and influential body of Congress had become nothing more than a formality, a vestigial tail. As cliched as it sounds lately, Congress was in fact just a rubber stamp.

But now for the moment the stamp has run out of ink. Democrats have easily won control of the House of Representatives and, in a miraculous stroke of good luck, the Senate as well. A roadblock is now finally up to stop Bush from driving this country right into a bridge embedment, and it's about damn time.

But we should still breathe carefully, because this was truly a squeaker at a time in which it shouldn't have been. Democrats should have been able to win this election with a couple of touchdowns, but once again it came down to one state and only several thousand votes. That's pathetic considering we were running against racists, child molesters, and religious fundamentalists.

Democrats could have easily run a better campaign, no question. They don't even try to run a senatorial candidate in Indiana? The hell?? Shit, just for fun run some stockboy from a local Menards, just to get a Democrat on the ballot. The choices should never just be a conservative nut and a libertarian nut!

Meanwhile there were numerous Republican seats in the House that went uncontested. How does this happen? If every House seat is up every two years, then I think every seat, Democrat and Republican, should be fought over. There shouldn't any "safe" seats on either side. Even if the challengers are lightweights and the incumbents blow through them like the palookas mentioned in the beginning of Rocky III, then at least there's still a battle, a reason for the representative to show or remind their constituents what they stand for and why they should keep their job.

Likewise, I have no sympathy for the incumbent representatives who don't run any kind of election campaign, even when their seat is being challenged. This year so many members of the House simply didn't have any campaign presence anywhere, and frankly I wouldn't have been too sorry if they had lost their races. Every two years, everyone should be worried and everyone should be out there fighting.

That is one reason why I like my congressman, the one and only Dennis Kucinich. He's in one of the safest seats in the House, smack dab in the middle of the liberal union-friendly Great Lakes, yet he's out there campaigning every two years. And each time I hear one of his stump speeches, he continues to wow me with his intelligence and ideas. I'm so glad I have a representative who actually cares enough about his job and his area that he'll still go out there and fight for it even when there's hardly a contest...plus, he's a pretty hip guy in person.

Anyway, regardless of how one wants to look at it, that either Democrats campaigned successfully or that they were merely the right people in the right place at the right time as the Republicans self-destructed, the fact remains that Bush lost. His own incompetence and arrogance lost Congress for him. He is now without his blank checkbook.

And the fallout has already been big and brisk. Donald Rumsfeld "resigned" as Defense Secretary just a day after the election (a day! Control of the Senate was still undecided at this point!), current sleazy Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert announced that he will no longer seek any further leadership role in Congress, and "straight" RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman announced his own departure just days later. It seemed as if every Republican with anything resembling a close relationship with Bush were finding themselves without jobs, either by their own choice or through outside "encouragement."

Perhaps the best examples of this freefall involved the two people without whom Bush wouldn't be in the White House right now, Katherine Harris and Ken Blackwell. Harris, who helped Jeb Bush manipulate Florida's results of the 2000 election to favor Jeb's mentally retarded brother, humiliatingly had her ass handed to her in a disastrous Senate race. Meanwhile, Blackwell, who did a series of underhanded things while simultaneously working as Ohio's Secretary of State and as head of Bush's 2004 campaign in the state, was soundly defeated in a gubernatorial election. Good! Serves them right, the election-fixing scumbags.

In the center of this party entropy is Bush, of course. Make no mistake about it, this election was about Bush and his policies and how much this country is just sick of both. The Republicans in Congress just happened to have had the unfortunate luck to be in the same party as him. Well, actually, that's not entirely true, and they don't get off the hook that easily. Congress was clearly the enabler in this abusive relationship and some, such as Rhode Island's Lincoln Chafee, simply didn't do enough to pull their party away from the Dark Side. The GOP had to face the music and be held accountable for once.

