Don't Blame Me, I Voted For Barn'!
By Patrick Russell
Union... You-nion... Yoon Nyun... I've been staring at this word for weeks now, trying to come up with something meaningful (and, barring that, at least mildly amusing) to say about it. And it finally hit me. After recently having my relationship with my girlfriend explode in my face in a manner befitting the most overblown John Cusack movie imaginable, it suddenly occurred to me that in a time where everyone seems to be on about some sort of union or another (be it matrimonial, political, religious, whatever), shouldn't somebody be representing the bachelors, gypsies, and ride-thumbers of the world? Maybe, maybe not, but dagnabbit, that's just what I'm a-gonna do here. Not out of any specific sense of duty or camaraderie, mind you-after all, that would tend to defeat the purpose. Nope, I just need an angle here plain and simple, and contrary bastard that I am, I look at the word "union" and I see an opportunity to shift into pomposity overdrive and act (for a few paragraphs, anyway) as The Voice Of The Unaffiliated.
Now, lest I be accused of merely glomming onto a group which, by its very definition, does not exist as a group in the first place and claiming it as my own out of a lack of legitimate inspiration or simply (and this I can't exactly deny) out of sheer laziness, let me throw a few bona-fideys out here for y'all to chew on. Aside from currently being just about as far from the point of entering the Union Of Holy Wedlock as is humanly possible, and aside from regularly listing my religion as "Spiritual Hitchhiker" on forms which require it, I'm also one of those demented schmucks who voted for Ralph Nader last year.
Yes folks, even though the guy got about two percent of the vote nationwide, and even though Al "Little Wooden Boy" Gore won the state in which I voted, and even though more people nationwide and apparently more people in Florida voted for the Wood Man than for Captain AWOL, George W. Bush's presidency is basically MY fault. Somehow the fate of the free world hinged upon my following the herd and voting damage control, and to be perfectly honest, it tends to make me feel absolutely drunk with arbitrary power. I cast one renegade vote and suddenly I've changed the entire course of American political history. It sure beats the heady rush of being able to make an entire busload of people lurch to a stop just by reaching up and pulling a cord, lemme tell you! The thing is, nobody gets it. Story of my life... I do something and everyone goes out of their way to miss the point. Is it deliberate? I don't know, but the fact of the matter is that most people who can bear to tear themselves away from watching "Survivor" long enough to give a rat's ass always seem to ask me the same thing:
"How could you possibly think that Nader was the best man for the job? He couldn't have gotten anything done!"
I've heard it and heard it for over a year now, and now with Bush advocating military kangaroo courts for foreign nationals and his pet troll John Ashcroft using the 9/11 attacks as a thin excuse for shredding what little remains of our Constitution, I think we have a bomber-load of evidence to support my long-held contention that politicians pose far less of a Constitutional danger when they don't actually get anything done. But beyond that, the logic of the official CNN-based "Nader wasn't a viable candidate" rant tends to unravel when countered with a simple, honest fact: My vote had absolutely bugger-all to do with Nader's politics.
I voted for Ralph Nader because he was the only candidate who could really wear tweed.
Now hear me out.
I realize that most people, regardless of their political leanings, tend to come together as a unit when it comes to the belief that a presidential candidate's politics (or at least his "character", which has always struck me as Beltway code for "For the love of God, don't look at our guy's political positions!") are of crucial importance, as they will reflect on the presidency itself. Americans take their presidents seriously, folks! But a quick look at who has traditionally occupied that office, at least in the past half-century or so, shows that most Americans are (at least to my own demented way of thinking) missing a crucial point. When we elect a president we are NOT electing a national leader/father figure/symbol of pride. We're electing a National Buffoon. It's a necessary, honorable role, mind you, but that is what it is. I'm dead serious. I noticed this when I was a kid and it's taken me this long to realize that it's not just my own admittedly frayed wiring making shit up and taking it for real. I came into this world the year Nixon first won the White House and I distinctly remember watching him throw in the towel on national TV back in '74, and it's just been one buffoon after another ever since.
Obviously Americans need a leader they can poke fun of, otherwise we wouldn't keep electing them. And boy, HAVE we been electing them! (Well, MOST of the time we've elected them, anyway....) Nixon turned paranoia into performance art; Ford couldn't get two cameras in front of him before he was pratfalling all over the place; Carter was basically a Southern gentleman version of Woody Allen; Reagan had Grandpa Simpson beat hands-down in the senile ravings department; George Bush The First was not only a carbon copy of that substitute teacher we all used to love to throw sharpened pencils at, but he also capped off the whole deal by puking all over the Prime Minister of Japan; Clinton was basically just a big ol' country corn cousin who loved to whoop it up and run around waving his jimmy at anything with breasts while pretending to be a Sensitive New Age Guy; and now George "Flubya" Bush... well, honestly, where do you START with this guy? He's functionally illiterate, he labors to communicate through that permanent post-alcoholic brain cloud of his, and if he keeps blathering on and on about leading the struggle between good and evil at this rate he's eventually going to just cave in and come out for a press conference in a cape, tights, and a utility belt (at which point I'll have no choice but to join his 2004 campaign as a hired heckler). He is, to this point in history, the pinnacle of Presidential Buffoonery, the Alpha Doof, and as such he fits in perfectly with his predecessors despite the fact that he's a nasty, dangerous little man who surrounds himself with legions of other nasty, dangerous little men. Don't let that fool you. He's not there to be a swell guy, to make us feel safe, to make us better off socially or economically, or to represent some higher spiritual ideal of what it is to be an American. He is, quite simply, there to goon about for us on a level at which Homer Simpson simply cannot.
