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A Chicken in Every Pot? Try a Muffler on Every Car

March 18, 2001|CRISPIN SARTWELL | Crispin Sartwell teaches philosophy at the Maryland Institute, College of Art. E-mail:

There are many ways to assess a new presidency. We might consult approval ratings or list legislative successes. We could tote up gaffes and missteps. Or we could take the current, wildly popular approach of assembling typical Americans and seeing what they think.

Through an extensive statistical analysis of census data, we assembled the single multi-hued American who is most like you, and asked him how he was coping with the changed political and economic landscape that has come with a Bush administration.

To protect the anonymity of this typical American, we refer to him only as "Crispin Sartwell." Like you, Crispin Sartwell was not sure who he voted for in the last election, but he was relieved that he would not have to watch Al Gore on television every day for the next four years and so was initially prepared to give the new president his support.

"I was teaching Bakunin to a roomful of art students when the department secretary came to tell me my wife was on the phone. The bottom had finally fallen out of our tech stocks and she was hysterical," Crispin reports. "Our savings had dissipated like a mist." Crispin is raising five children with a woman we'll call "Marion Winik." Like you, they are worried about how they'll continue to buy their wretched ingrates skateboards and stuff from Target, as plans to acquire PlayStation 2 crumble before their eyes.

When asked the simple question of whether he was better off than he was two months ago, Sartwell stared back at his interlocutor with a haggard face and hollow eyes--a far cry from the dashing paper thousandaire, the philosophy professor-cum-401k magnate of pre-chad America.

But Crispin hadn't lost faith in his president. "I can relate to Bush,"he says. "He's so friendly and, just like me, he rarely makes any sense. I trust him."

Both Crispin and Marion work all day typing. They are avatars of the New Economy and the Information Age, of a bold new vision of the future in which all people have an unlimited opportunity to type all the time.

So Crispin and Marion were relieved when they heard that Bush had rescinded those pesky ergonomic regulations. This would allow them to type continually without investing in the unnecessary pads and chairs demanded by meddling government bureaucrats. But soon even the kids were groaning and clutching their lower backs with their twisted fingers.

Health care issues are what may finally bring this typical American family to its knees. There came a day when Marion returned from the drugstore with a look at disbelief on her face, carrying the empty bottles that had helped Crispin hold on: the Zoloft, the Celexa, the Serzone . . .

"The credit card was rejected," she said, in a monotone. With no prospect of a national patients' bill of rights or Medicaid prescription plan, they had little hope of relief. Without his pharmaceuticals, Crispin was in emotional freefall.

Soon, all he could think about was cancerous tanning under the ozone hole caused by George W.'s reversal on CO2 emissions. He obsessed about Dick Cheney's health and the question of who would run the country if Cheney couldn't.

But Crispin managed to mobilize all his emotional resources into one last pathetic effort at optimism. "It's OK," he said. "We'll declare bankruptcy." But, entangled in Bush's recently revised regulations, they didn't qualify as sufficiently indebted.

Crispin knew he had one last shot: tax relief. "When I heard that Bush had pushed through his billion-dollar tax cut, I knew I'd be OK. After all, that isn't the government's money; it's my money. And George Bush is going to give it back to me."

Crispin, Marion and their PlayStationless brood are waiting for the check, which they will use to replace the jalopy's muffler.

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