Bottomed Out

RICHMOND, Va. – By the time Congress’s approval rating was bottoming out at 25 percent, according to a Fox News Channel poll, I was seeing a whole pattern of public disillusionment. Monroe Park shined warm and bleak in the early summer sun as I paced about in stark fear of the changing winds. On April 17, Gallup had reported that the Congressional approval rating was at a 12-year low.
For VCU students, the semester had just ended, and the vibe of change and exhaustion loomed over the campus. Myself tired as well, I walked nervously along, contemplating the last time that this sort of mass disapproval weighed on the air. Richmonders were at the center of the Virginia machine. The last time numbers looked like this was right before the Republicans swept congress in 1994 to take the majority.
A black clad youth strummed a nylon string guitar as I passed. He had slapped a Slayer bumper sticker on bottom the guitar, but he was playing it upside down. “Hey, dude,” I asked, familiar yet distant all the same. “Could I listen to you play for a minute?”
As we talked, a man in his thirties was coming down the sidewalk in the park in a tie-dye t-shirt. He placed his feet widely and his steps were buoyant. He was mumbling to himself like a career drunk. As he got close, he remarked for us to hear: “I like big bellies.” Then, he laughed even louder to himself.
Overcome by my semi-fear of the stranger, I began to laugh, too. The odds of meeting someone in the park so obviously intoxicated by psilocybin mushrooms staggering, I watched in amazement as he hobbled away across the grass, ignoring the path’s barriers and all sorts of limits to human sanity and safety.
The guy next to me introduced himself as Kirk. We watched as cars met students on the street outside of Johnson Resident Hall to take their possessions home. Gradually, our topic of conversation moved from the casual to that which all politeness dictates you should never discuss at the inner table. Politics.
“It’s been a while since I had a good political discussion,” said Kirk, stopping his strumming in the middle of Slayer’s “Angel of Death”.
A student rode by on a bicycle. Tie-die t-shirt man inquired from a football field away, “Hey, man, you got a bike?” [more laughter] “You got a bike, maaaan?”
“Yeah, that’s a funny thing,” I replied. “Neither have I.”
The Democratic Primary is coming up on June 13th, and the competition is down to Harris Miller and James Webb. Miller’s press secretary, Brian Cook, reports that Miller is running because he has lived the American dream – hence the importance of student loans to Harris Miller.
According to Cook, Miller has driven almost 20,000 miles around Virginia in his hybrid SUV in an attempt to garner votes. The $9 trillion dollar national deficit seems of the utmost concern to the Miller camp. Cook emphasizes that tax enforcement, as opposed to a change in the tax code per se, is the most important point towards a goal of balancing the federal budget, given what he claims are $350 billion in unpaid taxes.
“The wealthiest Americans,” Cook says, “are the ones who find all of these tax loopholes.”
The Miller camp claims that theirs is the only candidate to call for the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, in league with a whole legion of retired generals who have absolutely yearned for it in this past month.
Jeff Pyatt is James Webb’s press secretary, and just as Webb himself did on The Colbert Report, Pratt expressed his concern that there was very little good leadership left in Washington. Both of these candidates, mind you, like to refer to Incumbent Senator Allen and Bush’s agendas as one in the same, both of them characterizing Allen as having “rubber stamped” the President’s motives for the past six years.
As for the war, which both Democratic camps say they have opposed since its very conception, these two candidates look ahead to a relatively short withdrawal; it is one certainly outside the time frame implied by the President this year, one only a future commander-in-chief will see. Miller’s mail-outs support a pull out time frame of 2006 bearing, as Miller’s camp said, a “certain number off Iraqi troops trained” and “specific metrics for withdrawal.” The Webb team, on the other hand, shies away from naming specific indicators.
A recipient of the Navy Cross and Ronald Reagan’s former Secretary of the Navy, Webb sees a confusion in terms regarding our military actions: namely, the difference between a pre-emptive strike which involves much less commitment and an all-out pre-emptive war. Jeff Pyatt is Jim Webb’s Press Secretary.
“While we saw terrorist cells in Afghanistan,” says Pyatt, “[Webb] has always opposed being an occupying country.” While James Webb considers the war a strategic foul-up, the Miller people say that Bush outright misled the American people into war.
As I sat on the curb with Kirk watching the colors on the mowed lawn move in steady syncopation, one thing became quite clear to me. The invasion of Iraq would have been profoundly impossible had the country’s biggest export been carrots.
In turn, the opposing Democratic teams are very concerned about the practices of the oil industry. According to Brian Cook of the Miller campaign, “the policies that have made oil executives rich while hurting ordinary Americans at the gas pump” must be overturned. A New York Times poll showed oil prices as one of the cardinal reasons for disapproval with President Bush. The Webb campaign looks at the unexpected good fortune that oil companies’ profits have come to know, and says it has to end.
I told Kirk that day in the park that given the most famous of anti-war slogans before Iraq, maybe Americans were expecting to get a little more oil for all of that blood. (1.25 gallons of blood in the human body TIMES civilian numbers of at least 35,119 = 43,899 gallons?)
I phoned up Bill Bowson at the Allen team, and he called me back with the Republican statement about the race at this point to the RVA readership: “We respect a spirited democratic primary. We look forward to facing off with whichever wealthy Democrat prevails.” I guess, case in point, if you’re taking in less than the poverty line, running for U. S. Senate is difficult.
Whatever your political leanings, Richmonders should get out and vote; even if you are a hardcore Republican, at least you can help shape the debate Allen will face. If nothing else, in an open primary like this, you could always vote for the least competent Democrat in order to help create division and bolster Allen.
On a nationwide scale and according to poll numbers, the Democrats can never have seen a more opportune chance to retake some seats.
Later that May evening, I walked along through an alley between Floyd and Grove, and encountered another young man I did not know taking wide repetitive circles on a bicycle. He was chanting to himself a constant loop of falsetto chirps much like disorienting series of half-notes one associates with the Twilight Zone. I asked him if were on drugs . . . once . . . twice, only to hear him screech back at me, “I am your mind!” I swear, someone must have driven a dump truck worth of mushrooms down Broad that afternoon.
The nationwide nervous breakdown since tragedy struck has resolved itself to a point that even mid-term Elections, normally the epitome of lower turnout, are of consequence. Setting the tone for the future, even amidst the strange trippers that carouse in our streets, is on everyone’s palms. Richmond looks ahead as Congress’s numbers bottom out.