Why I Voted For George Bush|
It started two days before the election. A last-minute Bush campaign appearance was scheduled in Covina, California, not far from where I live. I figured that, like it or not, he was a shoo-in, so I put on a "BUSH-NORIEGA" T-shirt and went over to size up our next President.
Because most people assumed the race was over, the crowd was small and I was able to get within a few feet of the speakers' platform. Behind Bush a row of fat cats listened with glazed stares, each one daydreaming about what their loyalty might earn...Women? (Ambassador to Monaco) Parties? (Chief of Protocol) Endless vacations? (Chairman of the Legal Services Corporation).
Bush was saying things like "Keep America moving" and "We are the change." Nearby were several homeless people who had to keep moving and hadn't changed in weeks. The irony was not lost on one of them. A woman, dressed in oil-soaked rags (like Mrs. Reagan, borrowed legally) held up a torn shopping bag that said "RALPHS GIANT BUSH SUCKS" – an eloquent merging of political comment and supermarket promotion. It was the only statement of substance, controlled or otherwise, to be seen or heard on this day. Or during the entire campaign for that matter.
I noticed that the few people standing in front of me were all Secret Service agents. Like lizards, they stood absolutely still – except for their eyes, which darted about, searching the crowd's faces for that one dangerous oddball, that one loony – the unstable personality.
Suddenly I realized that a lizard was staring right at me. It was obvious my T-shirt had attracted his attention.
"Mind if I ask you something?"
"Why?" I barked back. I knew I sounded like a wiseguy, but – I am a wiseguy.
"Could you step over here, please? Away from the platform."
Now I was getting nervous. He led me to this spot where a bunch of long black limousines were parked. I remember hearing a cheer in the background – Bush was wrapping it up – when the agent looked around to see if anyone was watching. At that moment I just knew I was going to get the crap beaten out of me.
Then, he threw me a curve.
"Where'd you get the T-shirt?" he asked.
"I'd like to get one."
I didn't believe him.
"No, I'm serious. I want to know where I can get one."
From the look on his face I think he was serious. But I never had a chance to find out.
At that very moment the candidate himself appeared, surrounded by a few aides. He had finished his speech and was hustling off to the next stop on the campaign. The only thing between him and his limousine was me.
Bush seemed agitated as he approached. He was tired. And angry. He'd been under fire for running a dirty campaign; for covering up about his role in the Iran-contra affair; for lying about Noriega. And Dukakis was battling back, pulling closer here in California. Bush looked like a man who was stressed out.
So when he saw me, an obvious troublemaker in a BUSH-NORIEGA T-shirt, he blew his Ivy League cool. Maybe for the only time in his life. But he blew it.
"You bastards never give up, do you?"
He then delivered a swift, solid kick to my shin.
You read that correctly. George Bush, the forty-first President of the United States, kicked me! And then he was gone, his limo pulling away before I could grasp what had happened.
The only witness was the Secret Service agent, and he wasn't about to talk. Anyone else that could have seen it was a member of the Bush campaign staff, and the last thing they wanted was word of such an embarrassing episode to get out. It would be catastrophic. Two cowards on the same ticket!?
So, naturally, the first thing I heard was, "Five hundred bucks. No questions asked."
The bribe came from a young, slimy, right-thinking eel who was serving, for now at least, as a Bush roadie.
"Five... hundred... bucks?" I repeated. I think he thought I was negotiating for more, but I was in too much pain – and shock – to say anything original.
"We don't want any trouble," he slimed. "You know that, don't you?"
I was still wincing so it was hard to talk. He took it as obstinacy.
"This is ridiculous. A thousand."
"He didn't mean it," I finally got out.
"Are you sure? It's good you see it that way, because-"
"But it was no accident," I interjected.
His mood darkened. He paused to study me. I could see the fear spreading across his face as he began to realize just how bad this could look. Negative campaigning was one thing. Kicking an innocent bystander was something else.
"You're not going to tell anyone, are you? You realize that no one here will mention this. No one would believe it."
