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The American Way: Find a Candidate to Vote Against

September 27, 2004|James McEnteer | James McEnteer is the author of "Deep in the Heart: The Texas Tendency in American Politics" (Praeger, 2004).

Like many other Americans, I find it easier to vote against a candidate than for one.

Recently, I saw a documentary film that illustrated my civic dilemma. "A Perfect Candidate" chronicled the 1994 race for the U.S. Senate in Virginia. The incumbent Democrat, Charles Robb, had lied about his affair with a teenage girl while governor, and about his use of cocaine.

Robb's Republican opponent was Oliver North, who had admitted lying to Congress about his treasonous Iran-Contra deals. The film showed his public confession of perjury during the televised congressional hearings on the matter, then caught him lying to Virginia schoolchildren during the campaign, denying that he had lied earlier. North continued to insist that he was proud of his role in Iran-Contra. These two morally challenged candidates were virtually tied in the polls.

As one Virginia voter put it, having to choose between Robb and North was like choosing between "the flu or the mumps. The real question is when we'll find a cure for what's wrong with American politics."

Robb won, leading North's campaign manager, Mark Goodin, to conclude that he had not run a negative enough race. Not a pretty picture but, unfortunately, not exceptional in American politics.

As election day approaches, pundits predictably lament the ever-dwindling voter turnout. Fewer than half of eligible Americans bother to exercise their right to vote. Many of us understand that no candidate truly represents our interests.

The first year I could vote for a president was 1968. Vietnam War apologist Hubert Humphrey ran against Red Scare smearmeister Richard Nixon. The flu versus the mumps. I couldn't choose.

In 1972, I voted to remove the Nixon-Agnew-Kissinger menace. Nixon won big but resigned two years later.

Out of the country in 1976, I failed to vote against Nixon's pardoner. In 1980, I did vote against Ronald "Seen One Redwood, You've Seen 'Em All" Reagan, who had already degraded California's environment, social programs and educational system. I voted against him in '84 too, when he displayed his senility during the presidential debates. But most voters didn't care about Reagan's brain. They liked his smile.

In 1988, George H.W. Bush rode the Gipper's coattails into office. In 1992, I voted to end the George and Danny Show, that deadly cynical vaudeville of wars, lies and stupidity. Compared with the Bush-Quayle plague, Bill Clinton felt like a spring sniffle.

Unable to keep any of his promises, by 1996 Clinton looked feverish too. But Bob Dole, who channeled the Great Depression, was also someone to sneeze at. I couldn't drag myself to the polls for either of them.

Then came 2000. My favorite description of the Bush-Gore debates -- and I'm sorry I'm not able to remember and credit my source here -- was that Bush spoke English as if it were his second language and Gore spoke it as if it were your second language. The smirking jerk versus the condescending preppy. It's amazing that as many voters turned up as they did, including those thousands of disenfranchised Floridians.

This year's choice between two Yale Skull and Bones multimillionaires would seem another futile exercise. Except that George W. Bush has shown enough contempt for most Americans to deserve ours. His reckless fiscal policies have weakened our country and impoverished many citizens. His Iraq war -- based on lies -- has killed and wounded thousands, with no end in sight. Yet he and his friends and family in and out of government continue to profit handsomely from those fiscal policies and that war. Enough already.

In the film "A Perfect Candidate," a minister admonishes his parishioners not to wait for "a perfect candidate" or they will never vote for anyone. But we need not wait. George W. Bush is the perfect candidate to vote against.

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