March Madness

By Elizabeth Cox

Elizabeth in 1981 My husband is an avid Illini fan. Like 50 thousand other fans, he pretends that orange and blue actually match and wears them together in the same outfit. He has an Illini mouse pad, coasters, and even a satin windsock. These complementary-color gifts have nothing to do with his fetish. If the team is having a bad season, he watches anyway. Sometimes he offers pointers to teammates by yelling at the TV. He shares their joy in victory. I don't get to watch TV during March.

My friend Chris is an avid Bears fan. Like 1.5 million other fans, he proudly wears orange and blue too. He can tell you the names and stats of current and past players off the top of his head. He spends his lunch hours scouring the sports section seeking inside information on next week's game. Even if another team has first-seed position, Chris can give you a play-by-play account as to why the Bears defense may out-strategize the opponent. Or how the young quarterback has the foresight to use daring plays against the enemy.

My friend Brian is a Republican. Like millions of other registered Republicans, he believes that a red, white, and blue elephant is a viable mascot (although it is not native, nor can it survive in most of our country's climates). He argues vehemently that the reason that 9/11 happened was because the former Democratic administration weakened our military and defense systems through budget cuts. He thinks that the EPA is over-funded. His argument is that there is still no proof that global warming is occurring. He thinks that the spotted owl, and other extreme environmentalist projects have aided in weakening our economy. He believes that the past century's American experiment in big government has failed; that our publicly run post office, school systems, and transportation infrastructure would work more efficiently if they were privatized.

My mother is a staunch Democrat. Like millions of other registered Democrats, she thinks an ass is a viable mascot. She believes that a women's right to choose is in danger, and that this should be the number-one voting issue for national elections. She donates both money and time to the Champaign County Democratic party, N.O.W., Planned Parenthood, Sierra Club, and other organizations. She believes that it's the government's responsibility to protect our environment, our poor, our homeless, our uninsured, and our children. She opposes the Star Wars plan, but thinks that American defense should receive an increase in tax dollars.

My mother's team and Brian's team have been playing against each other for quite some time. Every other November, these two obsess over their teams' stats by scanning nightly news programs. Each is sure the other will win more seats in Congress. Each believes that commercial news programs are slanted towards the other's side. Both have valid statistics about one side or the other being corrupt, backing an extreme position, or introducing a worthless bill. Both of them concede there are issues with their team, but feel it is the best team out there.

I don't have a team mascot (but I favor the eagle) and I don't have a flag taped to my front window (although I almost bought one because it had a "Made in China" sticker plastered across the red and white stripes). I have historically been Green, Democratic, and liberal. But lately I am re-evaluating the game and I am not sure I want to buy season tickets for next year. The issues that are keeping me up at night have not been addressed, nor do I have faith they will be as long as our political system is run like a spectator sport. Unfortunately, going on strike would only be a victory for both sides and not for our side.

March to Madness

During the last Federal election, I inadvertently voted for a city legislator who was under indictment for bribery. She was caught on tape soliciting bribes in exchange for government positions. I voted for her solely because she was a Democrat. My only two choices were the two teams. In fact, I voted "my conscience" by simply voting Green or Democratic across the board. Towards the end of the ballot I voted for a Republican judge so that I could later say, "No, I didn't vote across a party line." But I did.

I am starting to worry that the system that we have created is putting our country in jeopardy.

While the Republicans argue that the spotted owl's habitat conservation is hampering progress and while the Democrats denounce the Republicans' plans to open up the Alaskan wildlife for oil production, there are high levels of dioxins and TCDDs in Lake Michigan. University of Illinois tests show that local women have trace levels of dioxins and TCDDs in their breast milk (more if they consistently eat fish caught in the lake).

While both sides were debating the energy crisis in California, Enron contributed millions of dollars to both parties in an effort to keep energy production low and price per unit high. Although both parties have introduced campaign finance reform bills, oddly enough, both parties' bills have been unconstitutional in one way or another.

While over one-third of the world population hates America¹ with probable cause, both the current and past administrations have continued to support military action against small bands of armed tribes through the use of large military might. What we consider to be a small and "targeted" campaign in many of the world's "hot spots" continuously kills, maims, and causes collateral damage to those countries' civilian populations. We are so obsessed with our goal of not losing American soldiers that all other lives seem to be acceptable losses. This might explain why many foreigners don't believe we are the "world peacekeepers" that many Americans feel we are.

