Monday, November 01, 2004


This election sure is bringing out the worst (or at least the most extreme) in people. Look no further than my last post, for instance--clearly over-the-top for someone who prides himself on rational, even-handed thinking.

It's a broad phenomenon. On Friday conservative psycho-bitch Ann Coulter (ah, shit, I did it again!) roused the antipathy of Bill Mahr's audience, and particularly that of Mahr's other guest, Richard Belzer. Belzer reached a boiling point ("She's repugnant!" he exclaimed--she, earlier, had referred to him as "Osama bin Laden") and a usually in-control Mahr actually seemed, for a few wincing moments, well... hapless in the face of this confrontation between his two friends.

On Saturday I saw a CBC program on the election (broadcast courtesy of C-SPAN, one of my favorite channels). Some anchor was moderating a kind of town-hall meeting of American voters; the discussion was interspersed with comments by concerned Canadians. One of the latter was actually a soft-spoken middle-aged American woman who had renounced her US citizenship as a last-resort protest against Bush's policies. It wasn't a violent protest in any sense; at one point she actually started weeping, apparently while considering the ramifications of her decision. It was horrible, pathetic, moving. One might argue it was patriotism at its most poignant, and at its most extreme.

I have always tried to resist the tendency, whether on the right or on the left, to see the world in Manichaean terms. Much as I admire Michael Moore, for instance, part of me is slightly embarrassed by his penchant for broad strokes; he's like the Oliver Stone of documentarians. You would think that the bald truth about the administration's actions would be horrifying enough to serve as the kind of searing indictment Moore is ultimately after; the creative edits and ironic soundtrack moments are fun, sure, but not necessarily convincing to those who aren't already anti-Bush (as the recent spate of anti-Michael Moore books and films has demonstrated).

On the other hand, reason doesn't seem to do the trick either, because there are plenty of more measured critics of the administration whose message is nevertheless not getting through (again, quoting Belzer: "Americans are stupid!"). So maybe we need Moore, however much we might not agree with his tactics (Todd Gitlin aptly called him the "anti-Bush"). And maybe we're just living in an era of extremes. Time and again I re-consider the evidence, trying to find some weakness in the argument against Bush. Time and again I come to the same dreary conclusion: that the administration is absolutely, insanely wrong. That conclusion terrifies me--it's a Manichaean conclusion, after all--but I can't escape it.

I hope we all escape it tomorrow.

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