A few lifetimes ago, when I was journalist in Ireland, a friend and I were walking home one night along the Galway road when he saw something that stopped him in his tracks. Sometime earlier, Ciaran's bicycle had been stolen outside a pub while was inside enjoying a pint with friends. Or as he'd put it, "I stepped out of the pub and there was my bicycle -- gone!"
Now, several months later, there was the bicycle, parked outside the same pub. Since I come from a long line of people with a talent for doing things the hard way, I set to wondering whether to call the gardai (the police), make inquiries from the owner of the pub, or pursue any number of drawn-out remedies.
Meanwhile, Ciaran was wheeling his bike down the lane.
At which point another fellow emerged from the pub, saw first the bike, then Ciaran, and glowered. It was a look of knowing annoyance, not innocent outrage.
"It's my bike," Ciaran reminded him bluntly.
"Well so," the affronted thief retorted, "You're just going to TAKE it back then?"
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Here at home, the thieves of democracy are policing Americans who would have the gall to take back what's been stolen from us.
Some thieves steal pets, then "find" them in order to claim the reward. This gang in the White House ups the ante. They want a whole series of rewards and your little dog too. Or, tell you what, just send Grandpa, your kids, your spouse -- whoever might be available to trade the unemployment line for the firing line. And for those of you who haven't yet been deployed and dismissed "with our lasting gratitude," how about kicking back a little more of that $23,000 a year you enjoy just for working like dogs. Just put down the overtime pay and nobody gets hurt -- aside from 6 million people stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Surrender, Dorothy? Too passive. To qualify as good citizens, we the violated must also become cheerleaders, bolstering the spirits of our assailants. Anything less would be unseemly, and we all know how the vice president feels about incivility.
It reminds me of a scene in the 1976 Nicholas Roeg movie, "The Man Who Fell to Earth." When thugs in suits seize a man by the arms and legs to toss him to his death from a high-rise building, his body fails to crack the plate glass window on the first swing.
"Oh, sorry," the doomed man tells them earnestly, visibly embarrassed to be such a bother.
But let's say you're not ready to go quietly. Or to help steal the safety nets for families already living on the ledge.
Let's say that, like my friend in Ireland, you don't care to legitimize a theft just because some selfish bastard managed to hoist his unqualified backside onto the saddle.
And you don't have the kind of money Ken Lay did to get some of your needs jotted down on paper and delivered to the White House -- oh, wait, that was your money.
At any rate, you don't have $20,000 or $2,000 to attend a political picnic because you only buy chicken when it goes on sale for 79 cents a pound.
Got bus fare?
I do. Thanks to the Bush economy, I, like millions of other Americans, was liberated from the costly maintenance of a car, along with, for an extended period, the responsibilities of employment, the routine of paying bills, the paperwork of health insurance, and, because I'd run my own business, the embarrassment of a safety net.
(I was, however, still permitted the creative challenge, while nearly destitute, of penning tributes to the IRS by check and credit card. These were then processed into tax relief for a needy land developer in Florida. During this same artistic chapter, I discovered that a can of dyed mackerel from Walgreen's drug store could be mashed into a substance vaguely resembling food.)
Now that the economy is "recovering," I have returned to the satisfactions of working seven days a week. As a result, my cupboards are once again stocked with the bigger box of WIC cornflakes.
But I still ride the bus all over Oregon. Because that's where the unregistered voters are.
For some reason, my fellow bus riders don't share the view of the Resident-in-Thief that "the economy is strong and getting stronger." They're struggling, not stupid.
And if you're somebody like me, with barely any cash to donate to worthy political campaigns, but you'd still like to get your democracy and a socially just economy back in this lifetime, you might just get into the habit of never leaving your house without a supply of voter registration cards. (They're free and you can pick them up at any elections office. ) Cards that you can also keep on hand when you volunteer at the food bank. Or window-shop at Goodwill. Or pass by lines of people outside shelters or the unemployment offices. Or visit the park, where a middle-aged woman carefully extracts a newspaper from the trash and sits down to read it, and an elderly man goes poking around for bottles and cans.
Wherever the economic recovery is wending its merry way.
And well, what do you know, with the exception of one or two confused souls who just want George Bush to protect them from paying a huge inheritance tax on their $240-a-week temp job, there aren't any right-wing voters in these places.
But there might be enough voters to elect a real president. Because for some reason nobody on the bus ever says things like, "The targeting of the attack ads, as much as the personality differences, could factor in as a bounce in the polls."
I guess they just don't watch enough TV.
They say things like:
Ride the bus every day, and you might even feel the weight of this little fact: Low-end jobs accounted for about 44 percent of total hiring from February to June of this year. Heavy sucker, isn't it?
Funny, no one on the bus seems concerned about gay marriage.
Not even my conservative neighbor Stan. Stan introduced himself "as the guy with the last manufacturing job in America." Says he "grew up in a factory town in Indiana [where] conservatism was our birthright."
"Irresponsible spending on a manufactured war to line the pockets of one's associates is not the act of a conservative," Stan says. "It is also not acceptable to borrow money from your children. The word 'neocon' must be entered into the lexicon and defined for independents who have a fiscal conservative stripe. They need to know that conservatism has been hijacked and is currently parked in a multinational offshore island where it is being used to steal America."
Stan thinks that "regular people who are undecided will understand and respond to the fact that the Republican Party no longer shares their values."
He's right. And I'm not just reading it in the polls. I'm seeing it in the cards.
Business cards for people who used to have jobs and now hand out their cards, hoping to get interviews.
Food stamp cards for people who used to push a grocery cart down the aisle and now carry the proverbial handbasket.
Selective service cards for those who used to have a dream and are now headed to the Land of No Plan.
Voter registration cards for those who've had enough.