By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
The presidential campaign appropriately now shifts briefly to the "Confederate heritage" state of South Carolina before racing toward Super Tuesday, and the end. Already, the Bushites are talking about how to put some steel behind Shrub, maybe by dumping "General" Elizabeth Dole and her long quest for the No. 2 spot and snubbing John McCain, who they don't think would add enough luster to the ticket, in favor of a really big military brass hat, Colin Powell. As for Gore, he will wait, picking and choosing from a long list of bores of both sexes. Imagine the fearless veep paired with such soporific politicians as California's Dianne Feinstein or Evan Bayh of Indiana.
Devoid of any serious overriding issues save sloganizing on health care, the campaign so far amounts to little more than a series of packaged, dead-end themes that can only be seen as signposts along the road of America's gradual decline. To get an idea of how far right the agenda has shifted, consider that in 1992 few candidates entertained any basic change in the income tax. All sought tax cuts, but Jack Kemp's flat-tax scheme was considered too wacky for most. Now, junking the income tax for a flat tax is almost "middle of the road" in the Republican debate, with even so-called moderate George W. supporting the idea of a "flatter tax." Both Gore and Bill Bradley trail along with milder forms of the same. Junking the income tax would, of course, result in a sprawl of sales taxes that would widen the already yawning divide between rich and poor. On Social Security, the entire Republican field, with the Democrats in tow, seeks in one way or another to move toward a privatized system, which means at the very least investing retirement funds in the wildly swinging stock market.
Whereas more moderate Republicans once joined Democrats in ridiculing Reagan's Star Wars, now they are all for it, with McCain wanting to base missiles on ships that can be franchised out to threatened surrogate states like Taiwan. Even here, Clinton-Gore has moved ultra-right, with its own version of Star Wars, most lately in the news after an embarrassing missile misfire in a loudly promoted test two weeks ago.
On education, all the candidates embrace slogans. Youth violence: apple pie against it. Racial intolerance: all together now, fight it. The Internet: Yeah! (And figure out how to make money from it.)
As for the real issuesthe growing disparity between rich and poorsilence. The non-voting homeless: nothing. Subsidized housing: zippo. The rising cost of energy: burp.
Bradley speaks grandly about the need for a new politics of commitment to public life. Pushing his increasingly quixotic campaign are senators Bob Kerrey of Nebraska and Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, two men who are fleeing politics as they urge others to jump in.
Beneath all the tired rhetoric and the rallies and the "town meetings," the underlying issue of the 2000 race is as old as the republic: greed.
The way the Democratic presidential candidates try to manage the press is a study in propaganda. In the Gore campaign, nothing is left to chance, and when it suits their purposes, a little intimidation is not considered out of bounds.
At a mid-month rally in Penacook, New Hampshire, reporters clustered inside a roped-off area in a gym, watching it gradually fill up. "Supporters," who had been brought in from Boston and points south, listened uncomfortably as the ever-tedious Al Franken made jokes about cocaine to whip up the crowd. Finally, the vice president, who now leaps into crowds like a flamenco dancer, appeared, dressed casually in his new signature beige-and-brown shirt and trousers. Not long into his stump speech (which has been known to last more than an hour), a small street-theater group called Class Act unraveled a banner in the bleachers challenging him to speak out on the Amazon rainforest, where indigenous peoples are protesting plans by Occidental Petroleum, a company with long ties to his family, to drill for oil on land they consider sacred (see Mondo Washington, January 25, 2000, and October 19, 1999). Gore supporters immediately tore down the banner, and Secret Service agents assembled at the foot of the bleachers to escort the protesters from the gym. When a member of the group yelled that Gore should act to release imprisoned American Indian activist Leonard Peltier, Gore staffers appeared at the protester's elbow and asked him to stop. If not, they said, he must leave at once. Acquiescing, he was allowed to stay. A few minutes later, local cops rushed across the floor and grabbed a man who they later said had been making gestures and threatening the peace, and hustled him from the room. Reporters trying to follow were blocked by Secret Service agents, but not before they saw a half-dozen cops literally sitting on the man.
As the rally labored on, a Gore staffer assigned to patrol the press area passed a Village Voice reporter and, intently eyeing his press pass, whispered to a security agent, "That guy standing next to you is from The Village Voice." The men exchanged knowing glances. Continuing his patrol, the Gore flack paused before a Voice intern wearing a temporary Voice press pass. Stopping abruptly, he stared at the young woman as if he had just apprehended a shoplifter. Approaching the flack, the Voice reporter asked, "Is something wrong? She works for me." The Gore man shrugged. "No, seriously, is something wrong? You think we're not who we say we are? Look at my press pass." Another shrug. Pressed further, the Gore flack said he had thought the intern and reporter were working for the Bradley campaign.