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LOVE HIM, HATE HIM -- YOU SIMPLY CAN'T IGNORE HIM THIS TIME.

 
   
   
 

A bachelor party is no time to be having any kind of serious political debate, but there we were, inevitably, talking about what everyone tries to avoid talking about when they're trying to get

 
 

drunk. We were talking about George W. Bush. We were talking about Our Country. There were no strippers around, after all; it was only a matter of time.

We were talking. Five dudes, all white, all urban/suburban professionals, three married, one single and scared in New York, one engaged guy wondering why his bachelor party had no naked people. We tried to talk about baseball, or girls, or real estate, but there was no getting around it: There was no way five humans, in the United States of America in the year of 2004, were going to be able to talk for any period of time without

 
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bringing up George W. Bush.

***

He's the guy, isn't he? I'm watching him on television right now, as he accepts the nomination for President just a mile from here, and it is amazing to me that this simple, small man is able to inspire such violent emotions -- pro and con. I am from a generation that, frankly,

 
 

has never given a shit; we have our own problems, we have our own too-pampered, too-easy, too-much world. We are paralyzed with indecision and uncertainty, we are growing too old too fast, we don't understand it, it's all creeping up on us, we didn't know the shit we thought didn't matter really did, you know? We tried to pretend this shit didn't affect us. We were so wrong. We tried to hide. We tried to put off the future. We failed. We failed big time.

George W. Bush is the ultimate manifestation of this. I know several well-adjusted, intelligent, good-hearted people, people I would trust with my imaginary children, people who are measured, and fair, and educated, and patriotic. And they hate George W. Bush with a greater passion than they hate serial killers and child molesters

   
 

and apartment brokers.

Why? What is it about him that offends them so? I'm watching his speech right now, as he talks about how he is the father of two "spirited" young daughters (Pay attention: "Spirited" is about to become a new euphemism for "slutty drunks."). He rattles on, using the same phrases from four years ago that have been long since abandoned, intellectually and in practice. "Compassionate conservatism." "No child left behind." "The soft bigotry of low expectations." Jesus, did he just talk in Spanish?

Everyone in the room is screaming back at the screen. They don't want to. They just want to drink and smoke and pretend the world isn't transmogrifying every second. They didn't even want to watch this. I'm the one that made them. I had to write a story. I feel guilty, because they can not ignore him. He is mesmerizing, in the way a 10-car pile up is mesmerizing, in the way a video of a man shooting himself in the head on the freeway is mesmerizing. No. He's mesmerizing in the way a snuff film is mesmerizing. They can't help themselves. They're screaming at the screen. I just heard my friend say, "I hate you!" My friend hates no one. He is pure of spirit; just looking at him makes me smile. But he hates George W. Bush.

He is overwhelming, this tiny man, this dolt, this history-in-miniature who somehow ended up standing at the crossroads of everything that mattered, everything we stood for, everything we thought we knew but didn't. He has become the most important figure in our lives. How could he not be? Everything is at risk now; it's all on the table. We forget, you know? We forget what we were all thinking in the weeks after September 11. Don't you remember? It's going to happen again. It's going to happen this week. It's going to happen right now. Don't you remember those fears? Don't you remember how we were afraid to go to the mall? How we looked at any young Muslim man -- against everything we believed in -- with suspicion? How our girlfriends were afraid to come to the city for our birthday because they didn't want to get anthraxed? Have we forgotten how important this man is? Have we forgotten how much this man matters?

I understand. I understand those people whom I shouldn't understand, whom I don't want to understand. I feel their need for a constant. I feel their need for something strong. I'm scared too. I see this man say that he doesn't see any shades of grey, that he doesn't waver, that he forges forward, recklessly if need be, to make us safe. I want to be safe. I don't want to die. And he does seem strong. Well, for a guy who, you know, never sacrificed anything in his life and pussy-footed his way out of any real danger. Oh, and has the gall to criticize an opponent who had faced the most important decision of his generation with courage and valor, rather than, you know, cocaine.

But still. We want to be strong. But does it have to be like this? Do we have to be such swaggering assholes? Do we have to swing our dicks everywhere? Do we have to be such fucking cowboys?

Because that's what it's about, you know. It's not even that unreasonable. We have been threatened; we will not be intimidated. Bring. It. On.

As much as you want to punch him in the fucking face … this is the question. Are we carrying the big bat? Are we gonna crack some skulls? Or are we going to be more measured? Are we going to be more careful? Do our friends really matter? There's no right answer. We try to pretend there is; there isn't. We just believe it doesn't have to be like this. Didn't people once like our country? Didn't people want to be like us? Didn't they feel terrible for us after 9/11? What happened to that? Oh, and now that we're asking questions, what happened to my job, anyway?

The comfort in his single-mindedness is understandable. The furious and righteous anger is understandable. It's all understandable. Yet everyone either worships him or wants to kick him in the freaking nuts. One understands both sides. I want to warm myself in his no-bullshit we-came-here-to-kick-ass-and-chew-gum-and-we're-all-out-of-gum demeanor. I also want to spit in his face. Can I do both? Because I think I want to do both. I think a lot of people do.

But -- and here's what's really strange - as I've looked around this week, in New York City, the greatest city in the world, the place where the pretentious thinkers and writers and I-really-think-about-this-crap-no-seriously congregate, all that anger, all that rage, all that frustration at George W. Bush that I thought would bubble up this week -- none of it happened. People were just annoyed with the traffic disruptions. Or they didn't like all the cops on the subway. Or they couldn't believe how slow people were walking. This supposedly anti-Bush city, they looked at the protestors -- the ones supposedly on their side -- the same way they looked at the delegates: As invaders. They looked at them dispassionately, like a man sleeping on the F train. As something to be endured. As something to be ignored.

So nothing happened, really. The ones who got arrested? They were looking for trouble. Glad to have them out of the way anyway. The right-wing delegates? They'll be gone in a week, and we'll be back from the Hamptons by then anyway, just in time for the end of the U.S. Open. Let's get back to business. Let's get back to life. Spare us a dirty bomb, please. We're exhausted already.

Wasn't this supposed to be huge? Wasn't this supposed to be monumental? Wasn't this supposed to be The Important Convention? But no. Just another week in late August where no one's in town. When does the new Apprentice premiere, anyway?

Seriously: If this doesn't get people fired up -- whatever side you're on -- Jesus Christ, people … what will? What's your problem? Hell, I just did a fantasy football draft during Bush's speech. What's my problem?

***

So, anyway, the bachelor party. The minute Bush's name came up, there was the briefest conversational lapse: Were we really going to get into this? Did we, at what was supposed to be a celebration, really want bring up the one person who divides us so immensely?

We couldn't ignore it.

Who would speak first? A Christian man, the one who was really nervous about seeing naked people and would ultimately leave before he had to make a decision about it one way or another, shuffled nervously in his seat. He felt he would be the only person on the wrong side of an intense debate. I felt that made him the ideal person to start.

"So, Dave … how can you possibly justify voting for that guy?"
"I could ask you the same question."

We talked for 10 minutes. Then we all did shots. And that was the last we spoke of it. And that was all just fine, and empty, and horrible.

 

Will Leitch is managing editor of The Black Table.