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Published on Wednesday, November 8, 2000 in the San Francisco Examiner
Our Votes: A Snapshot Of The US
by Stephanie Salter
There is a long hair that doesn't like the short hair
For bein' such a rich one that will not help a poor one;
And different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby dooby doo-bee.

— Sly Stone 1968

As is my wont, I spent the last few weeks before Election Day trying to accept the possibility of my own worst nightmare coming true: George W. Bush in the White House and a Republican majority in Congress. (Better to be pleasantly surprised than unpleasantly surprised, I always say.)

For a few days, while I was wrapping my mind around such a Doomsday Scenario, I got some peace from knowing that — if the nightmare came to pass — it wouldn't be my fault. No, sir. Not me. The blame would belong to "the stupid people."

The ones who found Bush such a likable guy that they ignored his governing record, his sordid love affair with big oil or his failure to be forthcoming about his issues around alcohol. Or the stupid people who so wanted to teach Al Gore and the Democratic Party a lesson that they wrapped themselves in the crimson cloak of progressive martyrdom and voted for Ralph Nader.

But soon my peace disappeared.

I realized that all the stupid people who voted for Bush, or might help to elect him because they voted for Nader, think that I'm one of the stupid people.

A stupid person who, despite dozens of broken promises by the Clinton administration, cast my lot with Al Gore.

A stupid person who so feared losing abortion rights, environmental protections and the last shred of commitment to the poor and uneducated, that I ignored Gore's failings and denied the more principled Nader my support.

Four of my favorite people in the world are major Naderites: Studs Terkel, Susan Sarandon, Bonnie Raitt and Barbara Ehrenreich. No way I think they're stupid. So what are they?

I am no better and neither are you
We are the same whatever we do;
You love me you hate me you know me and then
You can't figure out the bag I'm in.
I am everyday people, yeah, yeah.

This is a nation like no other. One supposedly under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. Ha ha ha.

First of all, we are officially divided into 50 states. Several of them still maintain the right to arrest and jail consenting adults who engage in oral sex within the privacy of their own home.

In each of these 50 states are people who consider drilling the Arctic wilderness for oil akin to the murder of Mother Earth. And there are people who'd just as soon ship all "tree huggers" to whatever Amazonian rain forest they're so hot to save.

In the same suburb are people who see both abortion and capital punishment as murder, and people who see only one or the other as a crime against humanity. On the same block of the same city there are people who would die to protect the Second Amendment, and people who have died because it exists.

In the same families are people who write checks to the American Civil Liberties Union, and people who still get a kick out of telling a racist joke.

The United States of America is a country in which millions of people want more money to go to public education, and millions more want the option of vouchers for private and parochial schools.

Ours is a nation in which tens of thousands of folks pay as much for a second car as hundreds of thousands of other folks manage to live on for three years.

We lead the civilized world in percentage of incarcerated citizens, number of hand-gun homicides and the amount of meat consumed and garbage thrown out. While millions of our children and their parents go without medical insurance, millions more of us spend billions each year on mascara and moisturizers.

We are home to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Coalition To Legalize Marijuana, the B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League and the Aryan Nation. Some of us look to Bill Maher and "Politically Incorrect" for the truth; others tune into Rush Limbaugh.

In the freest democracy in the history of humans, barely half of us who are eligible bother to vote.

Like it or not, whatever the outcome of Election Day 2000 — my nightmare come true or yours — it will be an accurate snapshot of who and what we are: One nation, inherently divided, with liberty and justice for those who can pay for it.

It is nation of contradictions: deep-seated mistrust and faith, extraordinary fear and generosity. And, best and worst of all, as Sly put it 32 long years ago:

Oh, sha sha — we got to live together.

Copyright 2000 SF Examiner


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