He was implying, or trying to imply, that I'd be crying in the wilderness if I took this story anywhere.
"And honestly," he added, "who's going to believe you?"
He wasn't very convincing, and when I started walking away he practically tackled me.
"Wait! Shouldn't you see a doctor? And what about the money? It's right here."
I decided at that point to walk out of this situation with my dignity intact and my place in history secure. I had no idea what I would do. Probably nothing. But, the knowledge that I wielded such power erased the pain and gave me a heady feeling. I just wanted to get away from there to think about it. But in order to do that I had to first relieve this guy of his anxiety.
"Don't worry. I won't talk, I won't press charges. As far as I'm concerned, it practically never happened."
I then walked away and was gone before he had a chance to think about it. Little did I know it, but the Bush campaign was about to go into a panic.
The first sign of panic was a phone call I received the next morning, Monday, November 7th. It was Lee Atwater, Bush's campaign manager. He wanted to know if I was all right, and would I re-consider their offer of five hundred dollars, as a kind of "compensation" he called it. Five hundred! I let that pass.
"I'm not interested."
"Then what can we do for you?"
Believe me, I'd thought about that question. But, as tempting as it was, I backed off again.
"Nothing. If your man loses, which looks doubtful, I'd rather he lost on merit."
"Call me an idealist."
I hung up, believing that this footnote to history (no pun intended) would remain just that.
Five minutes later, Atwater called again.
"Seriously," he began. "There must be something we can do. Name it."
I pretended to think about it.
"Have Bush tell the truth."
"What? Oh, a wiseguy."
He refused to get angry.
"Please. Call us if you change your mind."
He hung up. Gently.
There were a bunch of messages on the answering machine when I returned home from work that night. All were pleas of one kind or another from various people working for the Bush campaign. One call was from a prominent doctor, checking to see if there was any "lingering soreness." He was more concerned than my mother. Then, after erasing the tape, the phone rang. I picked it up, reluctantly.
"This is Craig Fuller, campaign chairman," he said, not waiting for a 'hello.'
"Let's cut through the fog," he continued.
"You're upset about something that happened yesterday. We're all very sorry it happened. Nobody is more upset about it than Mr. Bush himself."
"Then why hasn't he called?" I asked, not caring one way or the other.
"That's a good question. We were going to have him call as soon as we heard how you were, but we were informed that there was some problem – that you're being a bit difficult to deal with. Is that true?"
"I refused a bribe. That's all it was. No hard feelings."
"Tell you what," he smoothly went on.
"You and your family attend the inaugural, see the sights – and it's all on us. Stay in the hotel of your choice."
"I think you've misunderstood. I don't want any free trips or money."
He was unfazed.
"You think we're bribing you. We're not bribing you. Farthest thing from it. If George Bush wants to invite you to his inaugural, that's his right."
You could practically hear him wink.
"I don't want to go. Tell him to give my tickets to Schwarzenegger or Chuck Norris or somebody else in his brain trust."
I hung up and went to sleep.
"This is Jim Baker. I've got the Vice President here. He wants to say hello and see how you're doing."
I didn't know how long I'd been asleep – or if I wasn't still – but it was soon apparent I was about to speak to the next President of the United States, hours before he's elected.
"Well hi, how are ya?"
It was Bush. Not quite as good as Harry Shearer, but it was definitely Bush.
"I wanted to tell ya how sorry I am for that damn foolish thing I did the other day. If there's anything we can do..."
He paused momentarily – enough time for me to think he was going to offer a bribe. But no.
"...I'm just real sorry."
He sounded sincere. Too sincere.
"I hope you finish a close second," I said.
"You're a good sport," he laughed.
And that was it. There were no more calls.
I've thought a lot about what happened. Could I have influenced the outcome of the election? Should I have tried? Well, I didn't, and that's all that matters. And no, I didn't vote for George Bush. But the title "Why I Voted For Michael Dukakis" just didn't have the right spin to it.
(This originally appeared in The Realist.)
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