Political hustle

The race to run the Empire leaves you wondering what happened to good ol’ democracy

Wicked clouds without silver linings loom over downtown on the night of the Iowa Caucuses, forewarning a torrent windstorm that’ll leave everyone but TV media, with its schnoz for squall, shut in on Friday. But at a small storefront-turned-official-HQ in Midtown, some 50 Sen. Barack Obama supporters are over the moon, throwing back red wine and Original Pete’s pizza, celebrating as results from the evening’s Hawkeye State presidential vote trickle in.

Obama’s going to win Iowa.

Yet with hardly a moment to savor victory or suck-up losing, presidential wannabes are back on TV exulting, conceding, spinning.

There’s Senator Hillary Clinton, in full “camp pain” mode, delivering a concession speech masked as a victory speech. The HQ crowd watches on a large projection screen.

“We have presented the case for change and have made it absolutely clear that America needs a new beginning,” Clinton says.

“So leave the Senate!” an Obamaniac shouts.

Yes, the crowd is well-lubricated. A box once loaded with Cook’s sparkling wine now holds thawing ice. A trail of drained wine bottles litters tabletops.

Later, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is on TV, human WMD Chuck Norris at his side. “This election is not about me. It’s about we,” Huckabee says. Does this mean Norris is a possible VP candidate?

“More pizza is here!” Just like in high school, winners get a pizza party.

The vibe is contagious. You enjoy wine. You nosh on slices of mushroom. You mingle. You watch Obama’s speech.

“You know, they said this day would never come,” begins the Man of the Hour. Indeed, this is a defining moment in history.

This is unity over division. This is change coming to America. This is hope over fear. This is—

Wait a sec. You’re anti-war; Obama’s not. You want peace in Palestine; Obama supports billions a year to Israel. You want single-payer health care; Obama’s got other ideas.

Change coming to America? This all seems like a case of the same ol’s. Roles, not candidates. Scripts, not interviews. Illusions, not ideas. Simon, Paula and Randy, not the media.

The Super Bowl, not an election.

You’ve been tricked. Sharked. The fate of the American empire is too important to leave in the hands of voters—and the hustle’s coming to California in just a few weeks.

February 5: date with manifest destiny
No presidential candidate, save for Texas Congressman Ron Paul, dares utter empire, the dreaded “E” word. Hardly anyone speaks of “globalization” or “imperialism” while electioneering, either. Hell, only three hopefuls—former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Paul—say they would end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan if elected, and they cumulatively poll at less than 15 percent. If you’re anti-war, apparently you’re not electable—a problem for Democrats, who traditionally are labeled as pacifists and weak on defense. Dems do what it takes to look tough, and in turn adopt right-of-center views on imperialism, occupation and militarism. In the end, never-ending war becomes the status quo.

That is, unless voters choose to make ending the war their top priority and push candidates to campaign thusly.

Influencing agendas is why the Legislature voted to move California’s presidential primary from June to February in the first place. Of course, others hopped on our bandwagon, and now 23 different states will hold either a primary or caucus on February 5, what’s been coined “Super Duper Tuesday,” or—perhaps inappropriately—“Tsunami Tuesday.” By then, however, seven states already will have weighed in on their candidate, many hopefuls will have thrown in the towel, and “experts” will have whittled the field down before most voters get a chance. Fringe voters who want to end the war and stop empire-building, get lost in the shuffle.

Money, as usual, also complicates matters, and spending so far has been above and beyond what candidates threw down in ’04. Nearly $10 million was spent by campaigns in the last weeks of the Iowa race alone, an unprecedented amount. What’s more, the U.S. Supreme Court voted to allow those annoying, once regulated political commercials—you know, the ones by independent-expenditure committees like Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, who spent a cool $22 million in ’04 persuading the public that Sen. John Kerry was a war criminal—to run on TV up until the day of elections. Mudslinging will be furious right up until casting votes on the state’s vulnerable electoral machines. Haven’t seen many ads yet? Don’t worry: There’s still four weeks to go till the big day.

