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American stupidity and the labeling of your cheese

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The 2000 presidential election was the first one I ever got to vote in.

I'm not asking for sympathy, although I spent the week after the election huddled under my blankets, having made a solemn promise to not emerge until we knew who was running the most powerful country in the known human universe.

The press has divided this most important of matters into neat, black-and-white, idealistic terms. In one corner, we have a robot who tries desperately to appear human. Al Gore may not be the most interesting human being on the planet, but how many of us can really claim to be? Most of the people I know are marginally more interesting than George Stephanopoulos and as much fun as 10 Dick Cheneys.

The charmer, George W. Bush, who has been playfully nicknamed "Shrub" by the pundit press, is clearly not the smartest man in the world. But again, how many of us are? After all, in the greatest democracy on earth, our industrial geniuses are capable of such stupidity as putting instruction labels on our cheese slices.

I'm not kidding. Kraft Inc. has begun printing a small label on the flap of the individually wrapped slices of American cheese that says "OPEN HERE." Those familiar with the works of British straight shooter Douglas Adams will no doubt be checking boxes of toothpicks for similar instructions.

But for my own two cents, I don't really believe that any country with any number of nuclear weapons in its possession should be allowed to elect a leader whose I.Q. is not significantly higher than the indigenous plant life.

A Venus' flytrap understands politics better than "Dubya." Grab your prey, then digest it slowly, making tiny accusations about its strength of character and will to fight. Eventually it will be worn down, and digested and metabolized by the System.

But Dubya kept spitting Gore back out, by gaffing Quayle-style at almost every major media event he was trotted out for. Even at the debates, which were unanimously referred to as standoffs by the pundit press, Gore wasn't being timid; he was trying his damnedest not to make Bush look like a dumbass and himself like a snob.

When Bush gleefully talked about killing off those three thugs that dragged James Byrd behind their truck until he was meat, he failed to mention that only two of them would die. When Bush got mired in the Social Security issue, he kept calling Gore's figures "fuzzy math" without offering a single number of his own in rebuttal.

He called Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek the "Slovakian foreign minister." Is this really the man we want negotiating peace between the perennially hostile Yassir Arafat and Ehud Barak? Is "Shrub" really the person we put in the hot seat when China invades Taiwan or India nukes Pakistan?

I can't figure out how the hell he convinced 50 percent of the voting public that he would make a better world leader than Ralph Nader, much less Al Gore. Some have said that the American people would be too intimidated by having Gore in office because he's the quintessential high school brainiac, an Ivy League, ivory tower intellectual, who's insulated himself from the dirty contact of the 200 million human beings for whom he is supposed to be fighting.

Let's get some perspective on this. If you were aboard the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and all the senior officers were dead except for the android Data and the counselor Troi, who would you put in charge? The android, who may not understand emotion but can take orders AND run the whole ship just by plugging himself into it? Or would you pick Troi, who might not know how to fire the phasers, so to speak, but can organize one hell of an ice-cream social?

Not much has change, since 1972 when Hunter S. Thompson wrote, "We're dividing the country, people are electing an idiot, and no one seems to care," except that the United States and Russia aren't the only ones with nukes, and Steve Allen is no longer around to make fun of the President for us.

Even the significant matters, such as the solvency of Social Security and Medicare/Medicaid, economic stability and education aren't that different from what was on people's minds in '72. You could see the waves of an oil crisis approaching in the distance. The Chair was trying to slow the economy down, lest we outgrow ourselves. And the worldwide press was demonizing the United States for its meddling in foreign affairs at the same time their populations were lapping up our cultural flotsam like golden swill.

And there was great talk about "getting out the vote," and the mythical "youth vote," which was supposed to get everyone from McGovern to Dukakis elected. Both sides accused the other of desperation, of guerilla tactics, of mudslinging and "claiming the high horse then taking the low road."

The pundits were so greatly concerned that the American people were becoming disenfranchised, disaffected and dispassionate about our elections, that no one seemed to care, except the fat cats who got elected, because the traditional power structure had endured for decades, and when the new president was sworn in, it would still be there, crushing the American dream in it's grasp.

Despite all this I voted, for two reasons: One, I've always felt that if my right to vote were taken away tomorrow, I would be upset about it, and I think most Americans would be too, even if they don't excercise it. So use it while you've got it; and two, I honestly couldn't fathom another Bush administration, or wouldn't want to, especially one with all the signs of impending apocalyptic doom that this one seems to have surrounding it.

Of course it turns out that this time around every vote did count, because if a handful of people in each city in any given state had voted differently, we would have a completely different outcome. The margins of victory for each batch of electoral votes has been incredibly close, and I can only glean satisfaction from knowing that my generation will no longer be able to say that they cannot make a difference by voting.

Will Hinson is a college freshman in Colorado Springs.

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