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US Elections: The 4YK Problem

Since the presidential and vice presidential debates earlier this week the airwaves have been infested with the 4YK bug as the US gets ready to elect its next 4-year king. If you doubt that's what the presidential race is all about then log on to www.pbs.org and look at the streaming video documentary about Gore and Bush's upbringing and backgrounds. For some families in America politics is indeed the family business, and those few families intend to keep all the business in their faux regal hands. Can a plumber from Des Moines be President? Sure. If she lives inside a scriptwriter's head.

Truth to tell I didn't watch the presidential debate but there was no escaping the dissection of it every which way the next day. The "truth teams" were even at work online while the debate was in progress, checking facts and figures, and relaying what they found to the world in the naive hope it would help the great undecided make up their minds which way to vote. The people having the most fun, I suspect, are the people being polled.

Scratch your heads no more, oh ye poll-iterati in campaign offices and press rooms around the nation, I can tell you right now that the race is neck and neck because if you answer: "Don't know" or "Undecided" in a poll, chances are you'll get interviewed on the telly just like the candidates do. The dead heat race is just "We the people" taking what tiny control it can of a political process that's gone full circle from getting rid of a king to selecting one every four years.

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By week's end though it seemed like Gore might be defeated not by Bush but by Dick Cheney. In the cutlery drawer of life Bush may be a teaspoon but Cheney is a ladle - coming across as forceful, knowledgeable, witty, and the kind of large, take-charge guy you'd want to have playing a leading role in the next administration. By contrast Gore is a spatula - either wooden or rubber depending on whether you concentrate on his aloofness or his fib factor. Lieberman seems like a dish mop. He has a kind of crumpled, useful innocence that paired so well with Cheney in the veep debate it left some people wondering if Cheney and Lieberman shouldn't be running the country, and to hell with party differences.

At a local level what caught my interest was the campaign for re-election to the State Assembly for District 18 by Audie Bock. Like her NZ namesake, Amy, this gal pretended to be something she was not. Or so it seems to the Green Party, on whose ticket she was elected in March 1999 - an election victory that caught everybody by surprise, including Audie and the Greens. District 18 is part of Alameda County and unfortunately the Alameda County Council of the Greens had a serious to-do with Audie not long after she was elected. It seems that the new assembly-woman later accepted campaign money from a couple of for-profit organizations.

Two oil companies to be exact. Oil companies with a reputation for pollution so bad that just this week TV news showed one of Tosco's tankers threatened with being escorted by the coastguard back out through the Golden Gate, practically before it had gotten in under the bridge. Tosco and Chevron had both contributed $500 to Bock's re-election campaign and she had gladly accepted it. Faced with a stern talking-to by the ACC she hadn't backed down and had promptly changed her voter registration from "Green Party" to "Decline to State", sitting in the California State Assembly as an independent.

She seems to be hardworking and is on a lot of committees. Having spent some time in Japan, where her daughter started school, Bock became interested in politics because she felt the education system in California is lousy and she wanted to do something about it. But she's also cranking up her campaign on issues such as the use of cell phones in cars, and rubbing it in the ACC's face by having a meeting in August with prominent German Green, Christine Scheel - after which Bock issued a press release pointing out that even the German Greens are accepting corporate sponsorship these days to help their campaign funds.

One of Nader's primary appeals to voters is on the subject of campaign finance reform. Both Bradley and McCain - the unsuccessful contenders in the Democratic and Republican primary race for their party's nomination as presidential candidates - were strong on campaign finance reform too, and their disgruntled supporters are perhaps fertile ground for Nader. He alone of the presidential candidates is rising week by week in the polls - up to 5 percent this morning. But there's simply no room for him on the airwaves now. Quite apart from the bumper sports season Bay Area baseball and football teams are having and these two weeks being full of the season premieres of TV shows, there is the situation in the Middle East.

It will soon be clear how much support that situation has shaved off the outer edges of the Democratic vote. The success or failure of the Clinton administration's attempt to broker a disengagement of the two sides will be a key factor in how many liberals will vote. The seeming failure of the peace process is already swelling the nation's desire to have a hawk for king.

Judging by the venom being spat at each other by campaign strategists for Bush and Gore on "Meet the Press" this morning I also sense that here in America no stone will be left unthrown in this chance to unthrone the Democrats.

Lea Barker
California, Sunday 8 October PT.

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