Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Early and Often 

It’s late at night in Cellar, and I’m trying to convince myself that another whiskey will not violate my promise that I’m not going to fly like a fallen angel this early in the week. The youngsters have emptied out of the bar. It’s just me and Tommy now sitting where the bar curves near the door, and three or four other dipsomaniacs at the far end of the bar.

The bartender is eyeing me suspiciously, wondering if I’m going to summon a dozen of my closest friends to order neat Jameson’s at four in the morning. This is what happened last Thursday and I’m sure she still resents it. She decides to make a pre-emptive strike and pours me a large glass of whiskey over two ice-cubes. “On the Cellar,” she says, settling the argument between conscience and consciousness.

Tommy works in politics--sometimes as a reporter, sometimes as a partisan operative, and sometimes as both—and I suffer from the opposite of what Charles McGrath identified as “information compulsion”—the urge to tell someone something you know about but they do not. I’m always telling people things I know nothing about when it is their business to know everything about it. I’d been telling Tommy that I thought there was little chance George W. Bush could win re-election.

"People ask themselves, 'Does the job he’s done in the last four years merit hiring him for another four years? I cannot see how that’s a winner for Bush. Deficits, wages, Iraq…"

"That’s not how people make their choices in politics, MT," Tommy says.

"Fine. But look at it this way. Everybody who voted for Gore four years ago is voting for Kerry this year. And I know for a fact that there are people who voted for Bush last go around who aren’t voting for him this time. He’s peeled off too many voters—libertarians upset with the growth of government, tightwads upset with deficits, paleoconservatives upset with empire and amnesty…"

"I see where you’re going. If you’ve got the same people voting, and a sliver cuts away from Bush, Kerry wins."

"Right. Do you want another?"

"Are you sure? I thought you were off the Monday night drinking thing."

"Be realistic."

Two more whiskeys come sliding across the bar.

"Ok, MT. Here’s where your analysis goes wrong. It only works if the same people vote this time as last time. It misses the new voters, people who stayed home last time because they weren’t excited about the election or their choices."

"Wouldn’t that cut toward Kerry, too, though?"

"Only in New York and other places where people take their political cues from Eminem, Sean Combs and that woman with the rack who is married to Tim Robbins. Elsewhere, in northern Florida and the suburbs of Ohio, for instance, you’ve got people worried about gay marriage. People who vote for Presidents during wartime because they think it’s the patriotic thing to do. People who loathe Ted Kennedy, and believe that John Kerry is just Kennedy minus the girl in the bottom of the brook."

"So you’re saying Bush is going to win again?"

"Here’s what I’m saying. It’s dead fucking even. But Bush is the incumbent and he’s got a powerful campaign in parts of America people like you don’t think much about. I think it’ll be Bush in the end, and he’ll have millions of snake-handlers who didn’t vote in 2000 to thank for his re-election."

"So its four more years of being led by people who don’t like the reality based community?"

"Probably. But not by much. If anyone offers you odds either way, take the odds. The spread on this one is going to be thin."

We finish our whiskeys and agree it's time to go home. Tommy leaves first, though, so I slip back to the bar and start dialing my friends who are down in Odessa. Maybe I can still fill this place up before closing time.