Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Election Day 2009

It seems that New Jersey and Virginia have handed victories to Republican governors, making it look like Barack Obama's shirt tails are not exactly an assurance of victory. The one place he might have made a difference was in New York City, where a bit of pride lingers among African American voters that an African American had made it to the White House. In that one race, Obama chose to do very little, making a very perfunctory endorsement of the Democratic nominee, Bill Thompson.

New York was surreal. Every other day, my mailbox was stuffed with Bloomberg propaganda. The airwaves were crackling with the world according to Mike Bloomberg. Bill Thompson had to jump through hoops to get matching funds. His posters were torn down. His campaign was ticketed for putting them up.

Despite all this, 26% of precincts reporting report a statistical dead heat, with Bloomberg in the lead, 47% to 46%. With all of the money spent, Bloomberg might well have adopted "Money Can't Buy Me Love" as a campaign song. Even a reporter on National Republic Radio reported feeling used, as though her vote had been bought.

I was looking for a video of an election in a one party state like North Korea or Cuba, just to convey to readers outside of New York City the one sidedness of our election coverage. Instead, I came up with a Czech punk rock video of a newly minted multi millionaire going to a political rally. His political logo was a honey bee. The video culminated in a political speech in which he did nothing but buzz. He did not utter a single word. The crowd erupted into wild applause when he loudly sipped from a glass of ice water.

That has been my observation in life, that money tends to magnify virtue and to mute criticism. With a media billionaire running for office, this effect was visible to an extreme that was almost laughably absurd. Hearing the talk on the street about the latest shootings and contrasting it with reports of crime being down reminds me of the old Groucho Marx line. "What are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?"

I wish I could pick my realities from the television like the Home Shopping Network. Unfortunately, it all comes down to what goes on in the street. Changing reality on a grass roots level is slow, hard work. Shuffling statistics does not accomplish this. Shifting attitudes and behavior does not happen quickly. I have seen attitudes towards race change in my lifetime. I have seen smoking become far less popular and fashionable. This was done through education. I smoked for 14 years. It was earnest, quiet persuasion that made me give it up. The Bloomberg approach was to compel virtue, to tax and coerce. It was the attitude of a billionaire that wants to project the authoritarian culture of a corporate work place onto a raucous and diverse city. He only succeeded in giving good health a bad name, just as surely as Ahmadinejad did with religion.

If there is one lesson I have learned in this election, it is that the reality that we see around us is something against which we should check the packaged illusions. Even with the internet making it possible to shop for information, there is still the attempt to manipulate perceptions and political behavior. The barrage of Bloomberg propaganda seemed to carry the underlying message that resistance is futile, to go with the flow. It seemed to say that a guy who is filthy rich has to be right.

As of this writing, Bloomberg is ahead, 51-49%. It's a lot closer than we thought. The polls had Bloomberg winning by a landslide. No matter what the talking heads say, the news is in your hands when you pull the voting lever. You are what's happening. When you get your information from the papers, shop wisely. Use it. Don't be used by it.


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