Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Invisible Republic: America's Owners Cash in Their Chips

Original version published in The Moscow Times, Dec. 5, 2000.

Invisible Republic
The secret government has shown its face at last. And what a strange, multi-headed beast it is. On one stout neck we see the snarling visage of an angry "protester" banging on the doors of election commission offices, his pockets stuffed with campaign cash from Austin, Texas. Another head displays the jowly eminence of a grave courtier, a loyal family retainer bowing to the aristocratic clan that enriches him.

Still another meaty gourd holds forth the squinting, scowling portrait of a pundit, wildly nodding, endlessly babbling in a panicky spiel about "closure," "stability," and "the mantle of legitimacy." Finally, there is the central head – small, walnutty, a bit lost and uncertain amid the furious activity of the other noggins – opening its pursed little lips to intone, tonelessly: "I am the president now."

Yes, it was yet another week through the looking glass for the American political system. But in the middle of much muddle, a few things became clear – even naked: The owners of the country want their presidency back, and they'll stop at nothing to get it.

Having been declared the winner of the election by one of his own campaign operatives, Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris – a decision based on an incomplete vote count marred by the violence of his own hired mob – George W. Bush, the second-place candidate in the presidential race, tottered out to read a few scripted lines claiming the White House for his own.

But it was evident this week that another Texan is actually controlling the destiny of the American republic: Tom DeLay.

We know DeLay – if we've been paying attention – as the puppeteer behind the hard-right's impeachment carnival a couple of years back. Ostensibly the No. 3 man in the House hierarchy, the Texas congressman – bearing the apt nickname of "The Hammer" – has spearheaded the Owners' drive to turn Congress into a corporate welfare office, while waging their well-financed war on President Bill Clinton and all his works. DeLay ousted Newt Gingrich as House speaker when that sad sack of shinola failed to dislodge the Great Satan in the White House, and installed a new mouthpiece, Dennis Hastert, a genial suit of clothes who may actually end up as president if the electoral process goes completely off the rails.

The Wall Street Journal reports this week that it was DeLay who organized the riots in Miami, when Bush supporters stormed the election commission offices and scared commissioners into suddenly calling off their hand recount of votes. DeLay "took charge of the effort on Capitol Hill," offering staffers "free airfare, accommodation and food in the Sunshine State, all paid for by the Bush campaign." More than 200 GOP House aides signed up and headed South to bang on doors, toss bricks, and make so many death threats to the local Democratic congressman, Robert Wexler, that federal authorities warned him to stay in Washington rather than risk a trip to his home.

Meanwhile, DeLay and his other hand puppet, House Majority leader Dick Armey, made it known that even if Al Gore ultimately wins in Florida, they will not allow him to take office. Armey said the GOP-controlled House reserves the right to reject any election results they don't happen to like. "It is our duty," said Armey, to take that decision away from the voters – especially the 50 million who voted for Al Gore.

And so it goes. The beast keeps barking from its several heads, the little walnut recites his lines, Daddy Bush's old cronies set up shop again in Washington, the pundits yip and yipe and bite their own tails – and the Republic slowly sinks into the swamps of Florida.

Open to Question

Speaking of Texas, a revealing glimpse into the mindset behind some of George W.'s "heartland values" was offered by Harper's Magazine this week, when they published an "employee exam" used by Rent-A-Center, a Texas-based appliance rental firm, to plumb the soul of each worker at their 2,100 stores around the country. Made up of 500 true-false questions, these are the kinds of things that concern good old-fashioned "real Americans" (as opposed to them blacks and Jews and com-symp libruls in Miami who tried to steal the election by having their votes counted).

If Rent-A-Center noted 12 "deviations" from the norm, the worker could be tossed out on their pervy behinds. Anxious employees thus had to come up with the "right" answer to questions like these: "Everything is turning out just like the prophets of the Bible said it would." "I have had no difficulty in starting or holding my bowel movements." "I believe in the Second Coming of Christ." "Sometimes I am strongly attracted by the personal articles of others, such as shoes, gloves, etc., so that I want to handle or steal them though I have no use for them."

The earnest concerns go on (and on): "I have never vomited blood or coughed up blood." "I would like to be a florist." (We know the wrong answer to that one!) "I like poetry." (Ditto!) "I have diarrhea once a month.""Evil spirits possess me at times." (Aren't those last two the same thing?) "I have often wished I were a girl."

And then there is that deep, dark secret that every employer needs to know: "The top of my head sometimes feels tender."

This line of inquiry led to a class-action suit filed by 1,200 employees, and the company eventually had to pony up $2 million for its unbridled weirdness. There was at least one true-false question, however, that made perfect sense – one which, if answered in the affirmative, would go a long way toward explaining the politics of Texas, of Florida, and indeed of America as a whole:

"Sometimes in elections I vote for men about whom I know very little."

Chris Floyd