Sunday, November 02, 2008


Four years ago I was staying in Ventura, CA, providing homecare for my newly bedridden mother.

The call had come ten days earlier that she was in the hospital with a condition that would kill her within a day or two. When I arrived at her bedside my mom was dictating her voting choices to my cousin, Barbara.

Barbara was quite amused that my mom’s greatest concern was to get her absentee ballot filled out and mailed before her demise. By my mom’s way of thinking, if she had only one minute left to live, she’d use it to vote against George Bush.

It turned out that my mom lived another seven weeks, during which she had to witness Bush’ reelection.

So I was thinking about death and politics, and I had an epiphany about democracy.

Of course, there were reports of voting irregularities, and I found the reports disturbing. Efforts to suppress voter turnout, or to expunge qualified voters from the rolls, or stuffing ballot boxes, or hacking touchscreen results, all are attacks on democracy, or so it seemed.

The essence of democracy, or so I thought, was that people affected get to vote. The vote is sacred, and to be respected as thoroughly as manners at a Garden Society tea. People who suppress votes, or send crappy machines to black neighborhoods, I reasoned, really don’t believe in democracy, all they believe in is winning.

And, I had to admit, the skullduggery wasn’t particular to any party. The Kennedy victory was corrupt as hell. Kennedy was succeeded by “landslide Lyndon” whose first election to public office was made possible by the discovery of a “lost” ballot box, the contents of which changed the outcome.

Even saintly (ahem) Bill Moyers apparently committed numerous serious felonies when he and Lyndon Johnson had J. Edgar Hoover (blackmail was his game) dig up dirt on Barry Goldwater operatives prior to the 1964 presidential race. This was, at the very least, theft of government services and conspiracy to do so.

I’ve always felt queasy about Moyers. As a confidant of LBJ’s Moyers hasn’t come clean on the JFK assassination, which propelled LBJ’s career and as a result, Moyers’ own. Moyers certainly has Vietnamese blood on his hands.

There’s no statute of limitation on murder. Hoover was criminally liable, at least after the fact. What was Moyers’ role in the cover-up?

Anyway, politics, whether in democracies or otherwise, is not a Garden Society tea. Humans have long been willing to kill for power, so lesser offenses shouldn’t surprise. The USA is likely no better or worse.

My insight, coming strangely in the heightened state of waiting for a loved one’s imminent death, is that democracy isn’t about process and procedure, it’s about dramatis personae. It’s about who gets to participate in the skullduggery.

In America, anyone with ambition and smarts can get involved in the corruption and intrigue. In other societies participation in government is limited to a subset of the population.

Here it’s possible for the likes of Sarah Pallin to occupy the oval office, if not wield actual power.

And Bill Moyers, a poor kid from Oklahoma, certainly went far.

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Anonymous said...

Willie, I've been missing your insight. Excellent as usual. rs

The Blue Elephant said...

I too resented Moyers for years, but with his programs on PBS, mostly recently Bill Moyers Journal, and as he was instrumental in exposing Dulay/Reed/Abramoff (although John McCain takes full credit for it), I have finally decided that his expiation is complete. It infuriates me that people like Charlie Rose has Reed and Kissinger and the like on his program without introducing them as criminals. I hope everyone sees TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE to keep up to date their list of people to detest for decades, in the hope of trials for the vicious.