|LIFE AS A LOSER #16: "DAMN THE ISSUES! FULL SPEED AHEAD!"|
|By Will Leitch|
The e-mail arrived in my box last week, and it implored me to swing into action. ďSave Mumia!Ē the subject line screamed, and I realized I was being enlisted, by my friend Brian, resident chaos artist, to join a political campaign. As you probably know, Mumia Abu-Jamal is an African-American journalist on death row, and his death warrant was recently signed by the governor of Pennsylvania. He is scheduled to be executed December 2. Activists across the country are organizing last-minute protests to save his life.
Supporters of Mumia believe he was framed by Philadelphia police and/or railroaded by an unjust court system. Many others believe gullible white liberals are being duped by their own guilt into protesting for a man they know little about, so they can feel better about themselves when they get nervous driving through an unfamiliar neighborhood late at night. I figure theyíre both right, but Iím the first to admit I have no idea what Iím talking about. I want both sides to think I agree with them.
Not to trivialize Mumiaís plight. Which, of course, Iím using to relate to my life rather than approaching it as the life-or-death issue it is. My casual, fleeting interest in his case is a fine example of my relationship with current events and ďissues.Ē I really donít care, but I want people to think I do. Iím a politics poseur.
In high school, I actively campaigned for Bill Clinton. Yes, I was a senior in high school when Clinton was elected; Iím young, and donít give me any crap about it. I still own a T-shirt with a drawing of Clinton and John F. Kennedy shaking hands that bears the message, ďBring Back The Magic: Clinton 92.Ē My bedroom was filled with Clinton paraphernalia - no jokes please - including bumper stickers, oversized signs, even alarm clocks. I wrote a column for the local paper about why Ross Perot was a lunatic psychopath, and they ran it. Some kind of high-schoolers-making-a-difference type of thing, I think. I even convinced my parents to switch to Clinton because I wasnít old enough to vote myself. My campaign promise was to be home by curfew if they did. So I lied; I was only 17 for cripeís sake.
Why was I such a Clinton loyalist? If you ask me at a party, when people are listening and forming opinions about me, Iíll tell you itís because I saw in him a new vision, a new leader for a new world, a presidential candidate who meant something, who stood for something, who wanted to leave the world a little better than it was when he came into it.
In truth, I was trying to impress a girl. I figured Myra would think I was deep, serious, smart and introspective if I joined a political campaign, so I did. She liked Clinton more than Bush, so I liked Clinton more than Bush.
Well, my campaigning paid off. On the night William Jefferson Clinton was elected the 42nd president of the United States, William Franklin Leitch lost his virginity. There are clearly at least 75,000 jokes that could be made about someone losing his virginity the night Bill Clinton was elected to the highest office in the land, and Iíll let you make them.
When I got to college and began working for the student newspaper, I again figured I would have to pretend I cared about politics because, jeez, I was working for a newspaper. I eventually worked my way up to managing editor and even found myself writing stories about zoning commissions, student referendums and local law enforcement. I didnít know or care a lick about any of this. Honestly, people, I couldnít find Kansas on a map. I played along because all my friends were journalists, and if they cared about the future of social security, well, I had better pretend I did, too.
This all caught up with me when two co-workers and I went to a journalism convention in Washington, D.C. Illinoisí Carol Moseley-Braun had just become the first African-American female senator, so when we visited the Capitol, or whatever building it is filled with all the rich white guys, we all wanted to talk to her. Unfortunately, stalwart Senator Paul Simon heard a bunch of college journalists were in town and asked to meet some.
The editor-in-chief dispatched me to Simonís office. I spent a half-hour in a one-on-one interview with a guy who ran for president. I feigned both awareness of and interest in every damn thing he said. He was much nicer than I deserved, especially considering that when he brought up direct lending for student loans - or something - I asked him to change the subject to ďsomething I could give a darn about.Ē Eventually I asked him whether he liked Forrest Gump or Pulp Fiction better, and we were back on familiar territory. He later sent me a letter thanking me for ďgiving him an audience.Ē He didnít thank me for paying attention.
Well, I cover sports and movies now, so I can typically avoid any discussion of world events or who the vice president is. However, thereís a presidential election coming up, of course, and to make people think Iím smarter, Iím again dipping my toes in the political waters. I even considered writing something for Ironminds about the Iowa caucuses, but if I canít fool my friends into believing Iím not talking out of my ass, I certainly canít fool you.
Still, politics is a great conversation starter, so Iím trying to brush up. Letís see, thereís Al Gore: heard of him, kinda stiff, once smoked pot, has a fascist wife. Pat Buchanan: likes Hitler, doesnít he? John McCain: thought Bruce Willis did a great job playing him in Die Hard. George Bush: already been president; we donít want him.
I actually sent an e-mail message to Bill Bradleyís campaign headquarters to let them know I was interested in volunteering, though only because he had a great jump shot and because once answered an interviewer - who was asking for a comment about Al Goreís statement that the difference between him and Bradley was the difference between Coke and Pepsi - by saying, ďYou know, Iíve always considered myself Diet Wild Cherry.Ē Thatís pretty damned funny, politician or not.
My ploy appears to have worked. Iíve discussed my interest in the Bradley campaign loudly enough for people to overhear, and two or three co-workers have asked me to carefully delineate Bradleyís views on abortion, affirmative action, aerospace funding and a bunch of other letter ďAĒ issues. I usually tell them heís pro-whatever they believe in. Easier than actually researching anything.
So if Bradley wins, and he turns out to be some kind of maniacal monster, um, blame somebody else, would you?