And all the while Bush has to stand there and squirm and squint and shift back and forth, trying so hard not to lose his cool whenever the thought crosses his mind that the third person in line for his own job is now a liberal woman. This is a man who doesn't wear defeat well. I find that to be incredibly sad because, after all, he's a politician (of sorts), and all politicians experience some level of defeat. One would think one who has made it all the way to the White House would be able to handle defeat a little more tactfully by now, but he instead looked like a schoolboy about ready to take his ball and go home after being teased a little. And if he's not used to defeat, then what does that say about how sheltered of a political life he's led so far? And if that's the case, then what does that say about not only his qualifications but also why people even supported him in the first place?

I hope if anything this election was able to prove to Bush's mindless supporters that he is, after all, despised by a large percentage of people in this country. They always seemed to be content by fooling themselves into thinking that Bush-haters were somehow always in the very small minority; just a handful of misguided ultra-liberal fools who simply didn't "get it" for the moment.

And they don't even base that on actually conversing with anyone with a dislike for Bush. They feel just looking at the celebrities who get the most press for their beliefs is enough to count as listening to an opposing view...and they brush them off just as lazily. Michael Moore? He's just a fat troublemaker. Dixie Chicks? Dumpy sluts. Michael J. Fox? Faker. Much like how Bush lives and works in a bubble, his fans put themselves into their own bubbles.

I think I've said it before, but just in case I didn't I want to make something clear. Nobody will ever be liked by everybody, especially when one's talking about the office of president. Not everybody loved George Washington, or Abraham Lincoln, or FDR, or Kennedy...and I promise you, there will never be a time in which everybody on the planet wants to dry-hump Ronald Reagan or any of the Bushes. It kinda goes back to that whole being an individual idea, with individual likes and dislikes and beliefs. I know this sort of enlightenment might be hard for some conservatives, even heartbreaking, but they really need to get their heads out of that silly Sunday school mentality and keep up with the rest of the reality around them. And if they can't, then they need to stay the hell out of politics. We need to stop this infantile practice of voting for the person who we best feel could be everyone's "chum." I'm not looking for a buddy in my elected officials. I'm looking for a competent adult who can do their job well and would not abuse their responsibility. Bush doesn't fit any of that description.

And how exactly is he likable anyway? He turns on people, even his buddies. Rumsfeld's canned the day after the election. At the same time, Bush, although partly joking, publicly blames Karl Rove for his party's major loss. Not once did Bush, at least in public, entertain the notion that he's the problem, that maybe Americans have grown tired with him and his incompetence. Instead, he points the finger at his closest allies and humiliates them in different ways. So much for Bush's famous loyalty, huh?

Speaking of public facades, is it just me, or do a lot of Republicans not really understand that we as humans have the ability to remember what they say or do? Old-timers call it "foot-in-mouth disease." One would think that by 2006 anyone in the political arena would have a firm grasp of the concept of video technology, specifically its capabilities to play back any moment that had been recorded. Just ask Howard Dean.

But these guys, I don't know, what's up with them? Bush going on ABC on October 22 and telling George Stephanopoulos "we've never been 'stay the course?'" Did he honestly think that nobody would remember the who knows how many times he has said "stay the course??" The White House itself confirms at least eighty-eight occurrences. And I think you'll love this part: the transcript to the interview with Stephanopoulos doesn't appear anywhere on the White House web site. And it's not that they won't upload network interviews either, as four other ABC interviews from just this year can be found there. So, which Iraq policy is the White House trying to promote, a "stay the course" one or a "never been stay the course" one? It's almost as if the rest of the administration can't keep up with this idiot.

Did he think when he used phrases like "wanted dead or alive" or "bring 'em on" that he was just saying that to the dozen or so people in the room and not to the large black boxes with the microphones and glass lenses? Did he not understand that he was putting our forces in even more jeopardy than they already were in by just being over there?? A party can't attack someone for supposedly denigrating our troops when their own leader essentially tells the enemy to "sic 'em!"

During the November 8 press conference in the East Room, in which Rummy's "resignation" was announced, someone finally called Bush on his double-talk.

