Heigh Ho Hum

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Uh-oh. It's election time again in Blighty. Tony Blair, the Snow White of British politics, is bringing out the seven dwarfs in all of us. I've become Sleepy listening to his radio broadcasts, and most of my friends are Grumpy. A few Dopeys are voting Labor, and nobody is Happy. There may not be a Sneezy, but both Labor and the Conservatives are oversubscribed with Sleazies. And Doc can't do a damn thing to fix it.

Luckily, the campaign in this country lasts only a month. Most people won't bother to vote, but Labor will call its inevitable victory a "landslide," maybe even an "historic landslide." The Tories are hopeless. They had 18 years in Downing St. under Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Major, but they haven't been able to sell themselves or their policies since they went into opposition. You might wonder why. Well, Tony Blair took all their policies: privatizing every national industry the Conservatives didn't offload below market value to their friends, sucking up to big business, playing the race card by calling every tortured Kurd or battered gypsy a "bogus" asylum-seeker, letting the schools and health service rot, dutifully joining American air raids on the Third World, selling anticivilian weapons to the militaries of Israel and Indonesia, giving subsidies to the big agribusiness corporations in order to accelerate the bankruptcies of small farmers, spying on the public with millions of closed-circuit cameras and listening devices and sending more and more young people to prison. When the so-called left party can do all that, and still keep what is left of the working class on its side, who needs Tories?

The demise of politics, which used to involve public debate and the poor taking an interest in holding onto some of the national wealth, extends well beyond Britain's shores. We saw it in the last pseudo-election in the United States. I hear about it when I visit friends in Italy, Germany, Poland and France. (Not Israel, by the way, where politics are the breath of life, and death, and voting, debating, writing and thinking all matter.) Ideas do not matter. Protest is contained, as it was in London on the first of May when a few thousand demonstrators were hemmed in by 6000 cops. There is no more political discourse, because there is no more politics. Everything now is management. It does not really matter whether Tony Blair gives, as he did, $1.5 billion to his friends and backers to build a worthless tent, grandly dubbed the Millennium Dome, that he cannot sell. It is not much different from his predecessor selling off the railways to 25 different companies whose managements could not collectively run a gas station. What depresses me is that we, the public, have given up. We surrender our souls, and the few who bother to vote give their votes to advertising campaigns, public relations tricks and money. The only reliable guide to victory in a U.S. Senate race, for example, is who spends the most money. Neither race nor sex nor age nor political party of a candidate will be as reliable a predictor as the size of the cash box.

"What ass first let loose the doctrine that the suffrage is a high boon and voting a noble privilege?" the bard of Baltimore, H.L. Mencken, wrote in 1920. He was holding his nose to vote for Warren G. Harding, a drunk and one ready to enforce Prohibition who lived too short a time to prove that he would have been the worst president in American history. I remember the early years of my political consciousness, when the choice that befell the country seemed the reductio ad absurdum of democratic politics: Richard Milhous Nixon and Hubert Horatio Humphrey. My God. Compared to the intellectual midgets who followed, Tricky Dick and Hubey were statesmen. We've come a long way, all of us, down. Compared to De Gaulle, what is a Chirac? To Churchill or Atlee, a Blair? To Lincoln, a GWB? In this downward trend, the heights weren't that high to begin with.

I remember once seeing Mike Dukakis at a table with a bunch of financial backers in a Boston restaurant. I never rated Dukakis, but until I heard him groveling to a bunch of used-car salesmen and realtors, I had no idea how low a man could go. You can be damn sure he was no different from his opponent or from Tony Blair and his opponent, a Yorkshireman called William (not Bill) Hague. They are all lackeys at the court of money, the money they need to run campaigns. The money they need, because politicians come to office young and live long, to help them through retirement with places on corporate boards, speaking fees, book contracts and the rest of the perks in the gift of Murdoch, AOL Time Warner or Lockheed.

On May 16, some naive believers in democracy are opening a website to, wait for it, debate issues in Britain and the rest of the world. They're good guys and their hearts are probably in the right place. You could give them a try. Their hope is to revive debate about fundamentals and restore democracy.

Vox populi, vox dei? Most of the populi are staying home, so the divinity may just stay out of this one. So, we whistle happily in service to Snow Blair, Heigh ho, heigh ho, it's off to nowhere we go. Hey, hey, LBJ, where are you today?

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