And still, he's falling short on a very basic level. He is making the same mistake that every other president before him has made. He's not buffooning up to his true potential, and there is a very simple, easily remedied reason as to why.
As I look back over the worn, TV-dinner-stained couch that is my life thus far, my whole appreciation of the fine art of buffoonery can, with some effort, be traced back to one person and one person alone: Don "Barney Fife" Knotts in the old "Andy Griffith Show". I've been watching that one as far back as I can remember and trust me, folks, this guy was the Grand Dragon Master Poobah of all whipping boys, bar none. King of the Stumblebums. He had the position of authority, took it entirely too seriously, and then just fucked up at every conceivable turn. Give him a gun and he'd shoot his foot with it. Give him a jail cell and he'd lock himself inside it. Give him a top-secret gold shipment to watch and he'd tell the whole damned town about it. It was genius, I tell ya!
Now one thing I specifically remember about old Barn' was that his pride and joy (next to the bullet in his pocket) was his natty tweed suit, "The Ol' Salt-N-Pepper" (perfect for doing The Dip, by the way), which he'd always wear when he was out with Thelma Lou or Juanita-From-The-Diner or whoever happened to be his girl at the time. And of course he'd usually screw up something there too. You'd hear that "Thwack!" in the back seat of the squad car, and the camera would pan back just in time to catch Barney tilting his head back with a handkerchief wadded over his nose while his date sat there fuming. A man in an Armani in that position simply wouldn't have gotten the laughs that Barn' did in his Ol' Salt-N-Pepper.
So for reasons which psychological science has never quite been able to provide me with satisfactory clues to, I've long associated tweed with buffoonery. Maybe it's the SOUND of the word as much as it is the association with the antics of Deputy Bernard P. Fife. "Tweed" sure does have SOME sort of nebbishy ring to it there, doesn't it? It certainly doesn't provide one with an image of stateliness and level-headedness (or even seriousness) in any case. It's hard to imagine Winston Churchill or George Patton going to dinner in a tweed suit. Walter Cronkite, Linus Pauling, Hitler, Copernicus...not gonna wear tweed. They may as well be wearing inflatable shoes, a big red rubber nose, and a "Honk If You're Horny" T-shirt for all the good it does. Now, Harvey Korman I could imagine in a tweed suit....
I think you can see where I'm going here. I think I finally can, at least.
I see a presidential candidate in an expensive, serious, professional-looking suit, and I see a man who either has no realistic concept of what the job he's bucking for truly entails or who is simply attempting to bullshit the American public to within an inch of their lives. I see a presidential candidate who's wearing tweed, who has worn tweed in the past, or who seems like the kind of guy who is maybe ABOUT to wear tweed, I see not only a straight shooter, but also a man who's got a realistic outlook on what it REALLY is to be president of the United States. This-nothing more, nothing less-is why Ralph Nader got my vote (plus, I don't think I need to go into the inherently buffoonaristic nature of the name Ralph, do I?). And that, in turn, is why George W. Bush, village idiot extraordinaire, was able to elbow his way into the White House like a six-year-old scrambling for that last McNugget, and thus why I cannot go along with the crowd and grant the presidency a level of sober respect and majestic honor which most people may choose to give it, but which historical evidence shows it does not deserve. It may "take a village," as Bozo-In-Chief Clinton's long-suffering wife once claimed, but by that same token, every village needs an idiot. The bigger the village, the bigger the inflatable shoes to be filled.
We can't exactly throw a pie at the president (or can we?), nor can we trip him and send him sprawling into a mud puddle when he runs by (jeez, maybe we can!), but we can watch him fumble with his speeches, make a complete and utter putz of himself in front of world leaders (and occasionally, if we're lucky, vomit on them), play grab-ass with the hired help (and then frantically attempt to reassure the American public that this sort of thing is, in fact, in the hired help's job description), fall asleep in the middle of Cabinet meetings (and wake up with his hand in a pan of warm water just in time to see the Transportation Secretary high-fiving the Secretary of State), and then turn around after four years and be forced to beg for another term (while pretending that we haven't been laughing and pointing at him the whole time he's been in office!).
It's a vital purpose to be served in a society such as ours. When the going gets tough, we need the opportunity to look at a person in a position of allegedly inscrutable power and watch them completely fall on their ass. It's necessary.... It's fun....
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Copyrightę2002 by Patrick Russell.
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