Thursday, May 20, Cleveland:
We have been out for half an hour, and already we have collected a dozen on-camera signatures supporting Bush's new pro-America ice age.
We are representing the Bush campaign on the streets of downtown Cleveland on a balmy spring day. Business people pour out of high-rise offices during lunch hour. Dressed in business suits we approach with clipboards and smiles, begging folks to sign our petition and explaining in no uncertain terms exactly what it's about. We also offer copies of our "position paper."
The petition and paper are about global warming—as solution, not problem. Americans should embrace global warming, we assert, and even accelerate the process should it serve any tactical military or economic advantages.
We wish we'd invented this, but we haven't. Our petition is based on a 2003 Pentagon report (full story here) acknowledging the existence of global warming, but questioning its importance. Instead of cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions, we should prepare a fortified border to protect against the influx of starving masses. Instead of trying to regulate atmospheric pollutants, we should consider the possible economic advantage that a climate change might give us over up-and-coming economic superpowers like China, Europe, and Japan.
The Pentagon also asks us to consider a final solution to the problem of global warming: apply more heat. As popularized in The Day After Tomorrow, the irony of global warming is that it may cause a new ice age due to interrupted oceanic and atmospheric currents. The Pentagon paper suggests that in such an eventuality, we could pump more goop into the air to heat the planet up even more. Voilà! problem solved.
This is the snake oil we're selling to people in the streets of downtown Cleveland: supporting the use of pollution as a weapon against our neighbors, and supporting the development of even more effective means of warming the planet.
When we started this morning, it looked like we would not collect many signatures.
Us: "Would you sign this petition to support global warming?"
Citizen: "Support global warming?"
Us: "That’s right! Would you support the coming Ice Age?"
Laughter, pat on back. We change our pickup line.
Us: "Will you sign a petition supporting Bush’s environmental policies?"
Many still laugh the moment they hear "Bush" and "environment" in the same sentence. Even Republicans don't think they've heard right at first—"Did you say supporting?"—but after a moment they reach for the pen. At that point, we go in for the kill.
Us: "Wait—first we have to explain what you're signing. This is about supporting the Pentagon's positive approach to global warming, rather than the Democrats' negative one. See, global warming could lead to a new ice age, which would freeze over Europe, turn China into a desert, sink Japan under rising water levels. That's bad for them—but they're our competitors! America would emerge relatively okay, and at a big economic advantage. So global warming is on our side. Plus, if something really bad happens, we can always spew more greenhouse gases into the air, and heat the world up even more."
Citizen: "This supports Bush, right?"
Us: "Well, yes, this is about his administration's approach to global warming—freezing Europe, sinking Japan..."
Citizen: "Where do I sign?"
Us: "Um, here..."
We make our explanation as brutal as we can, but people keep signing, even with a video camera shooting the whole thing.
After collecting two dozen signatures in this way, we sit down at an outdoor cafe to contemplate the depressing results.
Half the people we approached ran away as soon as they heard "support" and "Bush" in the same sentence. Almost all the others eagerly signed, and there was nothing we could do to dissuade them from doing so.
How can this be? In the August 4 New York Times, West Virginia resident Charlie Crouse said residents of his county "wouldn’t care if you had Krushchev on the ballot—if he were Republican we’d check it off." Perhaps we can't expect anyone to listen, no matter how strange we think we sound.
But we're hoping to reach at least a few. The people for whom this might mean something are those elusive swing voters, that strange animal on whom it is currently open season in the swing states, with hundreds of hunters hoping to bag one and inch their candidate closer to victory. At times it must feel like a snipe hunt. Could the swing voters simply be imaginary, part of a cosmic joke?
Perhaps not. Two of the people we approached this afternoon picked up the pen when we asked them to sign, but when we explained the full policy to them, said they'd like to think about it first. We gave them the position papers we'd prepared, replete with accurate footnotes and citations for further reading, and hoped it would help them to do so.
During the three hours or so we walked around with our clipboards, there was only one person who understood that we couldn't possibly be serious. We approached him because he was clean-cut and well-dressed, just the type we imagined might be a Republican. He immediately saw through our charade and joined in. His jovial political banter made it clear he had thought things through, knew the difference between Clean Air and "Clear Skies," and knew exactly how to pull someone's legs.
Then he explained to us and our camera that he was mentally ill and homeless, and that he was dressed up in order to deal with some administrative issue. He signed our petition with a big flourish, to be part of the joke.
When the only person who understands the full insanity of our government's positions is supposedly insane, what kind of reality are we living in?