Something about this time of year brings up the memory of old Ray
Bradbury books. I speak of such autumnal works as The October Country
(in title at least), Something Wicked This Way Comes, and The Halloween
Tree. No book sums up the spirit of Samhain quite like Ray Bradbury did in
The Halloween Tree. Why they don’t teach this book in more schools
instead of Fahrenheit 451, which is a downbeat book on a subject few kids
give a shit about, literary censorship, is beyond me. I doubt anybody could make the autumn seem more appealing than Bradbury and the artist Joseph Mugnaini did. Perhaps because he grew up, unlike a lot of writers, in a happy supportive household, Bradbury could make ordinary middle American childhood seem wonderful, could make the fall and the night seem sinister and wonderful at the same time. The wind is cool, the air is thick with the aroma of pumpkin spice. A dark night spreads over a tranquil Midwestern landscape. No one could make a tree bend in the breeze like Mugnaini, and you can be sure it would be a twisted bare tree pushed about by a chilly supernatural breeze, likely adorned with laughing carved pumpkins.
Sadly, Bradbury passed away last year. True, his books of the last few decades hadn’t really set the world on fire, but he was somebody you expected would be around forever, like Santa Claus. You might only think of him once a year, but you nevertheless always assumed he was around somewhere, possibly signing autographs at some nerdy convention. Yes, even the people who bring the most joy to our otherwise dreary childhoods are shown no mercy by God or Father Death, and must eventually be carted off to the graveyard with the graying corpses of the rest of us average dullards.
Of course, there is a bright side to this. Old Ray’s passing means one less likely vote for the Mitt Romney-Paul Ryan ticket. Ray was, after all, a close friend of Senator Bob “Tailhook” Packwood. A cruel and tasteless assessment of the man’s passing to be sure, and yet politics is such a pitiless blood-soaked arena that a cheap shot at an ancient bespectacled writer’s death hardly seems like a particularly cruel act. After all, Paul Ryan would love to banish legions of desperate pregnant young women to the grimy bloodstained back alleys of yesteryear, or at least to their own coathanger bedrooms, to face the very real possibility of their own death, rather than allow them continued access to a regulated health care facility. Death is nothing to a politician. We can at least laugh at it. This shows we are still human. The politician thinks nothing of it, not even to laugh at it. How many U.S. soldiers have Obama sent to die in Afghanistan since 2008? Two thousand? Does it bother him? Not enough to pull out just yet.
And, this is such a close election that the fate of a nation may very well all come down to a single ambiguous vote. So the kind of gushing sentimentality that made much of Bradbury’s work slightly embarrassing to read for those over the age of twelve is something that must be cast aside if we are to put on our crucifixes and boldly march forth to tackle and overcome the hideous tangled nightmare that is the 2012 presidential election.
There is a time when any rational adult stops fearing misty imaginary spirits and starts to fear the real twisted hobgoblins, shameless ravenous ghouls and grinning demented jack o’lanterns of the known world, the ones who feed on the bones of the poor, the resources and suffering of the “less developed” peoples of the world, and most importantly the wheelbarrows full of dirty cash pushed into their offices by lobbyists, special interest groups, and Super PACs. Of the horrors the real world brings us, one of the saddest and certainly the most mundane is growing up. The grind of a job you hate takes precedence over cartoons, you sacrifice the cherished dreams of your youth in order to support your children, your hair grows gray and your gut gets fat, and Ray Bradbury books aren’t as good as you remember them. Or maybe they are, but you’ve grown too jaded to fall under their spell as you once did. Worst of all, you develop an awareness of politics. It’s something you’d rather ignore, but you can’t escape its presence.
For many liberals, the most nightmarish scenario is a replay of the 2000 election, in which it all came down to a few confusing and hotly contested votes in a single state largely under the control of Jeb Bush, the smarter brother of one of the two presidential candidates. With the help of Florida’s corrupt Secretary of State Katherine Harris as well as the lack of any defensive struggle from the namby pamby would be president Al Gore, Florida was eventually stolen from the Democrats. George W. Bush needed a winning margin, and Katherine Harris gave it to him, purging 7,000 voters from the rolls. Most of these voters just happened to be black, of course. We wound up with a war that never ended and a Depression which may yet overtake us for real. Who the hell wants all that again? Republicans, of course. Just this summer, Governor Rick Scott purged 182,000 voters from the voting rolls. What kind of a nation is this, where we do our best to discourage and invalidate as many voters as possible? Even so, I don’t think anyone wants to bring back the term “hanging chads,” which is a description of paper political ballots but sounds like some hip stoner term for an old man’s sagging testicles. There is nothing funny about this phrase, and there was nothing funny about it back twelve years ago. Whatever kind of voting ballots they’ve got now, paper or electronic, they’ll be some kind of a way to screw them up, no matter how foolproof they’re supposed to be.
Many liberals are still shook up from the horror of the first presidential debate, in which a lame Obama gave Romney the chance to rebound from his weak showing in the polls and jump toward a slight advantage. Democrats tuned in to the show confident that their man was ahead by at least a point or two in the likely voter sweepstakes, but the confidence turned to horror as their candidate failed to take the expected potshot at Romney’s dismissal of the forty-seven percent of Americans who, having failed to be born rich political heirs like Romney, dare to rely on government assistance, and furthermore failed to make any overtures to the female voters whose support got him into the White House in the first place. This is how a nightmare begins. Everything seems normal at first, then an unsettling feeling crawls up your scalp and by the time you realize what’s happening it’s too late to do anything about it.
Democrats have a strong chance of taking the House and keeping the Senate, yet one more bad debate will be enough to sink Obama’s chances for good. The Republicans, who’d been taking for granted losing the presidency but controlling the House and the Senate, are suddenly faced with the prospect of gaining the presidency but losing the House. For the average citizen, the specter of another four years of partisan bickering, maddening gridlock, and sluggish economic growth looms large.
We can’t be sure how it will all end up, whether we’ll escape the carnage relatively unscathed. No matter what happens, we’ll all be buckling up for a blood-curdling ride through the dark carnival of American politics. Sweet dreams, kids.