Playing the Hand Dealt

In praise of ballot-box shock and awe


It was a lukewarm evening eight disastrous years ago. Freebie microbrews splashed from iced kegs in the outdoor sanctum of the old AK Press digs in San Francisco’s Mission District. A couple hundred Bay Area radicals, anarchists and hang-dog progressives milled about gabbing or doing standups next to bookshelves inside the indie-leftie book distributor’s warehouse.

We’d all come to hear the featured speaker, veteran journalist and CounterPunch publisher Alexander Cockburn. It felt like homecoming for disaffected intellectuals and socially conscious optimists. When the time came to pontificate, Cockburn delivered the goods in spades, peppering razor-sharp political observations with verve and humorous insights in league with Voltaire, Swift and Twain.

But Alexander Cockburn got one thing terribly wrong. In pitching that we vote for the best and not settle for less, Cockburn strongly opined that George W. Bush would be, issue upon issue, a better president than Al Gore—even on the environment. Bush better on the freaking environment, I kid you not.

This isn’t to cast dispersions on Alexander Cockburn. Hell, I supported and voted for Ralph Nader, too. Twice. With California safely in the Dem column, we were afforded that luxury. However, Cockburn’s insistence that there wasn’t much difference between the two major party candidates, and that on balance Bush would be the better of the two, illustrates how progressive navel-gazing, particularly in battleground states, can lead to woes worldwide. By opting out of the old nose-hold, by not playing whatever quad-annual hand actually gets dealt us, we stand to lose every social necessity. Sure, four aces would be ducky, but even a pair of deuces beats folding and fading away.

It’s been eight years now since GW’s minions stole Florida. Then came Bush v. Gore, with the Supremes inflicting Boy George pathogens upon our entire planet. In his recent 60 Minutes interview, (mis)Justice Antonin Scalia arrogantly dismissed still-festering resentment at him and his cronies’ judicial coup as being “so 10 minutes ago.” To hell with the Constitution, insists Antonin the Mighty, laughing off his impeachable behavior like a smirking bully demanding we just get over it. And yet if we don’t play our cards right, a similar hand could play out again this November.

We face yet another rigged election. Doubters should read Mark Crispin Miller or Greg Palast. With Diebold, ID cards, voter caging lists, dirty tricks, targeted voter suppression and just plain old elephantine election fraud all well-oiled and thriving, how do we stop those who’d stomp off with yet another election? The answer, to borrow a current administration failure, is ballot-box shock and awe.

Shock and awe the sons of bitches by signing up, driving, calling and bugging the shit out of so many new and abused voters that even should the Repugs steal 20 percent of the vote, they lose in a landslide. If foreign-democracy numbers of Americans cast ballots in their own self-interest for the best candidate with a realistic chance of getting elected president, we just might beat the house. And with all his warts, shortcomings and question marks, the best candidate with a real shot at the presidency is Barack Obama.

All of which leads us to Hillary Clinton, or, more precisely—to Hillary Clinton’s supporters. Many fervent Hillary backers threaten to sit out the general election—or else to vote for Grampy McBush. I don’t need to explain why that would be stupid. But I do understand the disappointment, and even the rage. Really, I do. I decided to bite the bullet and switch from Green back to Dem this year in vain hopes the donkey herd would wake up and nominate someone who’d actually represent average people.

Dennis Kucinich was my pick among this season’s Democratic hopefuls. Kucinich was ignored and belittled by big media. He dropped out, so I opted for John Edwards. Frankly, both Clinton and Obama ranked pretty low on my list. But here we are and Obama’s it. He’s not what I was hoping for by a long shot, but compared to Bomb-Bomb McCain, and following eight horrendous years of neo-fascism, I’m willing to settle for second or third or fourth or even fifth or sixth best, and to do my part to prevent a repeat of the previous two presidential fiascos.

So to every Hillary backer, disenchanted Republican, new young voter, Reagan Democrat, unenthusiastic lefty, minority person, retiree, student, small business owner, unemployed person, working stiff—and to Alexander Cockburn, too—I propose we play out whatever’s left in our hand this time. The world can’t afford yet another would-be king of clubs dealing out our future from the Oval Office.

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