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DANA PARSONS

Real-Life Tragedies Deepen Emptiness of Election Season

November 06, 1994|DANA PARSONS

It'll be dark by the time I vote Tuesday. Behind the curtain, I'll punch my ballot and wait for the light emitted by my wisdom to illuminate the countryside for miles and miles. Failing that, I'll settle for the consolation of thinking that voting inches the republic forward. Multiply my act by millions of others around the country, by Jove, and look how far we will have advanced in a single day!

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth . . . Another voice in my head will confront the folly of it all. It will ask me to relate the inanity of the political season to what's really wrong with the country. It will ask me to make the connection between $25-million campaigns and the bargain-basement realities of life.

Such as, you ask.

Such as a mother in South Carolina who confesses to killing her two young children.

Such as the Orange County boy who tried to kill himself last week in class because his puppy-love relationship had soured.

Such as the two Chicago boys who pushed a 5-year-old out a window to his death because he wouldn't steal candy for them.

Wouldn't you love to see something on the ballot that would let you get at any of those problems? Instead, we've had to listen for months to how immigrants are ruining California and how the tobacco industry has been treated unfairly.

When human tragedies are occurring on a weekly basis, are we supposed to take seriously a candidate whose election-season mantra runs no deeper than "government is the problem" or "I'll cut your taxes"?

Go ahead, pal, get government out of my life and cut my taxes. I won't stop you. But after doing that, would you mind terribly devoting a bit of your immense egotism and energy to what's really wrong with the country? Somehow, I don't think an extra 10 or 20 bucks in my pocket per paycheck is going to turn this thing around.

I shouldn't think aloud like this, because, believe me, I'm not putting out a call for the "family values" cavalry. To paraphrase whoever said it, if Pat Robertson is the answer, I don't want to know the question.

And yet, even as most thinking citizens have an instinctive feeling that family breakdowns are a big part of our social problems, they also know that just declaring one's self a "family values" candidate falls somewhat short of the mark. Just what do you mean, sir or madam? If your inkling is that reciting a prayer in school every morning will get us back on the straight and narrow, I'm afraid I'm going to need a little more than that from you.

The emptiness of the election season deepens as the days shorten. While these stories of human tragedy swirl around us, the candidates act almost as mocking disclaimants that anything out of the ordinary is actually occurring.

While hearing one minute that a mother would let her two sons drown, a candidate's ad talks about his or her opponent being in the pocket of lobbyists.

While preteen boys commit murder and think nothing of it, candidates talk about whether their opponent filed tax returns.

While a teen-age boy goes home, brings a gun to school and then shoots himself in front of his classmates, candidates argue over which of them is more condemnable for hiring illegal immigrants.

It can't be that the candidates don't hear the noises around them. It can't be that they don't see TV or read the papers. You have to assume they know what's going on in their society. Not to name names, but how can someone spend $25 million to get elected and have as their solution to today's problems that people eschew government and do more volunteer work?

For $25 million, I at least want some screwball ideas. If I want sophomore-in-high-school ideas, I sure wouldn't spend 25 million for it.

Somewhere out there, someone thinking about running for office in some distant millennium must really hear the heartbeat of the society. Someone must know the drum the candidates are banging is way out of rhythm. Someone must see the gap between what they're saying and what is happening around them.

Where are they? Why can't we find them? Why can't we do better than this?

Why in California were we left with a governor's race dominated by immigration and the death penalty and a U.S. Senate race dominated by whose money would stretch the farthest?

I guess you could call this an election season lament. Pardon my darkness, but take heart in knowing that it'll only last through Tuesday.

Once back in the light on Wednesday morning, I'll forget completely for another couple years how much false hope I bring to the ballot box.

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Parsons Online

* Missed one of Dana Parsons' columns? There's always a collection of recent ones available through the TimesLink online service. Parsons is also taking questions from subscribers on the TimesLink bulletin board in the Speaking Out section.

Details on Times electronic services, A4.

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