background background


Endorsement for President, 1992


The Poet

by William Johnney


October 13, 2008. The endorsement reprinted below was scribed in May 1992 for that summer's issue of The New Combat.

It was both unplanned and, in light of our limited readership, a bit preposterous to opine as to whom the Democrats should nominate. But a nagging fear and trembling had begun to prick that winter, as the primaries got underway, and then the riots of April in Los Angeles had set the world afire anew.

Democrats sixteen years ago, as today, were desperate to boot the GOP from the White House. Reagan in the end hadn't been much of a Reaganite, but his goons had behaved badly in other people's countries, and playing with matches had singed the Constitution. Moreover, the shocking collapse of the Soviet Union was still news and had visions of Peace Dividends dancing in people's heads. The Realpolitik of papa George Bush and the class war of Reaganomics, on autopilot, had to go.

But who would bell the cat? Polls in 1991, as primary filings were due, had Bush riding high on declared victory in the Gulf War -- so high as to discourage the leading Donkeys from
entering the race.

Into that vacuum flowed former California governor Jerry Brown, Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, Iowa senator Tom Harkin, Nebraska senator Robert Kerrey, Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas, and Virginia governor Douglas Wilder.

As the New York primary of April 7 drew near, the field had narrowed to the natty and witty Brown with his bag of business- like New Age ideas, and Clinton, whose Democratic Leadership Council had taken hold of the party's reins from a hapless motley of old guard Universalists, still loyal to the Kennedys and FDR, and angry young Identity-Politickers, led by post-60s neo-feminists targeting the white male hegemony.

The DLC notion was to pour the oil of Southern Moderation upon these troubled waters, in an effort to launch a ticket that might navigate the Electoral College without running aground. Surely, after twelve years of Reaganite idiocy and abuse, with the war-weary world on fire anew, surely this time the Donkeys could not lose ...

Los Angeles Riot 1992

AS WE GO to press, George Bush is strolling through the ruins of south-central Los Angeles.

Where the death and destruction began is difficult to say. On Foothill and Osborne? In a liquor store on Normandie Avenue? Or a windowless jury room forty miles north? In police academies across the country? In the ghetto?

Does it mean anything that six days before the incredible verdicts came down, igniting the worst riots in California since 1965, an act of capital punishment was committed in California for the first time since 1967? Or that six days later the Supreme Court blithely shat upon the great writ of habeus corpus?

Does it mean anything when George Bush, the "wimp" carried through election on Willie Horton's back, sweeps his outstretched arm over Los Angeles and promises to "keep on working to create an environment of understanding and tolerance"? Or when the man who as Vice President helped lead an illegal war shakes his fist at the fallen angels of L.A. and cries, "I make no apology for the rule of law or the requirement to live by it"?

What does "rule of law" mean when the convictions of North
and Poindexter are overruled by a Reaganite judge, and when the beating of Rodney King is not a crime?

These are simple-minded, perhaps stupefied, but not rhetorical questions. For it is difficult as Los Angeles smolders to say if anything means much at all. It is difficult to look out the window
and make any distinctions at all. The country seems a wide,
swiftly flowing sewer, from Washington D.C. to Simi Valley.
We are up to our necks in it.

Outside the street's on fire in a real death waltz
Between what's flesh and what's fantasy
And the poets down here don't write nothin' at all
They just stand back and let it all be

Los Angeles Riot 1992

A LOCAL POET, Eileen Myles, is running for president. During
the frenzy of the New York primary, as the major candidates were stretching around Manhattan giving speeches and ducking eggs,
Ms Myles boldly proposed the abolition of the income tax, in favor
of a tax on wealth itself:

"If you were to tax holdings -- you can also call it assets, a capital assets tax -- if you taxed assets at one percent, that's all, then you would pay off the national debt in a year and a half."

Brava, it remains to work out the details. But is Eileen really serious? She signed her latest mailing with the slogan Stay Outside.

Jerry Brown's Flat 13% plus VAT 13% tax idea was front page news during the frenzy. Inspired by a Stanford economist named Hall, it relied, like Reaganomics, on trickle-down and patriotic capitalists to grow the economy and avoid national bankruptcy. Professor Hall rejected the idea as "more regressive" than his own.

Yet The Village Voice, an organ of correct progress, encouraged its readers to vote for Mr Brown. The Voice? Singing "Feed the Rich, there'll be plenty of leftovers?"

Ah, but perhaps the editors weren't taking Jerry seriously. They endorsed him with the slogan Shock the System!

As Primary Day grew near, posters appeared on the streets of the Lower East Side, pasted up by the local anarchist/squatter coalition. This group had gained attention in 1988, when it tweaked the Police Department's nose, provoking New York's Finest to a six-hour nocturnal rampage through the neighborhood: the Tompkins Square police riot.

For a time the anarchists basked in a fine notoriety, but then became caricatures, useful for discrediting the idea and practice of alternative housing. No one except the police, the FBI, real estate professionals and the Times takes them seriously.

