It's Over (Finally!)

     Once again I find myself in the woeful position of 
writing on election day, trying to sound as if I knew 
exactly why events that haven't happened yet did happen, 
though as you read this, days later, you may know they 
didn't, and why not. It doesn't look good for President 
Bush and the Republican Party, though not quite as bad as 
for Saddam Hussein and his inner circle.

     On the whole, this campaign has been somewhat less 
amicable than, say, the Paul McCartney divorce. (Nobody 
asked me, by the way, but I would counsel billionaires to 
beware of one-legged gold diggers.)

     The Republicans have been warning of the horrors 
that will ensue if Nancy Pelosi becomes speaker of the 
House. For a woman of 67, I must say, she is rather 
stunning, thanks to a facelift which, however, makes her 
smile appear to be stapled on like a mask. Something 
sinister lurks within, all right. The Democrats remain 
the Party of Compassion, which is to say, of Envy. We can 
only hope for the optimal outcome, mutual frustration. 
These two parties have given gridlock a good name. Maybe 
that's what these elections really mean.

     The Democrats are still bitter about the 2000 
election, which they strongly feel was "stolen" because 
Al Gore won the popular vote and was allegedly cheated 
out of the Electoral College vote too. I don't quite 
understand their indignation. If democracy means that 51% 
of the people should rule, very well; but why 50.000001 
per cent? Actually, when you take Ralph Nader, Pat 
Buchanan, and others into account, Gore got less than 50% 
anyway -- more like 49.700002%, if memory serves. Is that 
worth getting an ulcer about?

     As far as I'm concerned, one happy result of this 
campaign has already been assured: Regardless of whether 
he is reelected, Virginia's arrogant Sen. George Allen 
will never be president. He sealed his own fate with a 
single word, which almost nobody had ever heard before: 
"macaca." Many politicians have been caught using ethnic 
slurs, but this must be the first time in recorded 
history that a politician has created a brand-new slur, 
previously unknown, as if for the express purpose of 

     As long as he lives, Allen's name will be synonymous 
with the M-word. I'm not even sure there is even a group 
corresponding to the designation "macacas," but whether 
or not they exist at all (not that I make light of their 
undoubted historical suffering), they have cooked Allen's 
goose. On top of that, Allen reacted with fury when a 
reporter asked him if he was Jewish; you'd have thought 
the question was a deadly insult. It later turned out 
that the answer was yes. (Technically, anyway. He'd only 
recently learned his mother was Jewish.)

     Allen makes President Bush seem the very model of 
verbal finesse; between them, the two have almost made us 
forget the days when Dan Quayle was regarded as the 
dumbest Republican in Washington.

Second Thoughts

     The death sentence of Saddam Hussein, on the eve of 
our elections, brings to mind the neoconservatives who 
were so eager for war with Iraq. VANITY FAIR reports that 
some of them are now having second thoughts, including 
David Frum, the corpulent Canadian who once accused 
American conservatives who opposed the war of hating 
their country. Frum's central insight was that if you 
don't like war, you must be anti-Semitic.

     Not that the neocons are being too hard on 
themselves; no need to worry about an orgy of 
self-flagellation. Their contrition is heavily qualified 
by contempt and recrimination for the way President Bush 
has prosecuted the war they so brilliantly conceived. It 
may be just a matter of time before they accuse Bush, 
too, of anti-Semitism. This is a moment in history that 
requires a lot of very fast talking.

     One of the neocons deserves special mention. George 
Will has distanced himself so adroitly from both Bush and 
the neocons that hardly anyone remembers his original 
support for the Iraq war; today you could easily get the 
impression that he was against the whole thing all along. 
This man could give an eel valuable pointers on 

     With startling suddenness, the mighty Republican 
coalition has gone to smash. The war, the neocons, the 
religious right, stem-cell research, same-sex marriage, 
all have ceased to unite and energize, or at least 
harmonize, as they once did and have become points of 
dissension and confusion. Democrats have attacked what 
used to seem the Republicans' strengths, while 
Republicans have played them down or even fled them in 
panic. Sexual scandals have ceased being a Democratic 
problem and have crossed party lines. Both parties have 
lost definition, liberalism no longer scares voters off, 
and the term "conservatism" has been discredited by those 
who once claimed it.

     If there is a lesson in this chaos, I suppose it is 
that you should be very careful whom you accept as 

My Favorite Atheist

     On election eve, public television aired Ken Burns's 
excellent documentary of Mark Twain. Please don't miss it 
when it is rebroadcast.

     Twain's posthumous writings have earned him a 
reputation as a religious skeptic. Which, in a sense, he 
was. But if he was an atheist, or thought he was, I 
believe his was what might be called the atheism of pain. 
He had been raised with a conception of God so loveless 
that he can't be blamed for rejecting it; and early death 
had taken his sister, his dearest brother, and his 
beloved daughter. His humor was a form of consolation, of 
giving joy to a world that badly needed it.

     Some atheist! His favorite of all his books was not 
even a funny or satiric one: It was a late and reverent 
one, JOAN OF ARC. His love of the valiant little saint 
sprang from the same generous heart that makes Huck Finn 
ready to go to Hell rather than betray his only friend, 
the despised slave Jim. If going to Heaven means 
abandoning Jim, Huck sees, it isn't worth it.

     Those who think Twain merely mocks honor, chivalry, 
and piety had better look more closely. The truth is that 
he hates their counterfeits.

                 +          +          +                  

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