by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
July 10, 2008
BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING US
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- When it comes to politics, I've been feeling more like a virgin every day.
It's not that I'm naive. I don't believe government mirrors "The West Wing," where smart, fast talking, fast moving people struggle to make the right decisions at the right time, while President Martin Sheen works with an orchestra welling up behind him.
Well, OK - actually, I do admit to being a little Frank Capra-esque. It's one of the reasons I live in Vermont. But with George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as my co-presidents, I've been raped, robbed, tortured and whipped by reality every day for the past seven years. My heart is a bleeding, barely breathing thing. You'd think there was no innocence left.
Luckily, for a long time things were a little less brutal here in Vermont. Then, six years ago, our Republican governor, Jim Douglas, came along.
He brought with him attack campaigns, lies, spin, negative advertising and fear-mongering - the Karl Rove playbook played small, but still played.
Even so, I was still outraged last week to see someone from the Douglas campaign filming Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gaye Symington when she talked in Dummerston. Where are we living, East Berlin in the '80s? Is Big Brother watching all of us? Is Symington really that interesting? Are we all really that interesting?
I'm still a big believer in the town meeting ethos: the candidate comes to introduce herself, and the town gets a chance to speak out. None of us, including the candidate, are perfect - or perfectible. We are passionate about our causes. We are angry just as often as we are witty. We are often wrongheaded. We make factual mistakes when we talk. Sometimes our memories deceive us. We learn best from our mistakes. A long campaign season means many chances to get it right.
But how free can a free exchange of ideas be when the most innocent slip of the tongue can destroy a candidacy?
When you think about the recent presidential nominations, and how we were bounced from one trivial candidate error to the next until we had a bunch of fearful marching sticks competing for the presidency, you'll understand my concern.
Politics, they say, is a blood sport. And it can lead to real blood being spilled - just look at Iraq.
My first experience with demonization was with Nixon. But he was a snake, a national disgrace. We were just doing our job.
Then the game turned. Instead of demonizing the demons, it became open season on the opposition, no matter how good a person or politician he or she might be.
In the race for the 2000 Republican nomination, for example, John McCain was the victim of a South Carolina whispering campaign about him having a black child. (The McCains have an adopted daughter from Bangladesh.) He lost that primary and the nomination. How can he embrace President Bush now?
And remember the "macaca" incident? Thanks to the ripple effect, a pejorative from Central Africa might yet have a profound effect on the course of American history. During the 2006 U.S. Senate election in Virginia, Republican incumbent George Allen used that word to describe someone who was filming his speech. The video went viral, Allen lost, and macaca was named the "most politically incorrect word of 2006" by the Global Language Monitor.
That paved the way for Jim Webb, a highly decorated combat veteran and a champion of our military men and women, to win Allen's seat. It put Allen out of presidential politics, and Webb is now being considered as a running mate for Barack Obama. He would be a splendid choice, by the way.
Watching you mistakes go viral is a frightening thing. YouTube didn't exist in the last presidential election, but now it's a powerful political tool. And the use of e-mails has increased immeasurably. Ask Barack Obama. He smokes crack. He's a one-man terrorist cell. He's anti-American. He's fathered black babies, too.
Here in America, we're running around like chickens without our heads. We're scared to death of what's happening to our world - bad weather, expensive gas, the possibility of food shortages, blood on our hands. And so instead of holding a national conversation on the best ways to get us out of the mess that Mr. Bush and his cronies have gotten us into, we're pointing our fingers and picking on nits.
If Symington has to be careful of every word she speaks, she will not speak from her heart. She will not say what she really thinks. She will not try out new ideas and policies to see what they look like in the daylight.
Instead, she'll just mouth platitudes that she thinks will play best in the press. She'll hide her truth under a barrel. And once again we will be buying a pig in a poke (remember the last big pig we bought? "I'm a uniter, not a divider" he said.)
Vermont should be better than this. We're supposedly the last frontier for honest and open politics. I don't know if the Democrats are videotaping every move Douglas makes, but it would be a waste of time. He's been in office for six years; we have more than enough to vote him out.
Douglas must stop the videotaping at once. Only he who is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone.< A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.