Thursday, November 25, 2004

It Was You, Howard

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."
-H.L. Mencken

Terry McAulliffe is gone now, and all his soporific visions have evaporated with him. He escaped town in the days before Thanksgiving, on the same flight with William Hung and the lady with the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich - at least that's what the itinerary said at the bus stop. There was another hot suggestion that had him hitting the road in the witching hour with two Asian personal assistants and a case of Louis Roederer 1997 Cristal Brut in a customized Hummer that he had borrowed from Ahmed Chalabi, one of the filthiest men in the world.

Nobody really knows the truth. He either hopped a flight to Scottsdale or drove off to Miami or checked in into a private spa in the lushness of La Jolla until the holiday season blows over. The people in the San Diego area are very relaxed and don't like to pry into private matters, and people of Terry's ilk are among their favorite kind - cash and carry, and no frantic attempts to validate the credit limit. He can do no wrong in their eyes and will be worshipped like a God-like AC Milan football star, where high-rate tequilla, fresh-squeezed orange juice and honeyglow sunsets are medicine for the soul.

But there is a perverted sense of emptiness now - not like it was a month ago - when Terry's activities were stalked by the national media like the feeding patterns of a great white shark off the coast of Nantucket. In the days following the election, his media coverage became a shrill whisper and no reporters even turned on the tape recorder when discussing the outcome with him. He "no longer speaks for the party," as they say in organized politics, and the big boys were left scrambling in agony for a new target, now that he and Tom Daschle were gone.

Howard Dean is the odds-on favorite for that throne now, the guy with the heart and soul of a front-runner in a line up of candidates that are not as impressive as they are unrecognizable. Most are policy wonks or rank amateurs - Northeast senators and DLC hardliners with a heaping measure of new-age, nitwit Southerner real-politik which could "give the party more reach," as they often remarked in the Party Operative Castle, way back in the good old days, when the men were overtly manly and the women fetched coffee and kept their shoulders relaxed, between answering calls from unions, committee soldiers and the pressroom.

That castle is a pile of rubble today, a monument to scandal and wickedness. The dark areas behind the bar and massage rooms were so darkly vile that even Bebe Rebozo and Fawn Hall could operate without being detected. G. Gordon Liddy kept a small office, Lee Atwater rented some war room space in the basement, Mayor Daley ran a card game or two in the vestibule, and many of the other rooms were leased out to campaign cash cows like Far East import-export, Venezuelan Petroleum Holdings and the Disparate Sanitation Brotherhood of Teamsters with a fat retirement fund that needed skimming.

It was a degenerate's paradise, a sordid and treacherous safehouse for the well-insulated - campaign thugs and creepy shylocks and heinous narks carrying no identification and plenty of chicks. Management looked the other way, the house staff was depraved, and the bed covers in the dank guest rooms were caked and blistered with cigarette burns and nocturnal emissions.

The hardcore have mostly disappeared by now - some off to the march of time, others to Leavenworth or careers on cable TV. Only the strongest low-rent spirits linger: Donald Segretti, John Mitchell, Spiro Agnew, Lester Maddox and the deceased Scores girls sipping mightily from the absinthe bottle. They haunt the stairwells and ripe hallways cluttered with trash and memories of a demonic time in politics, moaning for finger food appetizers and single-malt scotch, and one last sniff of human essence addicted to sex and greed.

McAuliffe is now stuck in suspended animation, and Dean is moving his operation back to the grass roots again, where he discusses issues with the media carpetbaggers on Sundays and speaks to the easily motivated on college campuses for the rest of the week. He was out there again, in fact, amusing a large crowd of journalism students at Northwestern University, pushing the accelerator in his race for DNC chairperson, "The truth is the president of the United States used the same device that Slobodan Milosevic used in Serbia. When you appeal to homophobia, when you appeal to sexism, when you appeal to racism, that is extraordinarily damaging to the country," Dean charged. "I know George Bush. I served with him for six years [as a fellow governor]. He's not a homophobe. He's not a racist. He's not a sexist. In some ways, what he did was worse … because he knew better."

Dean is the uncertified party leader as of this moment - 4 points ahead of John Kerry or John Edwards, 10 points beyond Frau Mistress Hillary and 20 points over anyone else but Scott Peterson, who is faced with mandatory confinement for the foreseeable future, providing he doesn't hang himself first. There are those - political insiders like Donna Brazille and Simon Rosenberg among them - who have visions of going centrist with the message along with Southern governors as candidates, or changing the constitution so that the spirit of "Bubba" could rise again and keep hope alive.

But neither strategy would work. The paradigm for the 1990s Democrat is deader than Ronald Reagan. There aren't enough union votes or yuppie constituencies to raise the level of money needed to appeal to the average people who despise them and exist like drunken hoboes and chimpanzees, on the red side of the tracks. These are unstable and tight-fisted people who go to church because there's nothing good on TV, prone to panic like weasels, and stripped of real values or serious political views.

Howard Dean can crank out more raw energy and loyalty and action out of 20 people in a simple town hall in Manchester than Al Gore could ever dream of inspiring in a week of huge pep rallies in Las Vegas, Miami or New York. In the end, that is what politics are about - and it will be you, Howard.


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