The slogan on their latest posters: Don't Vote -- Revolt!

Handel's Messiah London Philharmonic

AS THE MILLENNIUM turned a thousand years ago, nearly everyone was a farmer or a farmer's helper, residing within a certainty so certain that he probably never formulated it: the civilization was good, in this basic respect: it seemed perpetual.

As long as the earth itself lasted, with rain cycles, seasons, birds and bees, the civilization would endure. Evil resided in particular persons, maybe peoples, or in devilish gods. Bad people could be stopped, or at least opposed, and even Satan could be distinguished as Other and thus opposed. The goodness of the way of life was unquestionable. Like the soil underfoot, it was there to work with
and to worship -- and the word civilization did not come to haunt English until the late 18th century.

Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It's a death trap
It's a suicide rap
We gotta get out while we're young

Most of us now realize as children that our world along the way lost its basic goodness. The Scientific Civilization looks nothing like
a perpetual motion machine. It is designed to consume rather than preserve itself, it is consuming itself, and Consumerism is the religion shouted harshly from every telescreen, which we blas- pheme, as individuals, upon pain of ignominy, poverty, despair, sickness, waste, death, and embarassment.

The most important generation gap ever may be the one that today separates people who as children imagined themselves to be
part of a perpetual cosmos from people who felt early in life that
their world was not only illogical and mass murderous, but suicidal.

Reactions to this grim apprehension are many: the splendor of pathological types that populate our society and imaginations.

Faustians participate religiously in the consuming self- consumption, with the nihilist's faith that endings are beginnings and destruction creative. Damn the torpedoes and evidence to the contrary -- Business as Usual!

Today's Faustians challenge the heavens by building skyscrapers that will never have tenants. They burn the midnight oil and bust their humps, devoted to the task of vivisecting companies in which people actually labor and produce wealth and provide for their families.

Consumers go along rather blamelessly for the ride. Propelled
by Nationalism and Familyism, drawn by bread and circuses, they love to stroll and shop at the mall, and in time of riot they will loot the mall -- otherwise the goods go up in flames. At bottom: a religious devotion to goods.

Outsiders silently stay outside. Brought to the terrace on the insistent whispers and slender arm of Truth, but there abandoned, listening in distraction as the Death Waltz plays, depressed and
guilt-ridden, they mutter, "Where is she?"

Tompkins Square Police Riot

THE MESSIAH COMPLEX is a harder nut to crack than it used
to be. For decades it was treated as the plaything of neurosis, a convenience adopted by the patient's subterranean self to distract him from a smaller and more excruciating personal problem.

As the civilization becomes more poisoned and poisonous, however, the apocalyptic prognostication driving the young savior becomes less and less implausible. Therapists can no longer simply draw back the curtain and invite the patient to laugh away a grandiose and doomed ambition. In fact the world is at risk. It's consuming itself. And people must do something. Foundational spiritual needs -- to belong, to worship, to be responsible, to obey -- begin to work against adjustment.

The fact remains that world-saving is doomstruck work. But that it can no longer be dismissed as sheer nonsense reshapes the clinical prognosis: Typically runs a chronic course. As chronic as the course of the civilization itself. Hence the silent Outsider.

We pathological spirits! If able neither to get beyond good and evil, nor to alienate the latter as our ancestors once did -- if the death of God meant, disastrously, the death of the Devil too -- what then?

What happens to the Good Man in the Bad City? Does he put out his eyes and poke holes in his ears? Are fantasy and repression the only cure? Curtains! More curtains!

This is what the world does to you: We who cannot repair or disassemble the destructive self-destructive civilization are left with no decent choice but the faustian: to destroy it.

Or at least to destroy our neighborhoods.

Or, at rock bottom, to destroy ourselves.

The splendor of pathological types.

Los Angeles Riot Police

In the tunnels uptown
The Rat's own dream guns him down

THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY's desultory odyssey since the murder of John F. Kennedy in 1963 might be understood as a mass descent into the maelstrom of Outsiderness.

It is, after all, the party that looks forward. It has made abnegation and self-destruction a point of honor and a movement.

George Mitchell, the leader of the Senate, demonstrated this progressive Outsiderness last fall when he declared the vote on Clarence Thomas a matter for each member's conscience. There would be none of the usual nastiness over this one -- no twisting

Gorbachev and Yeltsin

of arms, no bending of minds, no bluffing, no horse trading, no Indian Poker. This, Mr Mitchell declared, was too important for politics. And Thomas slipped by on two votes.

What Mikhail Gorbachev willy nilly achieved -- the mostly peaceful disassembly of the most powerful police state to date -- will be regarded as one of the century's greatest political works. His grimy toil made possible that electric moment last August when Boris Yeltsin clambered onto a tank, shuffled papers nervously while the camera crews plugged in, then recited his declaration of resistance and beat it back inside the Russian White House.

Boris Yeltsin on a tank before the Russian White House

It was a realist treatment of the same theme enacted with abstract beauty by a young Chinese man three years ago, as he stood before a moving tank, which stopped, and like a gas-bloated dinosaur tried to waddle around him, but failed, and which then gave up.

