Hill of Coke
turn, led to the rampant building of thousands of pseudo-adobe structures of brown-painted concrete, every last one of which seems dedicated to selling "authentic" pieces of Santa Fe history and culture. The result is the very Emerald City of bogosity. It's what you'd get if you took the one street in a small European tourist town where they sell overpriced postcards and crepes?and then duplicated it block after block. Of course it's beautiful?beautiful to upper-middle-class Americans, since all you can do here is stuff your face with food and buy souvenirs. It's a mall.
But what a mall! What food! Monkfish sausage in chocolate barbecue sauce on a bed of watermelon-coriander polenta with a coulis of jicama-laced espresso beans?that kind of food. And what souvenirs! Spangled sombreros, adobe kiva nightlights, phony Indian headdresses and art, art, art. The household god of Santa Fe's art world is, of course, that great cartoonist of the pudendum Georgia O'Keeffe, to whom a huge museum is dedicated. But galleries here are full of "Indian" art, or at least the kind of art white people make when they quit their jobs in investment banks and really start to think about Indians a lot. Much of this art is either extremely simplistic?a piece of silver hammered into a triangle, say, and garnished with a turquoise. But much of it, particularly the sculpture, is extremely erotic, if we take the Soviet brutalist understanding of the word: spear-carrying nudes with ceremonial loincloths (necessary to keep the sculptures salable to hotel lobbies), sinewy thighs and biceps (not to mention flatter stomachs than you usually see on the reservation), wild shastas of flowing "Indian" hair (sometimes carbonized black), and eyes fixed as if on some radiant proletarian future.
And the stuff sells like hotcakes. Needless to say, it bears little resemblance to the nifty little jewelry and boxes the actual Indians bring to town for the Indian market. Still, there's evidence of the local Indians buying into the idea of Indian-ness promulgated by the tourist culture. How to put this? With their actual ethnic identity weakening, they follow the logic of Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations, and cast their lot with a wider race-group, as represented in the mass media. It's like the way certain Central African immigrants to Europe neither maintain the customs of their old countries nor adopt the customs of their new ones, but rather assimilate to the American black culture they recognize from music videos. You see them all over Paris with their baseball hats, their basketball sneakers and their rap music.
Coke Is It There was big political news around here last week. First was the primary for president?of the Jicarilla Apaches. Second was a huge prison riot at the nearby Torrance County Detention Facility, which ended in gunfire. Since that facility is privately run, the state is in a (long-overdue) uproar over private prisons. And, last Thursday, four kids playing Hacky Sack on the Santa Fe Plaza were arrested for violating a 1995 ordinance that bans games involving kicking or tossing. "This is a complete abuse of power under a tyrannical government," 16-year-old Simon Constable told the Santa Fe New Mexican.
He's right of course. But, amazingly enough, New Mexicans still had a lot of attention to spare for the back-and-forth over George W. Bush's cocaine use. From this distance, it looked like two awful things happened to Bush on that front. First, at a succession of press conferences, journalists discovered the logic that would allow them to ask about coke until the cows came home: Just dwell on government drug policy and Bush's standing to administer it. Once they got the hang of this logic, the skill with which they deployed it increased hour by hour.
That spelled the end of Bush's jolly and charming dismissals, like, "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible." For me?and probably for most of the journalists trying to grill him into a Pulitzerburger?that's a fair enough policy. The problem is: That's not the policy of the federal government. No: the policy is to take kids who are "young and irresponsible" and send them to places like the Torrance County Detention Facility.
Bush's campaign spokesman Scott McClellan was resorting desperately to the Nixon-Clinton Re-Ask: "What he may or may not have done in the past is not the question we should be asking," McClellan said. "It is, 'Has he learned from his mistakes?'" Oh, really? Is that the question we ask 19-year-olds caught with a quarter-gram of coke at their sentencing hearings? Has that been George Bush's standard as governor of Texas?
Nothing Bush said was working. "It's important for us to set examples," was a line he tried at one point. "And this kind of collective guilt of Baby Boomers trying to confess on the public altar what they may or may not have done sends bad signals to your children and my children and other people's children." But here the wish was father to the thought. No one was talking about "collective guilt." No one was worried that "The Baby Boom" had tried cocaine.
The second setback, though, was self-inflicted. In Roanoke, Bush engaged the cocaine rumors by saying he could have passed the background check on coke during his father's administration. This turned the speculation into a fun math game that ordinary tv viewers could play. And they did! It was kind of like Bill Clinton's saying, in response to a marijuana question, that he had "never broken the laws of this country," which only sent people to their atlases to plot out the foreign countries where the then-candidate had lived. Suddenly last week, Americans were saying, "Okay, if George Sr. got inaugurated in '89, and if you subtract 15 years, and ..." Really, the only remaining question is just how recently he was leaning over some dirtball friend's glass-top table with a rolled-up dollar bill in his hand.
Bush, particularly at his question time in Columbus, looked like Clinton in stunning ways. It wasn't just his bid to summon Clintonesque powers of evasion merely by invoking Clinton's very own "politics of personal destruction" formula. But also all the tics: The sudden hypertrophy of his Southern accent, that "ah wouldna ... Ahma gwan tell yew..." delivery. The fake, just-thought-of-that giggle. The very slow, continuous nodding, as if to say, "I'm agreeing with myself?why aren't you?"
Bush has taken the only path possible: If he admits to having done coke, he's dead. But this is the Clintonite path, the path of one who (for whatever reason) cannot give a straight answer. No matter what the polls say?and they say he's slipping in New Hampshire?this looks like bad business. Worst for the Bushies is that the Clinton-Gore team is unlikely to declare its solidarity and take pity on a fellow victim of the "politics of personal destruction." Au contraire. One can assume that somewhere in some federal agency's pipeline is a major, newsmaking federal study on "role models and cocaine use," destined to detonate around?oh, around September 2000 or so.
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