The Man

The only lucid comment on this election that’s pierced the fog of my depression about its outcome came from someone who is not a U.S. citizen and therefore did not vote. Perhaps it was this distance from the process that allowed him to see through to its core truth. This is the story of how I came to know the sad truth and who told me about it.

One of my tutoring jobs is working on English with a man in his late thirities who emigrated here from Senegal eight years ago. He’s fluent in English by now (as well as French and seven African languages), and just needs help refining his writing skills. Every week we pick a series of questions for him to answer in writing, and we look over what he wrote last week and fine-tune the verb conjugations, pronoun agreement and idioms. Our work often leads us into interesting conversations about all kinds of things, which in turn leads to good questions to ponder and write about for next week.

One of the delights of working with Demba is realizing just how much you can have in common with someone who grew up in an African village with no electricity and no running water, farming and spying the occassional lion, who then travelled all around Africa before coming to America from Dakkar with no money and no command of English, and then married a woman from Trinidad with whom he shares the parenting of five, soon to be six, children and is a practicing Muslim, when you grew up an atheist Jew in Queens and Long Island, attended an overpriced university in New England, experienced your vastest cultural gap as being kind of a hippie hanging around a scene that was a certain strain of punk, and your farthest emigrations up and down the Northeast Corridor of I-95.

It turns out that Demba and I have a lot in common. We have simliar dispositions and simliar fashion sense. When our writing together revolves around social issues, like how to handle your friends and family, I find that we have a similar intolerance for bullshit and respect for honesty. When our writing revolves around the NBA, I find that we have a similar dislike for Kobe Bryant. When it revolves around matters of colonialism, development, religious fundamentalism and violence, I find that we have similar opinions on these things, though our the way these things have impacted our lives and formed our opinions is vastly different.

Demba is not yet a citizen, though soon we are going to start preparing for the citizenship exam. (The content of the citizenship exam and the apoplexy it causes me is fodder for a whole other essay.) Despite not being eligible to vote in this election, Demba was often more aware than I was of developments in the campaign. So when I asked him today why he thought Bush won and Kerry lost, he said, “I told you already that Bush would win. He was always going to win because in political buisness you need to tell people what they want to hear. Bush never said he made a mistake. He made a mistake, everybody knew he made a mistake, but he says no matter what that what he does is right. He is a man because he stands up to say he’s right no matter what.”

“So you’re saying even if he was wrong and everyone knows he was wrong, that he lied and fought the wrong war and it was a mistake, everyone would rather hear him say he’s right when they know he’s wrong?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Demba.

The more I thought about it, the more I agreed. Anyone who thinks the American people don’t all know that this war is bullshit is missing the point. A lot of people know this war is bullshit, maybe not everyone in America, but enough for the Democrats, and certainly even me, to assume that if everyone who thought this war was bullshit voted for Kerry, then Kerry would win. But Demba points out something perverse about the American political process. He says that Bush looks like a man. And if there’s one unspoken absolute truth about the Bush presidency and the Bush re-election campaign, it’s that THIS PRESIDENT IS A MAN. This election wasn’t about the war, it wasn’t about terror or even those abstract “moral values” we’ll now all be forced to waste valuable time pondering that would have been better spent taking drugs and jerking off. This election was about answering the question of “Who’s the Bigger Man?” It was about electing the right Man for the job. It was about choosing the Man to be the Man who is going to get you down, and making sure he’s the manliest man there is.

Now I am going to sound like one of my least favorite characters: the humorless feminist/barely-hiding-my-single-lonliness-with-lame-gender-based-humor-urban-fiction-female, but I cannot resist. A person who never admits they’re wrong even when it is abundantly obvious and could save a lot of heartache? A person who invents their own bizzarre, impenetrable reality and sticks to it even in the face of extensive proof to the contrary? A person who would rather fuck everything up and blow the world to kingdom come than admit that he was wrong? A person who lies compulsively and tries to take all the power for himself?

Sounds like a man to me!

So congratulations, America. Your president has a penis. You proved it.

I believe the American people are rewarding George W. Bush for making a series of terrible decisions and telling a series of terrible lies and then having the balls, the absolute unmitigated enormous balls, to stand up and say with absolute conviction that these were the right things to do. The genius of the Kerry campaign–and it seemed obvious at the time–was to point out all the WRONG things the Bush administration did, a foolproof formula for beating a total fuck-up. Except the genius of the Bush campaign was to do as they’ve always done and spin that idiocy and failure into something positive. Since they are magicians of meaning who can turn dissent into terrorism and military occupation into freedom and war into peace and other such feats, certainly they can spin being WRONG and unwilling to admit it into manhood. And once you can claim your candidate is the bigger man, you’re home free, especially if you happen to be running him for the leadership position in a global empire.

It seems that the American people, or 51% of them, give or take a few million discarded–and possibly deciding–votes, would rather have a president who never, ever equivocates, even if he is unequivocating about issues on which everyone knows he’s wrong. Bush says the war is right because it is simply impossible for him to be wrong. Nothing he does is wrong, therefore the war is not wrong, therefore to say that the war (or anything else Bush does or did) is a mistake and is also to be wrong, not only wrong but dangerous to America. The commander in chief is by definition always right, and a person who is always right is by definition the only person who can be commander in chief. There is no rule but this rule, no truth but this truth. Bush is right when he’s right and right when he’s wrong. This is commonly called “circular logic” or “fascism,” but in America we call it, “being the Man for the job.”

Kerry said he was wrong when he thought the war was right, and now he is right to think that the war is wrong. This is called “changing your mind” or “seeing the light,” and yet somehow on this planet, it became an Achilles heel, and opening for the Karl Rove to apply the label flip-flopper, and the rest is already scary history, turning rapidly into an even scarier future.

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