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American Pie: Political Awakening - Part The First

…What scares me more is that it has taken almost eight years for many citizens to come to the same conclusion. The machinations of the Machiavellian Cheney and his front man Bush, coupled with the ominous and covert activities of the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency, have spurred many people like myself to take a more active roll in the political process.

Amazingly, and unfortunately, there is still a significant proportion of the population that can see no wrong in the way the Nation’s business has been conducted this past 8 years, but then, that was true of Germany in the 1930’s…

John Merchant, who was once apolitical or even anti-political, decides to become a Polling Station worker.

To read more of John’s vigorous and concerned columns please click on American Pie in the menu on this page.

in 1974, when I left England to live in America, I considered myself to be at best apolitical, and more likely anti political, callow as that may seem in a 40 year old. In my defense, my adult years in England were punctuated by alternating Conservative and Labor governments, with the Liberal party teasing the electorate and making mischief in the wings. The flip-flopping ideologies of successive governments were all very well as a purely academic exercise, but wrought havoc on the country and its citizens.

I lived and worked in a region with an economy that was totally dependent on steel and on coal mining, both of which suffered mightily from successive nationalization of those industries by the Socialists, followed by de-nationalization by the Tories. On top of that, similar changes in transportation and the Power Industry negated any attempt to improve those undertakings, and made for some pretty demoralizing times.

Under socialist rule, the unions grew more powerful and consequently more effective in dealing with every new Tory government. Unfortunately they also had a damaging impact on major manufacturers; for example, the automotive industry’s ability to compete in world markets. And all this was happening at a time when Britain was struggling to mend its self after World War II. For some people, national crises provide a motivating force that propels them into political activation, but for me it was unsettling and debilitating.

The end to my faith in British politics came when the then Tory Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, uttered his infamous proclamation that the British “Had never had it so good” in a 1957 speech. This, when the wartime rationing of butter, cheese, margarine, cooking fat and meat had only ended just three years before, and the economy was so bad that Britons traveling abroad were allowed to take only 5 pounds in cash out of the country. Such blatant evidence that the Tories were completely out of touch with the electorate was the last straw.

I brought this apathy towards government with me to America, where the political scene at the time was not likely to restore my enthusiasm for the electoral process, even if I had understood it. The Vietnam War was in its final throes, and the electorate had not started to heal from the political backlash that the war had engendered. On the heels of that conflict came the Watergate scandal and the resulting resignation of President Nixon, followed by his pardon by President Ford.

For the next seven years I slumbered through the politics of the day, finally awakening with a jolt when Reaganomics (the fiscal policies of President Reagan’s administration) almost robbed me of the business I was trying desperately to get off the ground. But I dozed off again through the less than glowing “Thousand Points of Light” era of Reagan’s successor George Bush. I didn’t stir again until the possibility that Bill Clinton could be elected President gave me the old familiar chills.

This eventuality probably marked my political awakening. I had a new wife by then who is well read and knowledgeable about US politics, and is a Clinton fan. Her informed enthusiasm for the Clinton ticket, and my opposing gut feelings, led to some pretty hot differences of opinion almost daily. But Clinton did get elected and seemed to stay out of trouble until his and wife Hillary’s shenanigans as Governor and First Lady of the State of Arkansas started to surface in what came to be known as Whitewatergate.

The inquiry into the shady land deals the Clintons had been accused of rumbled on through most of his two terms as President, but early on he won my venal heart for creating a boisterously healthy economy, until he dashed my fealty to pieces with his foolhardy and tawdry Monika Lewinski affair. Had he come clean and not tried to make fools of his supporters and the country as a whole I might have forgiven him.

But by now I was primed to re-enter the political goings on with an urgency that I had not felt before, spurred by the fear that something was rotten in the state of Denmark, as Marcellus famously announced in Hamlet. All it took was the scary manipulation of the 2000 Bush/Gore election in by the Republican Party machine to get my attention in a big way. Nothing that has happened since, in the two terms of the Bush presidency, has done anything to allay my fears that US democracy is as threatened today, if not more so than it was by the Nixon, Haldeman and Ehrlichman triumvirate.

What scares me more is that it has taken almost eight years for many citizens to come to the same conclusion. The machinations of the Machiavellian Cheney and his front man Bush, coupled with the ominous and covert activities of the National Security Council and the Central Intelligence Agency, have spurred many people like myself to take a more active roll in the political process.

Amazingly, and unfortunately, there is still a significant proportion of the population that can see no wrong in the way the Nation’s business has been conducted this past 8 years, but then, that was true of Germany in the 1930’s. I finally put my money where my mouth is this year and became a Polling Station worker. So far, my only experience has been an hour-long orientation. I attend a three-hour training session in a couple of weeks and work my first election on January 29. More of that in a future column.

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