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31 August 2003
Political Theater of the Absurd

As launch date neared for The Corner Oak, I was hoping I’d find some hyped-up scene of political theater as material for the new Leaves of Oak series. Lucky us, as Bush might say, we’ve hit the trifecta.

Three American states, including the two most populous, each with serious budget problems. Each with hard decisions to make. And each, instead, diverted by tabloid-style spectacle. Welcome to The Corner Oak’s political theater of the absurd: a farce in three acts.

Act I
Arnold Schwarzenegger  •  Gray Davis
Cruz Bustamante  •  Arianna Huffington
California Split

The Golden State opts for entertainment over governance in this lame comedy based on a goober-natorial recall.

Act II
Tom DeLay  •  Rick Perry 
Gonzalo Barrientos
The Unforgiven

Texas Democrats vamoose to the high desert while the Grand Old Posse tries to round ’em up. But are there any good guys in this overlong Western?

Judge Roy Moore is
The Apostle

A misbegotten epic, this Moore vehicle attempts to remake The Ten Commandments but comes off more like a pale Forrest Gump.

Yep, it’s all worthy of a few yuks. But let’s not chuckle too smugly at the pantaloons in our political puppet show. Perhaps the fault, my dear Americans, isn’t in our stars but in ourselves.

As a polity our crimes are many, independent of our position on the overrated left–right scale. We give in to the royalist principle, supporting a candidate whose face recalls a beloved ancestor, even though there may be little resemblance beyond the face. We clan up with our own ethnic group, refusing to admit that a different-shaded opponent might have greater ability and character. We vote for ballot initiatives that hogtie the revenuers while mandating spanding on popular programs. We become apathetic about the lack of choice and rigged process in elections, but we just use this as an excuse to become political dropouts. And we fixate on totems (flags and monuments) as if they had magical properties while the dull but essential work of balancing budgets gets little discussion in the media or at the water cooler.

If recent events should have taught us anything, it’s that politics is too important — too deadly — to be turned into a carnival. So let’s share a good laugh over 2003’s season of political theater. Then let’s all demand more serious fare.

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