President Ronald Reagan would often confuse motion pictures and real life. Now he's got me doing it, too.
Am I mistaken, or is Forrest Gump, played by George W. Bush, about to place his hand on the good book and take the oath of office?
"A new drama of invention starring Mr. Bush is beginning to unfold," gushed a New York Times editorial. That's how the paper of record referred to the impending inauguration of Boy George. I kid you not.
Several news outlets have noted in passing Dubya's "Reaganesque management style," how he gets "impatient with distracting details," as Time magazine put it. But Boy George is not as good an actor as the Gipper, and for all we know, he might even be dumber than Dan Quayle. While deferential on camera, conservative TV pundits laugh among themselves during commercial breaks about our next president's modest cerebral capacities.
Perhaps it's fitting that Boy George is one of the poorest communicators ever to occupy the Oval Office. Describing him as "a man whose lips are where words go to die," GOP speech-writer Doug Gamble muses that "Bush's shallow intellect perfectly reflects an increasingly dumbed-down America.... To many Americans, Bush is 'just like us,' a Fox-TV president for a Fox-TV society."
Ours, after all, is a country in which one out of three adults can't name a single nation that the United States fought against during the Second World War. Beset by historical amnesia and political apathy, we are a country where barely half the number of eligible voters cast their ballots for president and most citizens don't know if their elected representative is a Democrat or a Republican.
When Boy George made the ludicrous assertion in one of the televised debates that we still need more studies before we can confirm global warming, was he being completely clueless or a shameless shill for corporate power? Or both?
If there was ever a president defined by his well-heeled donors and advisers, it's Boy George. Emanating antigravitas, he is a compelling example of Gertrude Stein's famous phrase "there's no there there." Less a leader, in the imperial sense, than a personification of interests, Dubya is above all a reflection of the company he keeps a predictable gaggle of oil and agribusiness execs, avid militarists, free market fundamentalists, and death penalty freaks, with a few unreconstructed neoconfederates thrown in to spice up the drab cast.
The new administration will be structured as a corporation, we are duly informed, with Chairman Bush setting the general tone and offering consensus-building missives from on high, while Vice President Dick Cheney, the mother of all CEOs, tackles the "distracting details" of running the country. "He views governing more like a business," said Dave Lesar, Cheney's number two at Halliburton, the human rights-challenged oil services firm.
While some editorial writers may take exception to the odd cabinet choice or two, major news media are eager to shore up the legitimacy of the president, a task deemed all the more urgent given the partly farcical and thoroughly scandalous manner in which Boy George laid claim to victory. Having lost the nationwide popular ballot, he stole the election by obstructing a recount in Florida, where more people intended and tried to vote for Democrat Al Gore.
Aided and abetted by the Supreme Court, Bush's grand larceny hinged on finagling the law to insure the desired result in the electoral college. The outcome was sealed when two justices with personal ties to the GOP establishment refused to disqualify themselves over conflicts of interests. The fact that Scalia's son and Thomas's wife earned their keep as Republican operatives adds a new twist to the usual conservative flimflam about family values.
"American politics is essentially a family affair, as are most oligarchies," Gore Vidal said. And oligarchy is from whence Boy George hails. Privileged beyond repair, he's the penultimate fortunate son whose very presence in the White House makes a mockery of the "will of the people."
The fix was in a long time ago ever since the Founding Fathers concocted the electoral college as a hedge against the "tyranny of the majority." At the Constitutional convention of 1787, James Madison objected to the direct election of presidents on the grounds that it would put Southern states at a distinct disadvantage. To bolster the political influence of the South, a compromise was instituted so that a black slave (who was not allowed to vote) would count as "three-fifths of a man" for the purposes of calculating the number of electoral college members allotted to each state.
Boy George owes his term in office to a centuries-old political system that was designed to keep African Americans from overcoming the legacy of slavery. Look at what happened in 1876 when electoral college chicanery trumped Democrat Samuel Tilden, who won the popular vote, and gave the presidency to Rutherford B. Hayes. This devilish, smoke-filled, backroom bargain had profound consequences, signaling an end to Reconstruction and the resurrection of the white power structure in the South, which doomed blacks to generations of semiservitude.
In effect, the robber baron industrialists of the North had cut a deal with the landed gentry from below the Mason-Dixon line, and within a year the armies that fought the Confederacy "would be withdrawn from the South and sent west to drive Indians from their ancestral lands," historian Howard Zinn said. The U.S. army was also deployed to smash the great railroad strikes of 1877, Zinn explained, as "Democrats and Republicans, while fencing with one another in election campaigns, would now join in subjecting working people all over the country to ruthless corporate power."
Fast forward to Florida, year 2000, and the festering inequities are eerily familiar. We find an astonishing number of black Floridians whose ballots were disqualified or who were denied the right to vote. According to Human Rights Watch, 31 percent of all African American men residing in the Sunshine State were barred from polling stations because of a felony conviction, including many who had paid their debt to society and were no longer under criminal justice supervision.
Factor in hundreds of thousands of Florida residents whose names had been mistakenly purged from the voter rolls. Consider also the transportation tie-ups, police blockades, short voting hours, and faulty equipment in predominantly African American districts all of which contributed to undercounting the black vote. Florida officials have known of such problems for years, but Gov. Jeb Bush, big brother of Boy George, did nothing to remedy the situation.
Similar conditions exist in poor enclaves across the country, where old voting machines resulted in a plethora of dimpled chads and other glitches, which effectively disenfranchised tens of thousands of black people. Meanwhile, affluent white suburbanites in Florida and other states utilized more reliable optical scanners for voting, and consequently, a much smaller percentage of their ballots were disqualified due to technical errors as compared to heavily black precincts.
Crunch the numbers, taking into account all the discriminatory practices and the glaring racial gap in voided votes, and guess what? An African American still amounts to something like "three-fifths of a man" at the polls.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People delivered a scathing, 300-page report to the Justice Department, which documented "voting fraud, intimidation and irregularities," many of them in Florida. And two class-action lawsuits aimed at reforming voting procedures in future elections were filed last week.
But don't expect much sympathy from a Supreme Court led by William Rehnquist. An ardent opponent of desegregation during the civil rights movement, Rehnquist owned two homes with covenants against selling to Jews or people of color when he became the chief justice in 1986. Information about the covenants surfaced during his confirmation hearings, but Senate backed him anyway.
"Despite the seesaw aftermath of the presidential election, we are once again witnessing the orderly transition of power from one presidential administration to another," Rehnquist wrote following the controversial Supreme Court decision that put Boy George over the top.
It was if the electoral outcome, like a televised sporting event, had been shown on instant replay in slow motion, and everyone could plainly see that the refs blew it. They made the wrong call. But the ruling stands anyway, and the game goes on. A parody of democracy continues. So let's all hail the thief, our commander in chief.
Martin A. Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the author of Acid Dreams and The Beast Reawakens, a book about neofascism. His weekly column, Reality Bites, appears in the San Francisco Bay Guardian every Monday.