When I was a little girl I used to love beauty pageants. A competition fought and won with grim determination in sparkly dresses, death defying corsetry and hair that confounded both reason and gravity. A contest surrounded with pomp and ceremony, breathless announcers and weeping winners and losers... a contest whose result didn’t matter one single little bit.
So I’m trying to remember when it happened; when for me, an election day became a day to be enjoyed with all the gee whiz anticipation of Miss America, the Acadeny Awards, or the last game that won the Jays their first World Series. How did an evening watching Dan Rather pore lugubriously over statistical analyses, frighten far flung correspondents with bizarre off-topic, un-researched questions and wax Southern-fried lyrical over the results become popcorn-munching must-see TV?
Maybe I just needed a little more adrenalin; something where winning or losing wasn’t completely forgotten within an hour and no one lived or died by the results.
I must have started to need that odd mixture of expectation, hope and excitement mixed with fear, dread and an upset stomach; a roller coaster ride you want to go on because of all the vicarious thrills and chills, but that still comes with a sickening sense that it could go flying off the rails, a real life horror - complete with blood bath, weeping onlookers and head-scratching officials poking through the debris looking for answers.
I suppose it’s all on a continuum; 7 years old and picking your favourite beauty contestant, 14 and chewing off chipped fingernail polish during the balance beam segment of the gymnastics competition at the Olympics – 21 and actually caring who wins the Oscar for Best Actress.
But political competition has now become far more than a legitimate excuse for buttered popcorn; where before I was satisfied with the ooh and ahh part of a will she/won’t she bun fight, experiencing some small sadness when my candidate Miss Massachusetts had her clock cleaned by a typically tough-as-my-mother’s-roast-beef Miss Texas, this time the stakes are gargantuan. Crunchy snacks offer little comfort now.
As America settles in for tonight’s winner-take-all contest, all bets are off as the competition itself has degenerated into something far uglier than home-made sin. In a race the officials consider too close to call, voters will be deciding the fate of the world based on attack ads, sound bites and commentary from matchstick-shaped news anchor Judy Woodruff on CNN. (And Wolf Blitzer and Paula Zahn and Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala and all the rest of the hair-sprayed, camera-ready pod people offering comment and confusion to a nation still reeling from being forced to choose between the constantly cycling news crawl at the bottom of their TV, and a full screen shot of Larry King’s creepy hairdo.)
Not that it matters what I think. (Really!) After all, like the rest of you FOOLs (Foreigners Out Of Luck) though I regularly immerse myself in American newspapers and political blogs, tune in to American news shows (and personally watched all four debates with the fevered obsession of a geek frothing at the mouth over brand new undiscovered episodes of Dr Who or Star Trek) I won’t have any say in the outcome. That responsibility will be left to people who have actually lived in George Bush’s America for the past four years, many of whom presumably consider a thoroughly isolated, debt ridden, under-employed terrorist-magnet of a country a great place to live.
And how can this be? Here we are, so close to the end we can almost taste the soft chewy centre and according to pollsters, the candidates remain in virtual lockstep. Some 48% of registered voters are ready to vote for the shrub. And it’s not that Kerry is such a glittering alternative; wooden he may be, but if there’s something he’s not – it’s a Bush.
But apparently this significant portion of the population are basing their vote on steady handshakes and hugs for the families of victims of 9/11 and folksy ways and a guy who considers sending soldiers into battle evidence of leadership. Why don’t they want a guy making the hard decisions who has actually been at the receiving end of a hard decision or two himself?
Why don’t they want a guy who isn’t compelled by his (relatively speaking) recently adopted religion to consider that everyone who has NOT chosen Jesus Christ as their personal saviour to have effectively purchased themselves a one way ticket to H.E. double hockey sticks. (And he does you know. It’s required.)
Why don’t they want a guy whose second choice of career was to be Commissioner of Baseball. Doesn’t it rankle at all that the job of president was number 2 on his wish list? (Though as a president, number 2 is definitely an association that rings a bell…)
Why don’t they want a guy who when questions about his service record came up, came up with the answers?
Why don’t they want a guy who if he doesn't care to share the truth about his whereabouts during the time he was supposed to be serving his country, doesn't allow thinly disguised Republican attack veterans to mount negative ad campaigns about his opponent who demonstrably did?
Why don’t they want a guy who when he tells soldiers bound for Iraq that they will always be appreciated and respected and protected by their government to do the same for soldiers of previous wars?
Why don’t they want a guy who will actually stop the war – whatever the result – until those in harm’s way have enough protective gear, armoured vehicles and even bullets with which to defend themselves?
Why don’t they want a guy who wouldn’t even dream of mentioning the words ‘tax cuts’ until those who risk their lives for his principles are at least minimally protected?
Why don’t they want a guy who demands his Vice President comes clean about his areas of possible conflict of interest?
Why don’t they want a guy who would rather stick needles in his eyes (or stay out of a war, or take responsibility, or admit a mistake) than have Karl Rove planning his next Machiavellian move?
Why don’t they want a guy they cannot be positively sure isn’t stoopider than they are?
Why don’t they want a guy who doesn’t consider an endorsement from Arnold Schwarzenegger a coup?
Why don’t they want a guy who can pronounce the word ‘nuclear’? (I know it’s an old well-worn point – I know it’s become a cliché – but I personally think it’s important for the President to be able to pronounce the word that could conceivably send us all to H.E. double-you-know-where…) Besides – it’s not that hard; NEW-CLEE-ARE. There – easy.
Why don’t they want a guy who believes the rest of the world has a stake in the rest of the world?
Why don’t they want not-Bush?
So tonight’s the night and unlike other nights and other years and other bun fights, tonight I’m a little less than excited and a little more than just plain scared. I actually do believe not-Bush will win – but the off-chance, the margin for error, the possibility of ‘Four More Years!’ has me wishing instead for a competition that doesn't matter one little bit.
Now that we’re here, I’d trade all that juicy adrenalin for a who cares who wins contest that could be fought in high heels and bathing suits, with accordion-playing competitors slugging it out for a sash, a crown and an armload of American Beauty roses.