It was a typical November evening in Boston – dark, drizzling, windy, cold and entirely miserable. You’d have to be either drunk or crazy to be standing outside Faneuil Hall on a night like this; luckily, most of the throng that packed Faneuil Hall for last week’s Rock the Vote event met at least one, if not both, of those criteria. The young Democrats were in town to rock the vote and cheer on their candidates, and I was there to take it all in.
The crowd divided itself into rival pro-Dean and pro-Kerry gangs and engaged in a rich debate of the issues by shouting slogans like, “We want Dean!” and “JK all the way!” The mood grew tense when the Kerry youth outmaneuvered their Green Mountain Coffee Roasters-drinking rivals, blocking a “Beantown is Deantown” banner with one endorsing John Kerry’s presidential aspirations. Luckily, Paul Evans’ finest were standing to the side, talking among themselves and looking at coeds, or else the situation might have degenerated into a scene from the Lord of the Flies.
Seeking to avoid the impending Dean-Kerry riot, I made my way to the far side of Faneuil Hall, where an elderly gentleman was holding court: the lone Republican protester in a crowd of debaucherous, dope-smoking rock & rollers. He clad himself in American flag Hammerpants; a plush red, white and blue V for Victory cap; a faded Bush T-shirt that looked like a holdover from the old man’s 1988 campaign; and, apparently a musical man, he completed his patriotic getup with a thumb cymbal that he somehow cemented to the side of his nose. He said his name was Bill Donovan. He waved an American flag with one hand and held a sign proudly endorsing his choice for the Republicans’ 2008 ticket: “Laura Bush and Colin Powell for Number One After Bush Two Terms.”
Two young execs from State Street complimented Donovan on his patriotic outfit but asked about the wisdom of being a Bush guy in Kerry country. “He listened to the senator,” Donovan slurred, apparently speaking about Bush, “[Kerry] gave him $87 million. He listened to him.”
“Don’t you mean $87 billion?” asked the two. “Yeah, that $87 million for Iraq. These kids today, all they do is listen to music. They don’t watch the news; they don’t read the newspaper. And that George Bush, he’s smart as a son of a gun. He knows you can’t help everybody. Like those guys in Africa with that AIDS. Why give money to them? You can’t help everybody.” I slowly backed away, judging the prospect of a Dean-Kerry riot to be preferable to a conversation with Donovan.
A Kerry supporter made the evening’s most shocking revelation when he hoisted a sign reading “John Kerry is Invincible!” Invincible? Think of the policy implications of electing the invincible John Kerry to the White House; think of how much we could save on Secret Service details. Come to think of it, what’s John Kerry doing wasting his invincibility in the Senate? Shouldn’t he be fighting the insurgency in Iraq, or using his X-ray vision to scan the caves of Afghanistan for Osama bin Laden? The revelation of the Invincible One’s powers might rank as one of the evening’s greatest scandals. Is Kerry withholding his super powers from the country until he gets elected? Using his invincibility for political gain? The implications of Kerry’s invincibility were too much for me to think about, especially on a night like this. I needed a drink.
The Democratic National Committee hosted a viewing party at Cheers for all the schlubs who couldn’t get into the debate, offering journalists and C-level politicos the chance to sip $4.50 Budweiser, dine on $8.99 cheeseburgers and watch Boston’s youth rocking the vote on the big screen. The DNC also offered partygoers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to volunteer for next summer’s convention, when they could be lucky enough to chauffer drunken CEOs from one glitzy party to the next.
Cheers’ big screen offered a life-sized view of politicians desperately trying to be hip in all their awkward glory, guided through the evening by that guru of cool, that man of the people, Anderson Cooper. Take, for instance, the 30-second spots each candidate produced for the evening. Kerry and Joe Lieberman used flashing lights, quick camera cuts and techno music to show the kids that they’re not just a couple of squares, although you get the feeling that if you asked Lieberman about scratching, he’d tell you to use Gold Bond.
John Edwards’ video played out of sync with its audio – a telling, if unintended, metaphor for his campaign. Wesley Clark revealed the secret reason we won the Cold War: the AFL-CIO, Citibank and a Polish Pope. Carol Mosley-Braun conjured up the ghosts of Nixon and Kissinger with her speech on bringing the troops home “with honor.”
Edwards owned the evening’s most embarrassing Freudian slip, when, describing his jobs-creation program, he said, “We’re going to help those people invade.” Invade? Not invest? America’s youth doesn’t need help invading anybody, not with Edwards’ voting record.
Most candidates gladly confessed to smoking marijuana, although something in Dean’s smirk said that he was considering confessing to smoking, snorting or otherwise ingesting other drugs as well – anything to one-up Kerry. The night’s most enlightening policy statement came not from the candidates, but from a drunk in a top hat weaving his way through the crowd at Cheers. “Impeach Bush! Indict Cheney! Impale Rumsfeld!” he yelled as he lumbered toward the bathroom.