But even if a candidate has a sizeable war chest and can buy ads, the two major parties have gamed the system to preserve the status quo. Paul, who out fund-raised every Republican in the fourth quarter of ’07 and earned 10 percent of the vote in Iowa and nearly the same in New Hampshire, wasn’t allowed to participate in the Fox News GOP debate last weekend. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani received a paltry 4 percent in Iowa and has raised anemic funds, but he was invited to debate. Question the empire, threaten to cut off the war machine, cross the party powers-that-be, and you’re finished. Not even proportional representation or instant-runoff voting can save you. You’re a lame duck; you’re toast.

And there’s a lot at stake on February 5—more than just the presidency (17,000 new tribal-gaming slot machines and billions in state revenue, the future of community-colleges in the state, a massaging of term-limits regulations that could keep old-hat legislators at the Capitol for another 12 years). It’s all on the voters, ’cause hell hath no fury like an election soured by low voter turnout. Cheaters’ Joey Greco won’t be going undercover to help dig up dirt on candidates, so it’s all on you. But don’t let the hustle get you down, lest America end up with the …

Last freak standing
The day she announced her candidacy, Hillary Clinton was the White House front-runner. But Barack Obama won Iowa, so she’s in damage-control mode, stooping so low as to call Obama “not electable”—which many perceive as an uncalled for racist slap. But California still can give her the bump she needs to surge from pretender to contender.

Former Senator John Edwards is flat-lining, too. He didn’t raise the $100 million Obama and Clinton each soaked up in ’07, but he’s got the backing of the unions and in turn their IE money. And many argue he’s the only electable Dem—if you like Dave Jones’ signature coif, Edwards is your man.

Republican Mike Huckabee won Iowa but came back down to Earth in New Hampshire. He’s got God on his side and a soft touch on the bass, but lacks funds and is clueless on foreign policy. And then there’s that whole weight-loss controversy.

The mainstream media says Mitt Romney and John McCain are the two true GOP contenders. Thus far, Romney, not unlike his father, has sputtered—perhaps unable to shake off the “brainwashed” Mormon stigma. McCain, many suggest, is the Reep to beat, but it’s still a long road for the coach-flying, cavalier, chauvinistic elder statesman.

Dem Bill Richardson wants to make $57 billion worth of cuts to the defense budget. How many conspiracy flicks must one watch to know that if you mess with the military industrial complex, you get assassinated? Senator Joe Biden withdrew his candidacy after Iowa, but he’s the only contender that voiced concerns over the situation in Pakistan before Benazir Bhutto was whacked. Both Senator Christopher Dodd and Rep. Dennis Kucinich repeatedly have voted against continued funding for the Iraq war, but donors have opted out of funding their campaigns, which are running on fumes.

Former Sen. Fred Thompson, TV actor and I. “Scooter” Libby apologist, America’s Mayor Rudy Giuliani, a mystery till Florida, and Southern California Rep. Duncan Hunter—who?—have so far gained little traction but remain in the running.

Then there’s the odd-man-out: Ron Paul. He’s a political anomaly (see “Party lines,” page 23), raking in more campaign dough than any other GOP candidate during the last half of ’07. He’s been shut out of debates left and right, including a recent Fox News-sponsored New Hampshire telethon, and still is labeled by the media as a fringe nominee. Why? Oh yeah, there’s that “E” word again …

The storm’s cutting into the city something fierce. The chill is trill—true and real—as the night falls hard on downtown. The forecast is grim, but the Obama crowd still is going full force. Change is a mighty drug. They’re high on life … or maybe they too caught a whiff of, well, what smells like a Cypress Hill concert a few doors down from HQ.

Inside, Obama’s Iowa speech is on repeat: “We are choosing hope over fear.”

But you can’t help sound the alarm:

Obama, March 2007: “We must preserve our total commitment to our unique defense relationship with Israel by fully funding military assistance and continuing work on the Arrow [anti-ballistic missile] and related missile-defense programs.”

October 2002: “I am not opposed to all wars. I’m opposed to dumb wars.”

September 2007: “There are terrorists holed up in those mountains who murdered 3,000 Americans. They are plotting to strike again.”

If Obama is change, then what’s the status quo?

There’ll be a new face in the White House in 2009, but I fear the empire will remain.

Anyway, thanks for the pizza, Barack.