Steve Holland of Reuters asked, "Last week you told us that Secretary Rumsfeld will be staying on. Why is the timing right now for this, and how much does it have to do with the election results?"

Steve was referring to an interview Bush gave on November 1 with a couple of major news sources, such as Reuters and the Associated Press.

During the chat, the AP's Terence Hunt asked, "Assuming their health holds up, do you want Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld to be with you until the end?"

Bush responded, "Both those men are doing fantastic jobs. And I strongly support them."

"Up until the end--you see them staying with you until the end?"

"I do."

"So you're expecting Rumsfeld--Secretary Rumsfeld to stay on the rest of your time here?"

"Yes, I am."

One can almost sense the skepticism right then and there, as if the reporters asking the questions couldn't deny the whiff of smelly bullshit floating their way. Why else would they keep clarifying their question? I'm half-surprised it didn't continue like this:

"Secretary Rumsfeld--you're absolutely positively sure he's staying on?"

"Uh huh."

"Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, head of the Pentagon?"

"Yeah, sure."

"Donald Henry Rumsfeld...born in 1932, nicknamed 'Spanky' in high school, thinks he's really witty, has a thing for torturing naked guys?"

"You got it." (doing a lame "shooting" gesture with his fingers while making a slushy "click-click" sound with his mouth)

Anyway, this was Rummy's big "You're doing a heckuva job, Brownie" moment. The writing was finally on the wall.

So on November 8, one can understand Steve's question, which was more or less, "Yo cuz, what gives? You lied to my face, asshole!"

At this point one could almost faintly hear the rest of the press corps rallying behind Steve, lit torches in hands and unorganized chants of support being bandied back and forth.

Hoping to pee on this fire, Bush did what he always does when he has to go off-book and is not quite sure of himself, he stumbled magnificently.

As he explained: "Right. No, you and Hunt and [Bloomberg's Richard] Keil came in the Oval Office, and Hunt asked me the question one week before the campaign, and basically it was, are you going to do something about Rumsfeld and the Vice President? And my answer was, they're going to stay on. And the reason why is I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer."

So in other words, he lied because it was convenient for him.

And once again, did he not think that this answer wasn't also going to be heard across the country?!? When moments like this come up, I always imagine the White House staffers who are hidden in the next room monitoring the whole thing. One guy is slowly massaging his brow, another is flipping through a pocket Webster's dictionary already looking up meanings of words in order to put together the eventual spin explanation, and another is on a walkie-talkie going "Get him outta there! Get him the hell out of there!!" Mark my words, somewhere in the White House an intern has to carry around a vaudeville hook in case of extreme verbal emergency.

The guy is his own worst enemy. He tries so desperately hard to project this Jimmy Stewart-esque "aw shucks" persona, but instead he always comes off as a dopey rich guy who doesn't really seem to know what he's doing. He can't control himself, and worse yet he keeps overestimating his own intelligence or wittiness. He can put on a tux and make a carefully practiced entrance, but the regalness is blown as soon as he makes an ill-conceived joke about Japan or he mispronounces the word "president" as "preffident" (yes, he has done that). Then it's back to the drunk country bumpkin persona. Toto has pulled away the Wizard's curtain.

And yet, whenever someone asks Bush a straight question about, say, his illegal surveillance programs, he just babbles something about not wanting terrorists to know how we do things. Obviously he feels he can't really control what oozes out of his elf-like lips, so he doesn't want to say anything that would come back to hurt either him or whomever he has doing his dirty work behind the scenes. In other words, he's only aware of the technology of video when it suits him. Any other time it's like throwing a hand grenade and not quite caring where it lands. Protecting underhanded and illegal policy, good; protecting U.S. soldiers from fanatics, bad.

And then there's George Allen. First, he was an idiot for saying jack shit right to a camera knowing full well that the cameraman was working for Jim Webb's campaign. Who exactly did he think was going to eventually see this and have sole access to it? Ken Mehlman?? And why did he think that nobody would be able to identify the word "macaca" as a French racial slur used in North Africa, where his mother hailed from? Again, it's ignorance of technology. The word "macaca" was probably looked up online within seconds of it leaving his mouth.

