AFP - Democratic presidential challenger John Kerry appealed for an end to the TV advertising war that has marked his election battle against President George W. Bush. Kerry said the avalanche of negative television spots and attacks being shown on US screens was scaring off voters.
"Did you see John Kerry windsurfing in that last Republican attack ad?" my father shouted into the phone last night. "Your mother and I have had it. We'd rather live in Iraq under Saddam Hussein than in this ... this ... forsaken land! You never saw any negative ads in that country when Hussein was in power! If you're smart, you'll leave, too."
He hung up without even a goodbye. I watched my wife frantically pack the kids' suitcases.
"I'm booking the very next flight out," she said. "I don't care where it's going, so long as it's out of the U.S."
I told her mom and dad were doing the same.
"They're right," she said while trying to comfort our whimpering son and daughter. "There, there," she cooed, "the big bad meanie Republicans won't scare us anymore with their big old meanie ads about John Kerry."
Turning to me, she said, "A threesome with Uday and Qusay would be better than watching these horrifying ads. How can you stand it?"
I shrugged, "You only have to put up with it every four years ..."
"You know what I think?" she said, her eyes growing wider. "I think you're a Republican. I think you support Bush. I don't think you're human! I think you're evil! EEEEEEVILLLLLLLLLLLL!"
Those were her last words to me. Last night, I heard the screen door slam, and a big yellow taxi took her away. Sometimes, you don't know what you've got til it's gone. Which isn't true for things like small pox, syphillis, herpes ... But that's another story.
I woke up this morning in my now empty suburban single home. I lay there resentfully contemplating the two Americas, how the Bush tax cuts went only to the most wealthy, who receive all the quality health care and are the only ones who can afford the latest versions of plasma TVs when they come on the market, which means only they get to see NFL games in the most vivid colors. Maybe my parents and Lorraine were right. Bush had destroyed the economy to the point where I and my neighbors could hardly afford additional HD TVs for our children's rooms. Now he was turning Afghanistan and Iraq into democracies that would no doubt devolve into a farce of a system like ours, with candidates pointing out in paid advertisements why they are more capable leaders than their opponents.
My thoughts were interrupted by a commotion outside. No, it was more than a commotion. It was pandemonium. Men shouting, women and children crying, car doors slamming shut, and engines starting. This wasn't the usual work-week cacophony. It was panic.
I jumped out of bed, ran to the open window and looked up and down my treelined epitome of bourgeois living. Some of my neighbors, their SUVs and minivans stuffed with luggage and whatever other personal belongings they could fit inside, were already driving away, while others were still loading up everything they could carry. My friend across the street was packing the last of his Bruce Springsteen CDs into his Cadillac Escalade. His wife and teenaged daughter were huddled together on the front passenger seat.
"Ed!" I called out to him. "What're you doing?"
"Did you see that latest attack ad Bush ran against Kerry?" he yelled back.
"Which one? The one with Kerry windsurfing to the Blue Danube Waltz?"
His wife and daughter screamed and closed the windows.
"Will you stop!" Ed yelled. "I only just got them calmed down!"
"We'll never be able to listen to Strauss again, thanks to that chimp, that draft dodger, that fortunate son! We're leaving!"
"Where are you going?"
"Canada. Where there's nationalized health care. You don't see them fighting the War on Terror, do you? Nooooooo ... And there's no point in staying here if we can't pick a president without all of these negative campaign ads. It's not what Jefferson and the other framers envisioned when they wrote elections into the Constitution. Okay, they were all white men who owned slaves and oppressed women and stole this country from the natives. Their hearts were in the right place. They wanted a democracy, goddamit! Don't tell me you're staying?"
"I haven't made up my mind yet. Lorraine and the kids left last night."
"What are you waiting for?" Ed yelled as he climbed behind the wheel. "Another Swift Boat ad?"
I heard his wife and daughter's blood curdling screams before he slammed his door shut and drove off, then I watched in stunned silence as, one by one, my other neighbors drove away, abandoning the lawns they had worked so hard to maintain over the years because they were afraid, afraid of what the negative Republican ads would do to the country they once knew.
I'm alone now, acutely aware of how fragile democracy is. I can't shake these thoughts of revolution, of workers of the world uniting, of making a pledge to my local PBS station over the internet so that I can hear the ding on NPR and say, "Hey, that's me!" Bush and the Republicans have destroyed our fragile democracy with their ads. It would be a sham election this year as it was in 2000. With no living registered Democrats voting, the Republicans would win easily. That had been Karl Rove's plan all along. He really was a Machiavellian genius, and if I ever read Machiavelli, that observation will probably make even more sense to me.
There's nothing left for me now. My parents, my wife and children, my friends are all gone. Our democracy is in tatters. I can only think of happier times, before Rove's superficial and ugly attack ads usurped the in-depth political commentary of Michael Moore, Dan Rather, Kitty Kelly, Richard Clarke ...
Alas, there's no point in dwelling on the idyllic past. Now I can only think about the grim future, about four more years of hell. I'm filled with dread.