While both teams debate (and for the most part support) gamma radiation treatment for beef and chicken as a way to reduce or eliminate the growing E.coli0157:H7 and Salmonella infections in this country, both sides continue to receive unprecedented amounts of campaign contributions from the three largest meat-packing plants in America. Studies by Harvard Medical, the USDA, and the CDC show that both salmonella and E.coli0157:H7 are introduced to meat through fecal-matter contamination. Even though both E.coli- and salmonella-related illnesses and deaths have been on the rise continuously every year since 1983, the Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations have been cutting the USDA's inspection authority in meat-packing plants and slaughterhouses. All three administrations were lobbied heavily by the three largest meat-producing plants in the nation² . Harvard Medical found that 78% of our nation's ground beef, delivered by the three largest production houses, is tainted by fecal matter. The slaughterhouses produce at too fast a rate to be able to properly disembowel and clean the carcasses. There are over 100,000 incidents of reported food poisoning in the U.S. each year (and probably twice that amount that go unreported)³. Gamma radiation is like treating a gunshot wound with surgery rather than not shooting the person in the first place.

Marching to a Different Tune

My friend Jen once dated a Republican who ran for Congress. Well, if you know Jen, "dating" is the wrong term. She met a "nice, cute boy from out of state" in a bar and ended up having him as a weekend guest. Some friends and I met up with Jen at Silver Cloud for Sunday brunch a few days later. Jen came swooping in like a breath of fresh air. This woman (you must meet her) probably has one of the most colorful and liberal auras ever. She introduced herself to the others at the table, gave me what I thought was the sweetest hug, and whispered, "I have got to get away from this guy." I nodded back at her to assure her that I would take care of it, and promptly took charge of the seating arrangements. I ended up sitting next to her date, and most of our conversation centered around him.

Elizabeth: "So, what's your name?"

Jerry: "Jerry." (Names, places, and dates have been changed to avoid lawsuit. Well, at least I hope so.)

Elizabeth: "What do you do?"

Jerry: "I am a city legislator in Indiana. But I am running under the Republican ticket for Congress as the youngest in my state."

Elizabeth: "You're a Republican?"

Jerry: "Oh, you're a Democrat?"

Elizabeth: "Uh, no."

Jerry: "I get that a lot from people your age."

I asked him what made him become a Republican. It turns out this guy had finished his undergrad studies and was looking for a job in his hometown. One night, one of his frat buddies suggested that he run in the local election. He did, and he won.

Elizabeth: "You had no prior experience in politics?"

Jerry: "None"

Elizabeth: "Is your dad rich?"

Jerry: "Nope. Blue collar as it gets."

Elizabeth: "Is your uncle politically connected or something?"

Jerry: "Nope."

Elizabeth: "OK, I give up. How did you win? Did you not have an opponent?"

Jerry: "Alright, alright, I know what you're getting at. Here it goes, my name is Jerry Lewis."

This guy had made both a career choice and political future off the name of a guy who had made millions as the biggest moron on screen. I searched the Web for the name Jerry Lewis, and it turns out there is another Jerry Lewis who is a Congressman in California. (For the record, I am not referring to that Jerry Lewis—although it makes you wonder how he got elected.)

I bring up Jerry because he gave me some interesting insight into politics that fine Sunday morning. The reason that Jerry is a Republican is because the incumbent he ran against was a Democrat with no opponent. Not because he believed one way or another necessarily.

Jerry had come to the conclusion that the Republican party would never overturn Roe vs. Wade. He stated that he had been to many party meetings where many members believed the same thing. According to Jerry, "If the Republican party were to ever change the laws to be truly pro-life, the Republican political analysts believe that the silent majority would rise up like a tidal wave and crush the party in the next elections." However, he said, the Republicans always have to look like they are working towards that goal, or the extremists in their party (i.e. Buchanan, Limbaugh) would separate into their own faction, taking much of the parties money and votes. "In fact, the Democrats do not want to see Roe vs. Wade as a safe conclusion either," stated Jerry. "We need this battle so that hard-liners will come out and vote for their respective sides."

In fact, although Jerry could recite the party's lines verbatim, he and I had very similar views on America. As long as I agreed that James Carville was a propagandist he agreed Rush was. As long as I conceded that the Democrats were in it for the power, glory, and money, he conceded that he wasn't really sure what he wanted out of the whole gig either. We both agreed that the apathy of the voters had caused this situation. But neither of us had a good answer on how to change things. We both agreed that no one in either party was interested in campaign finance reform (except MAYBE John McCain—MAYBE).

Soon after meeting Jerry I had a dream about the two parties. I dreamed that all the team players, from both teams, were in the locker room after a game night. However, the locker room had wood-paneled walls, a marble fireplace, and predominately middle-aged white men (with a woman and a black man standing in the corner). They were laughing at us. Us: the cattle, the sheep, the ones that had fallen for their game. Clinton and Reagan sharing a cigar. Limbaugh and Carville telling sexist jokes and the lobbyists counting their money. Next election I am voting for Bulworth! Except, in reality, he is just another actor.

¹ South Park, the Afghanistan special
² Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser (Author's note: Eric is very much a staunch liberal Democrat and the book reads as such.)
³ Harvard Medical Review, as reported by Eric Schlosser

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Copyrightę2002 by Elizabeth Cox

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