Not that America’s youth particularly distinguished themselves. The audience asked pressing questions such as “Mac or PC?” “Which of your fellow candidates would you party with? Who’s going to hold your hair back?” and, via text message, “Wesley Clark – would U reinst8 draft?” Way to rock that vote, America! You certainly showed those candidates that they need to start taking the youth seriously!
After the debate, the young Democrats at Cheers once again flocked to Faneuil Hall’s exit, hoping to get a glimpse of their sexy, conquering heroes. I was drawn to one onlooker in particular, Wayne Williams of Gloucester. Williams swayed back and forth, holding Kerry placards aloft in both hands, his red face screaming for the Invincible One with every breath in his lungs; this guy was clearly ready to rock the vote, and maybe also overturn a car or two. After accepting my condolences on Gloucester High’s recent tough loss to Swampscott, Williams explained why he was so fired up about Kerry: “What’s a general [Wesley Clark] know about you and me? Nothing! I’m against the war, I hate war, and Kerry does too.” I feared physical retaliation if I asked Williams about Kerry’s vote in favor of the war, so when he assured me that “Kerry will come out on top,” I nodded, smiled and ran away.
Jeremy from Quincy was another of the hundreds of kids pressing up against one another, hoping for a handshake from the Invincible One. Jeremy had good reason to want to shake Kerry’s invincible hand: He’d gotten drunk on Kerry’s tab. I mentioned to him how expensive beers were at Cheers, and he replied, “Oh, I don’t know. I dropped Kerry’s name and they put me on the tab. We drank for free all night. Kerry even bought me a burger!” Free beer isn’t the only reason Jeremy is a member of the Invincible Army, though: “I like that Kerry’s inconsistent with the war. He keeps it fun, you never know whose side he’s gonna be on tomorrow.” He also explained how he would tell Kerry to deal with Iraq. “I’m a big war buff. The war went well, but the aftermath is disastrous. No room for quitters, though. We just gotta keep on going, see what happens. You know how to beat ’em? We should torture those prisoners – rip off their toenails and fingernails.” I yearned for the clarity of a conversation with the Bush-loving Donovan.
Meanwhile, Dean, who had come under heavy fire during the debate for his attempt at wooing whites with Confederate flags on their trucks, immediately slipped out a side door after the debate and disappeared into the night, fleeing the wrath of the Invincible One and his bloodthirsty Invincible Army of Drunks. The heartbroken members of the vaunted Dean Youth Machine wandered back and forth between The Rack and Faneuil Hall, trying to comprehend why Governor Reb snubbed them and flew out of Deantown so quickly. I begged a Dean intern for a comment on Governor Reb’s performance, but a glazed look came over his eyes and he instructed me to get comments through the proper campaign channels. “Come on,” I pleaded. “Tell me how Dean kicked the shit out of all those other guys! Tell me how he’s the greatest!” “Call our press secretary,” the intern repeated.
I managed to find one Dean supporter who had not yet been to the indoctrination camp and thus was willing to speak to me. Rocco’s lack of proper training showed, though, when he conceded that Dean was not his political wet dream. “Dean comes under attack because his campaign is so different. Dean’s about everything Bush hates.” Rocco said that Dean’s stance on the war drew him to the campaign, but when I asked about Dennis Kucinich’s candidacy, he seemed confused. “Kucinich is too idealistic. He wants to create a Department of Peace and cut the military’s budget.” “But aren’t you anti-war?” I asked.
With Deantown being Deanless, I had no reason to stay at The Rack and drink overpriced beer and look for celebrities. I headed to the Kucinich after-party. Kucinich, who’d flown from New Hampshire to Ohio in the morning so he could vote, then back to Deantown for the debate, said a few words and disappeared downstairs for interviews. Upstairs, the duo who’d rapped on the Kucinich 30-second spot were freestyling, much to the delight of the old gray-haired women who nodded their heads to the beat.
I ran into an anarchist friend who’d narrowly escaped a beating at the hands of Edwards’ bus driver; he told me the story of his harrowing escape over hot wings and beer. Todd had been protesting the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), and when the Edwards bus rolled up to cart Edwards back to the hair salon, Todd seized the moment and slapped a “No FTAA” sticker in the “o” in “Vote Edwards.”
“This big fat bus driver comes out of the bus and starts yelling at me,” Todd said, still visibly shaken. “I told him that the FTAA is something that Edwards doesn’t want to support, and that this sticker on his bus would get him votes. And in this thick as molasses Southern accent, the bus driver yells at me, ‘I don’t know nothing about the FTAA. I do know I don’t like stickers on my bus.’ It really shows the campaign’s ignorance on the issues. I thought he would be cool about it, because the bus was blasting Outkast. But he made me take the sticker off the bus.” The moral of the story? The bus needs to be as pretty as John Edwards’ hair.
So it goes in American politics today, when you’re judged more by the coif of your hair than by whether or not you’re versed in trade policy. And so it goes at America Rocks the Vote in Boston, when voters would rather swill beer and ask about candidates’ preferred computer platform than discuss the long-term economic effects of structural budget deficits. Whatever. Cheers. Grab me another one while you’re up.