Recently and for the second time in as many thousand years, the world found itself on the cusp of a millennium.To usher in the new era, great things were afoot:huge festivities, wild and massive celebrations in all the cities of the world, Jubilees and Millennialles; and on January 1, 2000, the world awoke to the buzzing hangover reality of life continuing as usual.Time to go back to work, the party's over.EXCEPT, in the United States, the real blowout is only just beginning.Because here, we have the continuing and dubious honor of hosting what is perhaps the greatest, gaudiest, wildest and most expensive spectacle of all:the electoral process for the Presidency of the year 2000.
Being such an advanced nation at this advanced stage of human history, our political system has had the opportunity to evolve into something much more than mere politics.Politics have grown up into a full-blown marketing war, avoiding such formerly crucial considerations as policy, depth and integrity, in favor of what in the end really counts when selling any product:mass distribution, mass appeal, and massive, incredible advertising campaigns.No longer do the candidates merely seek to give the people what they need, instead striving to to supply the voters with what they want, including far too much useless gloss and meaningless symbolism.To this end, I consulted the newest, hottest marketing tool available, the internet, to check out what might be on offer this time around.What I discovered amazed me.
The first site I visited was AlGore.com.To my surprise, the Vice-President's campaign didn't own it; the name had been bought by a private merchandising company.Pretty odd, considering Gore's claim that he "invented the internet."Ah, how our children grow up and move away (even the adopted ones).AlGore.com did sell some rather clever campaign-phernalia, however, including the classic "Read My Lips...No New Texans" t-shirt, as well as all the official gear:donkey-dolls, buttons, t-shirts, stickers, hats, and, believe it or not, coffee.GoreMay brand coffee."Not your average Joe", said the sales site.No kidding.This I had to try.I filled out the online form and ordered a bag.
Next, I crossed the aisle to visit GeorgeWBush.com, which quickly sent me to GeorgeWBushStore.com.Again, I found the standard gear, t-shirts and hats, buttons and stickers, all the tried and true campaign goodies, none of it particularly inspiring.But scrolling down the site, I suddenly came face-to-screen with an image of a bottle of water - George W. Bush brand water."Prepare to experience a watershed moment in American history" read the text beside the picture.According to the site, it was pure Kentucky spring water... awfully close to Gores home stomping ground, but "this land is your land, this land is my land," I suppose.Five minutes later, my order had been processed and I left the site, bound for the wilds of Libertarian.org.
But I found no merchandising there at all.Nor could I find products for sale at Greens.org, and the New Alliance Party didnt even have a site I could locate.How about ReformParty.org? I wondered...
...So that one week later, I became the proud owner of a beautiful collection:one bag of GoreMay coffee, twelve bottles of George W. Bush bottled water, and a shiny new Reform Party mug.And then, with all these elements assembled in my lab, I went to work, in a scientific attempt to mix up our national political system once and for all.
To begin, I inspected the elements at hand.
THE COFFEE:I had chosen the blue package when ordering. There were three predictable choices of color, but I was assured that there would be no actual difference between them. It arrived all nice and shiny, in vacuum-sealed mylar with a plain label indicating the name, and the slogan, with small text below reading "Colombian Supremo 80 cups." I wondered to myself what sort of deal the Gore people had cut with the Colombians, and whether the DEA was involved.GoreMay.Hmmm.Clever pun, no?Well, what to expect from a man known for having the charm and wit of a bank branch manager? At least he's trying, I suppose.But one of his points throughout his campaign has been to stress content over charisma, so with my coffee-grinder at hand and ready for action, I opened the bag to have a look at its contents... uh-oh:disappointment.The good people at Gore Marketing HQ had sold me a sealed bag of pre-ground coffee.I suppose I may be something of a coffee snob, but suddenly the name GoreMay struck me as more of a joke than ever. The whole point of selling whole beans in sealed bags is to preserve the content, the flavor of the coffee, while this stuff looked dry, powdery, almost - dare I say it - instant. But Gore being sort of a dry chap to begin with, as least his coffee product was what all politicians should want to be: representative. Despite its nominal gourmet implication, this pre-processing did have the effect of making the coffee more accessible to a wider populace, another hallmark of sound politicking. But still, as coffee for coffee's sake, he seemed to have sacrificed quality and depth in favor of a broader constituency. It did smell like coffee, at least, bitter and strong (an indication of future policy, perhaps?) and I hoped that it would yet contain that other magical ingredient, something which both good coffee and good government ought to offer, an element of zing and zap, to wake me up to the world around. In its present crystaline form, however, it seemed too condensed, too concentrated, too much of substance, and not enough of fluidity. I needed something to water down Mr. Gore's offering.And so I turned to:
THE WATER. The minimum order of this stuff was half a case, so I had several bottles at my disposal. I chose one to inspect. It was a normal everyday waterbottle, no gimmicks, no wasted thought.In fact, only the label identified it as anything even remotely politically oriented. But this too struck me as unimaginatively conservative, a simple wraparound sticker in sombre American colors, boring but bold, patriotic, the name "George W. Bush" in large white letters its only prominent feature. The label gave no hint of the bottle's contents, only its sponsor, so I cracked it open to taste the precious liquid inside. Sip. Taste. Swallow. Sip. Taste. Well, it tasted... like water. No surprises there, and no real flavor, just the same aqueous nothingness I'd known since the day I was born (during the Nixon administration). A watershed in American history indeed. It, like Bush, did seem more or less mineral-rich, but beyond that the water had no real distinguishing feature anywhere about it - apart from the famous name of course. Thus concluding, I set it next to the opened coffee bag, and proceeded to the final ingredient in my grand old recipe,
THE MUG. This handled ceramic cylinder was the last step, something in which to combine the two major parties' wares into a unified and accessible form, a way of presenting, in mixture, the contents of what both the Democrats and the Republicans had to offer, and with "The Reform Party of the United States of America" emblazoned across its bright white surface like a claim on the contents themselves. Although I had ordered all three products on the same day, this mug, like the Reform Party itself, took the longest to arrive on the scene. A belated concatenator, again in standard tricolor, with a plainly stylized eagle logo. And, of course, completely empty. Despite the promise of the extracted Democrat-Republican brew, on its own it offered no content whatsoever.
