The Fatted Calf
In the center of Orange — at the circle where Chapman and Glassell intersect — a cadre of protestors stood with signs denouncing the war and plaques calling on us to Beat Bush. At the weekly Two Idiots Peddling Poetry Reading, just down the street, there were long faces. Except those of me, my wife, and Little Bob. All of us Democrats. All of us Kerry supporters. All of us unashamed.
I believe I saw some Republicans. They walked or drove past the circle where the protestors stood. All frowned. They saw me outside of the Ugly Mug smiling. Why? I had no reason to feel ashamed. I did what I could to support John Kerry, as much as my sickness allowed. I felt no animosity towards those who gave less because they had to work or were unemployed or unmotivated. Most importantly of all, I had not been silenced.
At the reading, I began my open mike time by singing the first verse of a classic Quaker hymn:
My life goes on in endless song
above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear it’s music ringing,
It sounds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?
How could I keep from singing? In the bilges to which the Republicans had thrown me, a melody rose in my heart. I began the day angry. As I continued, as I read the convoluted explanations for the exit polls, the blame put on bloggers — as I saw the joylessness in the faces of the Republicans who had run a dirty campaign founded on lies and a rejection of Christian charity and freedom against a hero — I suddenly knew that I had every reason to feel unashamed. In this close election, a mandate still eluded George W. Bush. With the continued doubts about the Republican strategy of voter disenfranchisement and perhaps outright ballot box stuffing, they had failed to secure their place. They will win votes, they will stuff the Supreme Court, but they will remain terrified and afraid. The war on terror will continue inside of them every time they sit down at their dinner tables, every they see a liberal smile, every time they see a sign boldly proclaiming that America remains un-united.
I feel sorry for them. They are devastated because their own politics does not allow them satisfaction. There must always be more in their life, bigger things, a profit turned. We have not gone away and they cannot say that they speak for America because the election shows that the nation remains deeply divided in the middle of a war going nowhere.
I feel like the parent or the brother or the child of a drug addict. The drug is fear. Today the Right woke up, one more time, in the vomit it spewed all over the rest of us. Today, the Right has a hangover and a guilt complex because deep down they know the election was not clean. When they call me a whining liberal, I will smile and I will pity them because already whatever joy they might have had from winning this election is fading. They did not eliminate me or any of the other millions who stood up these last few days. They may actually be the minority.
About twelve years ago, I said to some shocked friends that America needs about ten years of dictatorship to learn a few lessons about the meaning of freedom. We’re four years into that dictatorship. I call it a dictatorship because so much has happened to break the faith of too many people in our democratic institutions. That is the essence of dictatorship, loss of faith in our ability to govern and guide our leaders. But I have not lost faith in myself. And I believe that ultimately, even here in the Darkness of the Orange, though we will never make a perfect world, we will see the folly of these times. I am smiling. I am not the addict. It’s not my vomit all over the country. Stone-cold sober, I smile and I keep my hand out to the Right. To them I say You can recover from this sickness you bring upon yourself. When it comes time for them to take that hand and come home to America, I will kill the fatted calf.