Not surprisingly, Allen looked up to Bush. They have a lot in common: privileged do-nothing sons of famous old guys that people in the South adore. Bush himself has used racial, religious, and personal insults in public appearances and have later tried to brush them off as "Oh, that didn't mean that because of blah blah blah." They just think they're the wittiest sons of bitches who ever lived and that they can explain anything away as a mere misunderstood joke. It's arrogance...no, wait, it's contempt for the American public. They think we're all morons who wouldn't get their oh-so-clever asides.

Of course, some Democrats have the same problem too, but it's not nearly as rampant as it is with Republicans. The right likes to jump down John Kerry's throat and vilify him when he occasionally and obviously trips over his own wordiness, as if the general public is really stupid enough to believe that John Kerry actually has it out for soldiers. Sheesh, Kerry's a wounded war hero who saved more lives than the rest of us have, so give the guy a break. If anyone should be allowed to fumble their words while telling a bad joke once in a while it's him. What the hell is Bush's excuse? Too many thoughts running through that cobwebbed brain of his?

This isn't 1796, when the occasional bon mot or snide jab would easily slip under the political radar. Nobody would ever know if, for example, John Adams had referred to Thomas Jefferson on the campaign trail as a "douchebag" (well, not withstanding the unlikelihood of that word actually turning up, of course). Sheesh, how would they hear of it anyway? Town crier? Today something stupid or arrogant or racist said in New York can be heard again in Los Angeles just a minute later. It's almost as if technology has become one of the biggest hindrances of the entire GOP, which actually makes their aversion to science a little more understandable.

So, when technology proves to no longer be an ally in the war on citizens, the party instead turns to simple-minded primal and cultural fears. Republicans have shown their true face this year. They pulled their money out of Ohio and Pennsylvania and pumped it into Missouri, Virginia, and Tennessee. In one state they attacked someone with Parkinson's disease, in another they backed a racist who also hates the Jews, and in another they produced a campaign ad that targeted Southerners' Birth of a Nation-like paranoia of black men sleeping with young white women.

And of course, as the capper, whom do they elect as the new Minority Whip? Why, yet another racist! Someone who actually thought that dead rapist Strom Thurmond's pro-segregation ideals were just what the country needed four decades ago.

In the last couple of years, the Republicans have prided themselves on being anti-blacks, anti-women, anti-homosexuals, anti-poor people, anti-Arabs, anti-seniors, and most recently anti-Mexicans. This essentially whittles their supporters down to just one group: old white guys with guns. That's what their beloved "base" has become, the most paranoid and stubborn among us. Karl Rove has done everything in his power to alienate every other kind of person away from the Republican Party.

Fortunately, it seems that base isn't very big anymore. Really, think about it, all this year the right was getting their panties in a bunch about Mexicans sneaking into the country, clearly trying to make them this year's gays...you know, a group against which they can introduce legislation in order to get churchgoers out to vote in record numbers. And when it was clear that that wasn't working, mainly because too many in the party had too many conflicting opinions about what to do, at the last minute they went back to two older "outrage" issues, gay marriage and abortion. South Dakota was getting ready to be the first state in the country to outlaw abortion of any kind, while several states had anti-queer bills on the ballot.

And look at what happened. South Dakota rejected the abortion ban and one other red state, Arizona, turned down the gay marriage ban! It's almost as if people are starting to think...gasp...progressively!

Meanwhile there was a not a word about illegal immigrants on any ballot in any state. Karl Rove's big new public-prejudice issue fizzled.

Now you're going to start hearing the Republican spin on why they lost. The most popular excuse right now seems to be that it's because Democrats are supposedly trying to appear to be more conservative, thus being more attractive to Americans in the middle. Uh, no, sorry. Considering just two years ago the supposed "#1 liberal in the Senate" was just 120,000 votes shy of taking the presidency, while this year more Democrats won because of a general anti-war consensus, I would think if anything Americans are becoming more liberal...and it's about damn time for that, too.

