Deep in the mind of dixie


WASHINGTON, D.C. – I’ve just returned from Central America, where politics is dictated by nepotism, cronyism and despotism – to the United States, where politics is dictated by, well, nepotism, cronyism and despotism.

Down there I had dinner with an official of the US peace corps. He told me he now has trouble keeping a straight face when explaining the principles of his democracy to Latin Americans.

‘But sir,’ they protest, gently, ‘your president is the son of another president; his brother is in charge of the state where not all the votes were counted; he got fewer votes than his opponent; and he only became president because the judges appointed by his party said so.’

The big joke down there now is that El Salvador and Nicaragua will be sending election monitors to the US in November.

Frankly, that’s no joke.

The assertion of nepotism speaks pretty much for itself. George Bush, an alcoholic frat boy, squibs a war that he supported, fails in every business venture he tries, and then, having passed his 40th birthday and decided he’s finally ‘grown up’, gets bankrolled into the Texas governorship, and ultimately the White House, by poppy’s oil-rich buddies.

The cronyism also requires little explanation, suffice two examples.

Remember Ken Lay, the ex-chief of Enron who cost thousands of employees their pensions and life savings, and recently sent down by a grand jury for all manner of fraud? In the Bush White House they used to call him ‘Kenny Boy’. Why wouldn’t they? It was his private jet that Bush’s lawyers and spin doctors used to fly between Texas and Florida back in 2000, when they were trying to stop the statewide recount of votes that would have given the state – and the presidency – to Al Gore.

And remember vice president Dick Cheney? He used to run Halliburton, another energy giant, and is getting deferred compensation from his old firm – even as his administration awards Halliburton contracts, which never went to tender, for the ‘reconstruction’ of Iraq.

As for despotism, what do you call a regime that has suspended habeas corpus for people, including two Australians, they are holding in places like Guantanamo Bay? And passes a PATRIOT Act that allows the government to monitor the books you borrow from the library? And whose attorney-general, John Ashcroft, who tries to make doctors hand over the names of women who’ve had abortions?

But to borrow one of the best lines from the recent – and otherwise excessively over-produced – Democratic national convention: HOPE IS ON THE WAY.

Democrat challenger John Kerry is no shining saviour. After all, he voted in favour of the Iraq war, as did fellow Senator Hillary Clinton. But his one-time Democrat rival, Howard Dean, who opposed the war, has a great line for the anti-Bush purists who are suspicious of Kerry: We cannot let the perfect become the enemy of the good.

I think the real hope lies with the American people themselves. In 2000, more than half the voters pulled a lever, punched a chad or ticked a box for Al Gore or Ralph Nader, constituting a progressive majority. This time not so many will waste a vote on Nader, who’s relying on some lunar right and Republican-linked groups to get him on the ballot in states like Oregon.

There are also 100 million eligible voters who didn’t bother at all in 2000, who aren’t quizzed in opinion polls, and who are being registered in their hundreds of thousands by groups like America Coming Together. Not forgetting the Dixie Chicks – those comely songbirds from deep in the heart of Bush’s own Texas – who are campaigning for Kerry!

After a six-week trip through the southern and mid-western US earlier this year, I sensed that people increasingly feel that Bush has taken them for a ride in a clapped-out Mazda – not even a home-brand Chevy, because his administration is shipping jobs overseas – down a cratered road to a gas station where fuel tops $2 a gallon … and that’s with the House of Saud as your best buddies.

On a Greyhound bus somewhere between Little Rock, Arkansas, and St. Louis, Missouri, a tattooed war veteran who doesn’t have much time for gays or college professors or Hollywood (except Arnie) told me that, yeah, after thinking about it, he realised that Bush kinda cheated his way into office and has spent the past four years looking out for Halliburton and what was Enron.

So the best campaign slogan might prove to be the one popping up on the lawn signs in swinging states: RE-DEFEAT BUSH.

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