I am starting to process the last week of speeches, counter-speeches, ads, punditry, truth-bending, exaggerations, and outright lies. Out of it all, one image finally crystallized in my mind like a pearl around an irritating grain of sand, and it describes the McCain/Palin campaign perfectly:
What Zell Miller would call a "MET-a-fer": Lucy is the Republican Party, the football is reality, and Charlie Brown is the American people.
How many times did we watch those holiday specials and read those "Peanuts" strips growing up, to see ornery ol' Lucy tell our loveable loser, "Go on, kick the ball. It'll be different this time." And we would all feel ourselves pleading aloud, "Don't do it, Charlie Brown! Don't you trust her! She'll move that football again, just as sure as the world, and you'll end up flat on your back." And yet he always fell for it.
The Republicans know that the American people are sick of the status quo and ready for change. But at the same time, they're not dressing it up any. They're not pretending to have new ideas or new strategies. Constitutionally incapable of change, they're just counting on the folks believing that it'll be different this time, different than it's been for the past eight years during which Bush has proposed the *exact same policies.*
Prices high? The market will fix it. It'll be different this time.
Need a job? Trickle-down economics will work, as altruistic business owners and CEOs spend their savings on new employees and benefits rather than profit margins. It'll be different this time.
Need more personal savings and spending power? Tax cuts will fix it. It'll be different this time.
Need safer neighborhoods? Forget more spending on cops; tougher penalties will fix it. It'll be different this time.
Need health care for yourselves and your families? Screw mandates and subsidies for lower-income families; tort reform and tax cuts will fix it. Go on, kick the ball.
Want your kids and grandkids and parents and siblings home from the war in Iraq? Just give it time, and David Petraeus will fix it. After all, we've only been there a third as long as Vietnam and one and a half times as long as World War II. Kick the ball.
Want to be kept safe without losing your liberty? Don't sweat wiretapping and torture; that's just for "Those People." C'mon, you can trust us. It'll be different this time.
Want safe lakes without mercury, energy policy without secrecy, a State Department without retaliatory leaks, and a Justice Department without politics? Well, we'll replace Bush cronies with new cronies, to help us cut through the red tape and deregulate everything, because "less rules" means "more freedom," and more freedom surely will give you everything you could wish for. Kick the ball.
Want your gay friends and family members to be treated like humans? Don't worry: all those mean people who we put on the federal bench as a reward for arguing that homosexuality should still be a crime in 2003 have had a change of heart, and so have the ones who banned gay marriage in 2004 and 2006. No one's saying they can't be equal citizens; they just can't have equal rights. See? Now kick the ball.
Want more infrastructure -- roads, schools, dams, bridges, canals, and train tracks? Well, when we say we'll cut earmarks, we don't mean YOUR earmarks. It'll be different this time.
Want less hypocrisy? Good. We promise if we change our minds, we'll do it so quickly and so completely that you won't even notice. It's gonna be so different you won't even believe it.
Want less Neocon foreign policy? No biggie. The Neocon Bush advisors we have instructing Governor Palin now to bring her up to a passing grade in foreign policy are actually teaching her a new, McCain, maverick foreign policy. They're versatile, you'll see. Kick it.
Want your leaders either to have familiy values or to stop preaching about them? Well, ignore that John McCain started screwing Cindy after his first wife became crippled in a car wreck, that Rudy's third wife lived with him in Gracie Mansion while he was still married to his second wife, that Gov. Palin's daughter is 17 and pregnant without shame, that Fred Thompson's wife is 24 years his junior, that Mark Foley was hounded out of office after scandalous behavior with underage male interns, and that Larry Craig got caught in an airport bathroom trying to score cheap, quick, dirty sex from male strangers, all while wearing his wedding ring. Trust us: we feel terrible about our sins, but Jesus has forgiven us, and you should, too. It'll be different this time.
They gave great speeches, all of them, but through their sarcasm, their vitriolic wit, their talking-point lies and their focus-group-tested one-liners, I could smell their desperation. I could see the beads of sweat forming on their heads as they pleaded with us all, subliminally -- for the love of God! -- to please try to kick the ball one more time.
They've been in power for eight years, the Republicans, after a Bush promise of a "compassionate conservatism" that was supposed to be different THAT TIME. And yet they still revel in the same imperviousness to fact and reason and cling to a worn and sinking ideology like the band to the Titanic.
The greed, power, decadence, cronyism, and unchecked avarice of the last eight years have made them rich and comfortable, and the thought of it all drawing to a close terrifies them. To borrow from another favorite childhood cartoon, I can almost hear Pooh asking Christopher Robin whether they can go back to the beginning and do it all over again.
But like all good things, nothing gold can stay, Pony Boy, not even this Gilded Age. Christopher Robin must off to school, and there's a new game in town besides Lucy's trick football. Faced with the end of their era, Republicans are left like Kurtz in horror of "the horror," crooning a bittersweet symphony:
"No change! I can't change, I can't change, I can't change. But I'm here in my mold, I am here in my mold, and I'm a million different people from one day to the next. I can't change my mold, no no no no no." It's so maudlin Lear would vomit.
Last week, I thought it was just a clever Democratic talking point, but this week I'm convinced: the Republicans aren't bringing change; they're bringing more of the same. They're not just asking for votes. They're asking for sympathy for war wounds and Bangladeshi children and pregnant daughters and fighting sons and special needs babies. And they're asking for mercy and more than a little amnesia for eight miserable years.
Good leadership will get this country off its back and back on its feet. But if we try to kick that same old Republican ball again, no matter how loveable we are, we'll all be losers.