I set the mug next to the other items, and surveyed them all together. The coffee dark, granular, like and from the earth; the water clear and fresh; the mug full of air. And to join them I needed only one final catalytic element: fire. I took a deep breath and started concocting.
Into a normal steel kettle I emptied two bottles of Bush water, and set it on a burner to heat. In the meantime, I poured a helping of GoreMay into a French press coffee-maker, where it sat inert, a mound of brown dust and specks. The mug required no special preparation whatsoever, and so I eagerly waited, like the media for a statement of policy, for the Bush water to come to a slow boil. And eventually, just like Bush himself at the primary debates, when the flames finally grew hot enough, the kettle began to hiss, and then to scream. The moment of mixture had arrived.
Lifting the pot from the stove, I unleashed Bush upon Gore in a steaming torrent. The resulting mixture was frothy, turbulent, black as pitch, seething and thick. "Double, double toil and trouble," I silently incanted, "fire burn, and cauldron bubble," as the two reactants, proxies of such huge social polarities, swirled and eddied in the transparent crucible, and then settled to steep. After some time, I plunged the filter through the brew, and held it up to the light. The liquid had clarified into a translucent brown, and seemed more at ease with its ingredients' strange bed-fellowship. Then, ever-so-carefully (for who knows what volatility might yet lurk within its inky depths?) I poured it into the waiting receptacle. The mug didn't flinch. Indeed, it seemed to welcome the conjuncted coffee, nurturing it, giving it shape, re-forming it (sorry about that) into its own internal dimension, a willing repackaging and labeling of all that had gone before. While within, the dark elixir fumed and churned, upset by the transfer, until eventually calm settled over the entire scene, and it came at last time to sample what I had wrought, the hopeful brew of political cooperation, the combined forces of a complex political empire, a tempest in a coffee-cup. With eager and trembling hand, I lifted the vessel to my lips, and drank.
My first impression was one of putrescence, disgust, distaste. It simply did not meet with my approval, so bitter, so acidic, harsh. But, I realized, isn't this the whole point of campaigning? To concealthe harsh realities of the modern political world and sweeten them to gain popular acceptance? So thinking, I added milk and sugar, in an attempt to redefine the overall perception of the final product, just as the candidates themselves do every day and at every opportunity. After which, with renewed optimism, I raised the mug, and drank once more.
But without success. The coffee tasted sweeter, and smoother, but still inferior. I took a few more sips, hoping that the stuff would grow on me, trying to acquire a taste for it, but in the end, set the whole unfinished mess back down on the counter in disgust.
It was a strong concoction, to be sure, full of flavors and minerals, but unfortunately, not ones that seemed appropriate; it was simply not a good cup of coffee. On further reflection, this made sense to me.Assuming that the best qualities of the three parties had been unified into the most potent possible blend of governmental virtues, with Gore's earthy content, Bush's flowing ease, and the Reform Party to give it all a refreshing image, the resulting brew should have been ideal, right? But perhaps the problem is that the ideal government for and by the people, rather than marketed to the people, would in fact be so bitter, so lackluster, so unpalatable, opting for strength rather than gloss, that no one in his right mind would vote for it. So, after finally forcing down that first cup, the rest of the pot, like our political system itself with all its marketing, its misrepresentation of whats really at stake, and its lack of cohesive integrity, went, in one big steaming whoosh, right down the drain. And I headed out, in search of a really good cup of coffee.