Tiannamen Square Tanks

IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE how Americans would react to the sudden appearance of tanks in their streets -- not as they appeared in Detroit in 1967 (on black folks' streets), but as they might have twenty years later if Ollie North's plans for "suspending the Constitution" to suppress complaints about the Contra war /drug ring had ever been initialed by the Great Communicator.

In 1973, President Richard Nixon was ordered by Judge John Sirica to hand over his Oval Office tape recordings. Nixon refused, citing presidential immunity and executive privilege. Yet it was already clear he was a crook of some sort.

When the Court of Appeals upheld Sirica's order, the President's men proffered a compromise to the Watergate prosecutor,
Archiibald Cox: A single senator would be permitted to hear the tapes, and Cox would agree to tack no more subpoenas on the White House door.

Cox rejected the compromise. Nixon then ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire him. Richardson refused, and instead resigned.

Then his deputy, William Ruckleshaus, likewise refused and resigned.

Finally, the Solicitor General -- today's Judge Robert Bork, of all people -- obeyed his liege and typed up a pink slip, then signed it as
a supposed "Acting Attorney General."

Cox might have ignored the pose. Instead he walked out and told the press, "It is now for the Congress and the people to decide."

As Cox retells it, "a firestorm of public outrage overwhelmed the White House." Some 30,000 telegrams arrived each day and -- approaching our fantasy of steel dinosaurs in the street:

"Cars streamed by the White House,
honking for impeachment."

Tuesday after the Saturday Night Massacre, Nixon relented and handed over the tapes. Nine months later he resigned.

Burmese buddhist monks protest

How beautiful the river flows
and the birds they sing
You and I, we're messier things
Ain't no one leavin' this world, buddy
without their shirttail dirty
and their hands a little bloody

HAVING CONSUMED the carniverous frenzy of the local primary, we conclude that Bill Clinton is a better man than us. He is head and shoulders above George Bush, who by rights should be in jail with officers North, Poindexter, Powell, Wind and Koon. The character question pursued by carnivorous journalists is absurd.

Jerry Brown should be the next director of the Environmental Protection Agency, and the President and Congress should pass effective, radical campaign finance reform early next spring. These would turn what is right about Mr Brown's campaign into lasting gain, and along with a youngblood Congress help diversify Mr Clinton's policy portfolio.

Los Angeles riot 1992

Down in the shadow of the penitentiary
Out by the gas fires of the refinery
Ten years burning down the road
Nowhere to run, ain't got nowhere to go

BORN IN THE Scientific Civilization, it is our responsibility to push and guide it through its troubled, self-destructive adolescence toward a maturity against consonant with the perpetuality of nature. In theory, at least, such a life is possible. Fusion energy, hydrogen cars, are possible. The sun and wind are real. In any case, it is not possible to go back.

There is something sad in the sight of Eastern Europe bending
its weary heart and mind to the heroic task of creating ... Free Markets. Playing catch-up in a race to somewhere less than good. History has done this to them, held them back, while we went forward to the edge.

We know more about the future than any people on earth.
We know that free market policies have us eating at one another in the street, as Jefferson prophesied of the Federalist central banking program. We know that busines is the engine of this irrevocable

Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke

civilization, but also that business can be a mad dog. We know that the business of the American government is to regulate business.

"Because the people did rise up morally
and politically, the rule of law prevailed."

In such style does Archibald Cox evaluate the effect of people circling the White House in their automobiles, honking a crook out of office.

History demands much less of tomorrow's heroes. To rise up!
And vote George Bush down the garbage chute. This would be enough for 1992, a small, necessary step. Don't shock the system
with ideas that won't fly and empty slogans. Don't revolt -- Vote
Clinton. We cannot live up to our responsibilities by staying

The New Combat, Summer 1992

BILL CLINTON WOULD GO ON in 1992, despite Jerry Brown's energy and smarts, to win the lion's share of the caucuses and primaries, and then, in November, 370 electoral votes. More than Jimmy Carter and JFK. (Bush: 168)

Ross Perot 1992

And yet Clinton garnered only 43% of the popular vote. Billionaire businessman Ross Perot of Texas, an odd but genuine Reform Party candidate, had taken home an astounding 20% of the pie. Perot's aim seems to have been to unhorse Bush -- a tinhorn "Texan" during election years with very dirty hands. If Perot had folded to pressure to withdrawal from the race, Clinton would likely have lost.

However that may be, two years thence the GOP would take the House, led by a vile bile-master, Newt Gingrich, and the Clinton mandate, such as it was, was history.

Nevertheless, the working class that Thanksgiving of 1992 heaved a sigh of relief. Reaganomics and militarism had been buried with the Soviet Union. Surely the first Peace Dividend checks would soon be in the mail.

So it seemed.

Clinton Gore 1992 poster

The End

Back to top

Comments are welcome and may be posted here.