few hours before the third presidential debate, I saw a tiny headline in one of
the countless tabloids circling my city: "480,000 New Voters Register in Florida."
kept that headline in my mind - amazed that the fragile state pivotal in 2000
is committing such a crime of enthusiasm. Wandering into my favorite celebrity
cafe on Prince Street, I ran into a crusty old city politician, whose name I protect
for his own sake. I repeated the headline for him and asked what skeptics everywhere
are asking: "Will they really vote?" His laugh was a boomer. "Of course, they
will! I've never seen so many kids, so many women, so many old guys running to
register. Don't you get it? People are mad as hell and they're not gonna take
it any more."
He's right. This country is seething. You can see it, feel it,
smell it everywhere - in bars, parties, in the streets - and most of all on the
Web, that crucial anti-medium neither the press nor anyone else seems to understand.
The rest of America doesn't merely camp on the Web right now, flirting, chasing
after the other sex. They're speaking, shouting, giving us a direct, personal
and sensory anti-poll that may be more accurate - at least in its emotion - than
Gallup or Pew.
I grant you it's hell to track down all the hot spots where people
are raging about the war and more. But I've started, prompted by my crusty old
friend. It's awesome. I asked trusty Google to tell me how many contributors were
railing on the Web "Against Bush" or "Against Kerry." The totals, produced in
roughly 30 seconds, were a landslide for, that is, against the president, roughly
7 million to 4.6 million.
Of course, Republicans can claim these Web votes are
a chauvinist crowd - young, intellectual nerds mostly. But the Democrats can say
the same about the wildly oscillating polls, which always reach the rich plus
their voicemails, not the poor and the phoneless.
Why hasn't the press properly
ranked the importance of the quality of this anger - or tied it to the tainted
Bush minority victory in 2000? It's not only because a "quality" can't be assigned
a number, or that fury isn't as sexy to editors as style. The media can't face
the activism surging through the Web.
No wonder even the mainstream Gallup-CNN
poll is telling us more than 70 percent of registered voters are determined to
vote. Pollster Peter D. Hart says, "The electorate is more energized and passionate
than I've ever seen."
If we were ever a land of gullible, happy Americans, we
aren't anymore. President George W. Bush's only hope is that America's anger is
mixed with fear: We're all afraid Osama bin Laden will strike again. But usually
Bush offers no solution other than we trust his character.
John Kerry wins if
anger trumps fear, rather than the reverse. Not since the Civil War have we faced
stakes so serious, sober or unpredictable. If all those new voters show up and
line the street - as they did in Kabul - it means a sharp turning in the road.
It means more than Bush simply going back to Texas. It means we won't take it
(endless war, endless job loss) anymore.
Douglas Davis is an artist,
critic and teacher. He is the author, most recently, of "The
Scala Guide to Art on the Internet."
2004 Newsday, Inc.