The joy of misery

A few weeks ago (before the Iowa caucus), a friend asked me if maybe my prediction that Howard Dean would get clobbered by George W. in November wasn’t a bit harsh.

See, I have this small committed group of liberal friends (believe it or not, I may be the least liberal of the lot) who anguish that they may have to wait until 2008 to retake the White House. You might think all of this is silly liberal chatter, but it’s better than getting worked up over whether Pete Rose makes the Hall of Fame or Paris Hilton is ready to make a sex video with farm animals.

My friends and I are in a kind of predicament. We’re stuck in the uneasy position of having to root for bad things to happen between now and November.

For instance, it turns out that the economy isn’t anywhere near recovering after all. The Bush administration was forced to admit that we added only 1,000 jobs in December. The administration, along with its Wall Street lackeys, had confidently predicted a boost of 150,000 jobs.

This is not good news for America, but it is certainly good news if you’re rooting against Bush getting a second term to screw things up even more. Although the unemployment rate fell .2 percent, it was only because 300,000 Americans stopped looking for work.

I wanted to cheer at the news that stocks fell 133.6 points the same day of the announcement, but hell, my joy was tempered by the fact that I was losing money, too.

But if there’s anything that will mobilize voters to toss an incumbent president out of office, it’s bad economic news. Just ask Bush the father. Maybe my prediction of a Bush landslide had been a bit premature because, when all is said and done, it really is the economy, stupid!

My little group of liberal marauders are getting hopeful for the first time since 2000, when the Florida Supreme Court almost sent George W. back to the Texas Rangers. Sure, it’s dangerous to be hopeful. Often hope is readily followed by disappointment or Katherine Harris or sometimes both.

Right now the Bush strategy team is trying to cook up a diversionary plot. A nation with 500 cable channels and a remote control is easily diverted. Bush has already morphed into JFK on the space program. Having neatly disposed of the huge budget surplus that he inherited (could illusionist David Copperfield have done a better job?), Bush has come up with an idea to spend billions more on human space exploration. Since the last major space mission ended in disaster, you would think that we’d be satisfied for a while with robots doing the job — but then, you’re not facing reelection.

Diversion is what Bush does best. You prattle about "mission accomplished" while American and Iraqi casualties mount. You can’t find the architect of 9-11 — Osama bin Laden — so you trumpet the capture of Saddam Hussein. You don’t have a plan to disarm the dangerous nukes in North Korea, so you celebrate that irrelevant relic of the ’80s, Muammar Kaddafi, cleaning up his act in Libya.

You brag about "No Child Left Behind" while states are forced to lay off teachers. You wear your religion on your sleeve while you cut programs for the helpless. You raise the terror alert while you leave our ports and nuclear power plants dangerously unprotected. You reach out your hand to illegal immigrants while at the same time tying them to one employer and, after six years, having them face deportation.

See, this diversion stuff works for a while. You can ban the TV cameras when the body bags arrive from Iraq. You can ignore attending the funerals of the honored dead to keep the media from focusing on the continuing casualties. But you can’t hide a drop in the stock market or the unemployed. You can’t gimmick up your government’s own statistics that show our grandchildren paying off the debt you’ve run up. And suddenly, your own rosy predictions are already turning to ashes.

So this is the conundrum (liberals are for handing out conundrums to school kids): How do you handle the guilty pleasure of seeing the misery index rise if you want to send the Yale cowboy into retirement?

You tell yourself that a short dose of misery is better than four more years. You tell yourself that anything is better than four more years of handing out tax cuts on the backs of our kids and our grandkids. You tell yourself that anything is better than four more years of allowing this White House to isolate America from its allies. The misery today is the medicine that may make the future brighter.

So here’s to misery in 2004!