"Why can't he just explain what happened?" I fumed at my captive audience of one. "'The president took a bunch of your money and gave it away, in tax breaks, to rich people. Elect me, and I'll go get the money and give it back to you.'
"How hard is it to say that?"
Apparently, it's very hard for John Kerry, the least politically adept Democratic presidential candidate since America endured the pasty puling of Walter Mondale.
How I long for John Kerry to be direct, to explain that he's not the one who put the economy in the ditch, but he'll have the tow truck ready to pull it out the instant America puts him in the White House. I ache for John Kerry to leave off, already, with the cadences ... that ... say ... he's ... orating ... in ... an ... echo ... chamber ... because ... he ... must ... get ... bellowing ... nuance ... into ... this ... sentence.
Three decades ago, Kerry was an authoritative voice for an angry generation that said no to official lying, and no to war. Back then, as a war veteran, he spoke eloquently, but directly and from the heart. How we need that young, angry Kerry now. Kerry needs him, too; another three weeks of the bellowing, nuanced Kerry, and we'll be reading about a Bush landslide for the rest of history.
So what would it take to really piss John Kerry off, to make him mad enough that he just started telling the truth as he saw it, in language that ordinary Americans could understand? I went to the 911 Power to the Peaceful Festival over the weekend hoping to find or think up an answer, but expecting, actually, to do little but gather color for a column on a depressive reality: In San Francisco, there is a lot of interest in this presidential campaign, but San Franciscans will have nothing to do with choosing the next president.
It's a simple fact: According to every poll known to mankind, John Kerry is going to win California and its vast trove of Electoral College delegates easily, no matter what. The election will be decided in the Midwestern battleground states, and I've never known a Midwesterner who wanted Californians to tell him how to vote. And I grew up in Chicago.
Given San Francisco's electoral irrelevance, I have to give it to the Power to the Peaceful folks; they sure know how to promote and organize a political rock concert that draws. (Disclosure: SF Weekly was a sponsor of the concert; I have nothing to do with such sponsorships.) Late on Saturday morning -- that is to say, on the third anniversary of al Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon -- Speedway Meadow was full of hip and hip hop types of every stripe, spreading their blankets and loading their bongs in front of the stage. They were surrounded by a solid ring of booths that created the feel of a county fair in the Land of the Left of Center.
As at any mass San Francisco gathering of leftists, the fair included something disgraceful: In this case, on the anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, a series of posters listed the names of people who had been shot by Bay Area police, thereby suggesting that the use of force by American police in individual cases scattered over time equates with the deliberate murder of more than 2,700 utterly innocent human beings, all at once.
There was, of course, stupidity, in the form of the Northern California 9/11 Truth Alliance, which I watched arranging itself under a banner at the far end of the meadow. The group, which apparently holds to the loony belief that American leaders were actually involved in planning the 9/11/01 attacks, had a tough time getting a chant together but eventually managed to work it out. "Bush, Cheney, CIA/ How many kids get killed today?" a dozen or so misguided youths shouted into the beautiful day.
By and large, though, it was a beautiful day and a wonderful event, dominated by entertaining left politicking and commerce and, it seemed, genuine yearnings after peace. One T-shirt shop, for instance, offered the "Try Me" president, a doll that looked very vaguely like George W. Bush. I tried him -- meaning I pulled the doll's extended right forefinger -- and a familiar but unplaceable song was played. I looked on the box and learned the title: "Farts and Stripes Forever." The peacemonger.org booth, meanwhile, sold the best collection of anti-Bush and anti-war memorabilia, including a set of refrigerator magnets produced by www.reefermagnets.com and titled "Now I Can Dress Myself." The kit includes a naked President Bush, his privates covered by a red, white, and blue map of the state of Texas, and ways to dress the unclothed emperor. (My favorite is the Napoleon outfit.)
I listened to Xavier Rudd, an Australian who played music that seemed oddly reminiscent of Paul Simon's recent work, and greatly enjoyed myself within a throng of thousands of young people who had gathered to call for an end to the incompetent, illegitimate, and counterproductive American occupation of Iraq as they got stoned, listened to music, and tried to hook up. After a while, though, Peter Camejo, Ralph Nader's running mate, began talking, and I had to leave.
It had been a pleasant way to kill a couple of hours on a Saturday, but I knew that California could hold a thousand pleasant political rock concerts in the next two months and they would have no more effect, one way or another, on the presidential election or the war in Iraq than a squeaky outdoor speech by a perennial fringe candidate.
So if Californians can't influence the election with votes, could they at least make the new, nuanced John Kerry mad enough to speak like the old, truth-to-power John Kerry? I don't know, but let's try this:
In Golden Gate Park this weekend, thousands of young, idealistic, politically active people gathered to demand that their government end an untenable war, much as John Kerry did 30 years ago. On this weekend, though, one booth was selling a T-shirt on which was silk-screened a depiction of U.S. Sen. John Kerry, grinning foolishly. The text on the shirt touted a vote for:
The Lesser Evil
We'll Go Backward Less Fast
The shirts seemed to be selling.
"The situation in Iraq is a disaster that can't be fixed by American soldiers, and I'll bring the troops home a lot faster than the guy who sent them there."
How hard is it to say that, Sen. Kerry? Really?