People have been asking me what happened to Duck and Cover. The last D&C I wrote was in early March of this year, and that was really only because I always bring the comic back for the Oscar season and the popular segment of Duck and Cover misunderstanding each other over the titles of films and their true content. Before that, it was probably November or December when I really had any tangible momentum for the cartoon.
There are myriad factors in the decline and fall of my interest in maintaining the strip, which I cannot by any means say is dead or even dying so much as indefinitely dormant. Some of them are admittedly personal, with the advent of a serious relationship in my life that’s dragged me out of the post-marital death-spiral and into something looking a little more like normal life. But that cannot wholly explain the timing or the evolution of my feelings about the political spectrum in America at this time. It would seem for all the world that now would be the best time to be writing a political cartoon and yet I have the least interest I’ve ever felt.
It’s been a long time since I’ve felt any affiliation or any interest in the two major parties, to be sure. I long lampooned both Gore and Bush, Bush and Kerry, Obama and McCain. I voted for their unseen opponents. And yet I maintained an abiding interest in the outcomes and the fates, part lifelong geekery in the face of red/blue maps and cross-hatched lines, part genuine curiosity about the shape of things to come. Always the outcome seemed of note or interest. If it didn’t quite matter the way I imagined it mattering before my political disillusionment (circa the mid-1990’s), it at the very least seemed worth following.
And, to be fair, I am not entirely ignorant of the progress of this campaign. Largely as a vehicle for promoting the Debate Union, I set down my thoughts on logical fallacies on the campaign trail for NPR. I watched the first debate, mostly as a way to prepare for a late-October Debate Union event. (Are we noticing a theme?) I’ll occasionally check 538 and see what the projections look like. And yet, the overwhelming sense that none of this matters, that none of it could matter, resonates deeply in my tired October bones.
It was not until the debate, which I viewed with the prior conviction that Romney was actually trying to throw the election, that I realized who exactly Willard Mitt Romney is and what he represents. He is, in the post-modern American world, the ultimate politician. And like the ultimate capitalist tries to win the game of Monopoly and thus end capitalism by owning everything, the ultimate politician tries to win the game of President and end the game of politics by being everything to everyone.
It’s a cliche that politicians tell people what they want to hear, but Mitt takes it to an industrious new level. It’s not a coincidence that his much-discussed “47%” comment came at a private fundraiser for people who were part of both the 53% and the 1%. When he speaks to the people of Massachusetts, he is their son, the same as Michigan, Utah, or most any other state he can draw some inscrutable line to. When he debates Obama before the entire nation, he is a reasonable moderate. When he debates Republicans before their base, he is a hard-right ideologue. When he talks to business, he is a businessman, employees, he will get jobs, foreign countries, he thinks their enemies are overtly stupid.
And while it’s clear that he is acting like none of his events are public to more than the people directly visible in front of him, he still manages to evade the real backlash you might expect for someone who speaks so plainly out of twenty-seven sides of his mouth. His moderate stances and direct speaking scored him election-saving points at the first debate and he is within one decent debate performance of coming back from the near-dead to take the lead in an election that stands less than a month away. The man who feels his audience is always alone to the point of solipsism is a few well-spoken on-camera answers from taking the reins of what most still maintain is the most powerful nation on the planet.
And despite the hysteria this idea elicits from half the country, rivaled only by the extreme hysteria espoused by the other half were Obama to win a second term, he is simply not tangibly different from the current incumbent in any but the most fringe issues. Like every President and Supreme Court Justice since Roe v. Wade, he wants to maintain the legal status quo on abortion. He wants to cut taxes, like Obama before him. He wants to raise spending on the military, like Obama before him. He wants to ensure that corporate klepto-capitalism can survive and thrive in the face of its obvious self-destruction, propping it up with bailouts, low interest rates, promises of endless support, damn the consequences. He wants to expand US power through torture, bribery, and deception, like every President in our nation’s history (even Carter, as the new film “Argo” makes clear). He wants an individual mandate for health insurance to ensure this sector of the economy continues to grow faster than the cancer it fails to cure (prediction: if Romney is President, he will not repeal the Affordable Care Act). He wants to be open about destroying the environment instead of closeted, a nice fake distinction from the current President. And he wants to be liked, loved, revered, and adored by the masses of people and pundits who will tell him, over and over, that he is the ruler of the free world.
Am I rooting for him? At this point, almost. For while I can be almost certain that his policies will be indistinguishable from Obama’s, at least the so-called left that serves as his base will be critical of Willard Mitt in a way they refuse to be of Barack Hussein. Once the hand-wringing and wailing and pricing of flights to Toronto subside, they will dig in to critique the failure to close Guantanamo, the continued use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen, the ongoing renewal of tax cuts, the failure of the economy to improve for any but the richest in society. No longer will these sane criticisms of the government be relegated to people associated with tin-foil hats and apocalyptic sandwich-boards, but they can once again be taken up by those seen as mainstream, normal, law-abiding, and tax-paying.
It is a weird world when the person who came to power on the promise to end wars and renew America makes his staunchest rallying cries to renew that mandate for assassinating alleged enemies and ensuring that 300,000,000 people must buy something from big business or pay a fee. Romney would have killed bin Laden, along with thousands of people who the government assures us are guilty on their little pixelated remote-control screens from half the world away. Romney would have instituted something a lot like Obamacare, which was modeled on his plan in Massachusetts. Romney would have threatened Iran and gone into Libya and made all the same decisions at all the same times. It’s too politically infeasible not to do these things. The people with the money and the interest in a certain status quo are calling the shots and the men in suits want the adulation and the ability to pretend that they are making some sort of change. It’s a fun game, like a sports game. Well-attended, closely followed, thrilling the emotions of onlookers from sea to shining sea. But no one pretends that the Yankees or the Giants winning the playoffs will make some sort of difference in their lives beyond what pennant they hang in the corner of their room.
The real people running the nation do not subject themselves to anything so whimsical and fragile as an election. And the people who run for office make sure that what they say has as little as possible to do with dynamic thinking or even what actually takes place. They give the people what they want to hear. One year it’s change, the next year it’s a different message for every class and region and group. And the robots continue to track and kill anyone who might dissent or disagree, anyone who might be enraged, anyone who manifests their sense of injustice in a foreign land. From high above the clouds, where no one can see them, no one can touch them. Not even God.