Let's look at my state's new senator, Ohio's Sherrod Brown. He's anti-war, anti-NAFTA, for Smoke Free Ohio, for an increase in the minimum wage, and married a Pulitzer Prize-winning liberal journalist. He's not moderate at all. In fact, the GOP kept promoting the incumbent, a Rodent of Unusual Size named Mike DeWine, as "moderate" and "in the middle." So why did the "moderate" guy lose if the country is supposedly gravitating more toward moderate politicians?

Speaking of which, just to show how progressive the country is turning, in Ohio we just passed the Smoke Free Ohio bill, which was proposed by the non-profit organization of the same name. This is a bill that will essentially ban smoking in all public places to curb the effect secondhand smoke has on non-smokers (and on the subject of secondhand smoke, sorry, but Penn and Teller are wrong, folks). Critics of the bill tried to use every threat and scare tactic they could think of to stop it, going so far as to warn us that our entire economy would be shaken to its very core (even though both California and New York seem to be doing quite all right with similar bans). And of course, the one thing nobody could really convincingly argue against were the health benefits the bill provided. After all, Smoke Free Ohio isn't some crazy bunch of hippie crackpots who don't bathe or pay taxes...it's sponsored by the American Cancer Society! One tends to believe they of all groups would know what they were talking about.

Not surprisingly, the tobacco industry--represented by R.J. Reynolds, the Cigar Association of America, the Lorillard Tobacco Co., the National Association of Tobacco Outlets Inc., and the Retail Tobacco Dealers Association, among others--banded together to form Smoke Less Ohio, a conflicting "grassroots" campaign meant to intentionally confuse voters on what Smoke Free Ohio was all about...you know, health. Smoke Less Ohio even went one slimy step further by organizing a petition, which they distributed by misrepresenting which group it belonged to, to put a competing issue on the statewide ballot...the proposal of a new amendment to the Ohio constitution! The amendment would not only continue to allow smoking in most public places, putting both customers and employees at continued risk, but also would overturn twenty-one existing anti-smoking ordinances across the state...and would prevent any further anti-smoking law to be passed in the state ever again!

Just think about this for a second. One bill was being sponsored by the American Cancer Society and was merely looking out for the health of, well, everybody, while another bill was being sponsored by the tobacco industry because they were scared shitless of losing a small amount of profit in the state. To use a Star Wars analogy, imagine that in a galactic election there were two different bills concerning the Death Star. One proposal was sponsored by the Rebel Alliance and wanted the Death Star to be destroyed in the interest of peace. The other proposal also claimed to want peace but instead wanted to slightly regulate the power of the Death Star...but then it's revealed that not only would it instead give the Death Star even more power, but also that it just happened to have been sponsored by the Empire! Which one would you have voted for?

Thankfully, most Ohioans did their homework. Smoke Less Ohio's amendment was defeated, while Smoke Free Ohio's bill was passed by a considerable margin. "Moderate" my ass. We want clean air to breathe, a decent wage for everyone to match both inflation and the rising cost of living, responsibility in our elected officials, and an end to a war that was started on a lie. Unfortunately in our society, such common-sense issues are deemed to be "liberal." So be it then.

See? It all goes back to breathing.

In the end, what's all the more thrilling is that for apparently the first time in his life, Bush will hear a word that nobody has ever dared to lob his way: "No." For the first time, someone will tell him that he is not allowed to do something. For the first time, he will have to answer to somebody else.

Bush is finally going to crash and burn, and I'm going to sit there and watch with a big smile on my face.

It's going to be a very fun couple of years.


Quote of the Month

"One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."
Bush to CBS "journalist" Katie Couric on September 6

Link of the Month
Where Bush's Arrogance Has Taken Us
by Hightower Lowdown's Jim Hightower