Saturday, February 10, 2007

Nixon Returns

I woke up this morning -- say, did you ever notice that that's how almost all old blues songs begin?
Woke up this mornin'
and the ChemLawn truck was late.
Said I woke up this mornin'
and the ChemLawn truck was late.
My front yard's looked like crap
since 1988.
"Edina Blues"
by Willie "Big Johnson" Johnson
From the album, Songs of South Minneapolis
Folkway Records, 2003

Which begs the question: do old bluesmen ever really die? The answer, of course, is no: they just don't wake up one mornin'.

(Rimshot, cymbal crash.) Riiiiight. Anyway --


I woke up early, this morning. We get the most spectacular arctic dawns at this time of year; the skies are startlingly blue and crystal clear, and as the first long rays of the rising sun stream over the horizon they cast brilliantly golden beams of light across the frozen tundra, to fall precisely through the one gap in the bedroom curtains and smack me right in the face.

Not having much choice in the matter, then, I got up. My wife was still asleep. The Kid was still asleep. Even Pyro Puppy was still asleep, so I got into my bathrobe and mocassins, shuffled in the kitchen, started the coffee pot, checked the thermometer outside the kitchen window — minus 5ยบ F, BRRR! — shuffled into the dining room —

Nixon was sitting there, reading Peggy Noonan's column in this morning's Wall Street Journal.

"I thought you could only appear at night," I said.

He tossed off a nod towards the frost on the inside of the patio door. "It's a cold day in Hell, too."

I pulled out a chair and sat down. "So. What's on your mind? Or is this just a social visit?"

Nixon carefully folded the newspaper and set it aside. "The election," he said.

"Oh? Are you going to explain why the Republicans botched the last one so badly?" In the kitchen, the coffeepot finally started wheezing, hissing, and groaning through its morning routine. Nixon jumped.

"Sorry," he said sheepishly. "I'm used to percolators. These newfangled drip-coffee makers sometimes sound just like — never mind." He took a moment to regain his composure, and then started again. "I'm talking about 2008. And I'm going to explain why the Republicans are going to make an even worse botch of this one."

He had my full attention now. "Really? So what happens with Pelosi and — "

He waved that off. "Never mind that. I told you, that was just a possible future. No, what I'm talking about now is a probable future." He pursed his lips, took in a deep breath, slowly let it out, and then held his silence for a long pause, while his eyes were focused on something I couldn't see.

In the kitchen, the coffee maker wheezed and dribbled.

"I can't talk about Hillary Clinton," Nixon said at last. "Not now; not without turning the air blue with swearing. But if you want to know what I might have to say about her, read Hell to Pay, by Barbara Olson. Especially chapter six." He frowned, and shook his head. "No, the Democrats are going to nominate Hillary. Foregone conclusion. No power on Earth can stop that now.

"But what scares me," he said forcefully, "is the idea that the Republicans will nominate Giuliani, or worse, put together some kind of grand compromise ticket of Giuliani and McCain. The last time we came up with a compromise this brilliant was in 1877, and you know how that one turned out." I nodded. The Great Compromise of 1877, which put Rutherford B. Hayes in office, was definitely not one of our shining moments.

"What's so bad about Giuliani?" I asked.

"On a personal level, not that much," Nixon said. "But think about this: a Clinton - Giuliani race. Never mind that she was mopping the floor with him during their race for the New York Senate seat, before he dropped out. What we're looking at here is a presidential election in which the whole country is forced to choose between New Yorker 'A' and New Yorker 'B'. Tweedledee and Tweedledum. It'll be like a Jets - Giants Superbowl. The Yankees versus the Mets in the World Series." He stopped waving his hands around, and sighed.

"Oh, the media will go crazy over this one," he said. "But the rest of the country will tune out early and go into the polling booth on election day begging God for a 'None of the Above' option."

I shrugged. "Don't we always?"

"It's all about demographics and turnout, Bruce. Thirty-five percent of the electorate would vote for a yellow dog, if it was a Democrat. Fifty-five percent of the voters will vote by reflex for any woman on the ballot, because it makes them feel all warm, fuzzy, and progressive. Seventy-five percent of female voters will vote for any candidate with a uterus and ovaries, out of pure female chauvanism.

"There's considerable overlap between these constituencies, that's true. But throw those kinds of numbers up against a Giuliani — a man who will make Southern conservatives sit this one out by the millions — and we have the makings of a landslide. It'll be like 1968 all over again, only this time with the southern strategy cutting the other way. You vaguely remember George Wallace; go back and look at what he actually did to Humphrey and the Democratic Party. If the South spews up some kind of regional third-party candidate again — "

He shook his head. "And Lord knows, it will; it's the South —

"Then we are looking at not just an overwhelming victory for the Democrats in every federal, state, and county seat on the ballot; we are talking about a 40-years-in-the-wildnerness level defeat for the Republican Party. I don't know if it can survive."

I shrugged again. "Consider it evolution at work. Maybe it shouldn't."

The coffee maker finished its brew cycle and let out a final loud hiss of steam. Nixon's head snapped up sharply and he looked me straight in the eye, but instead of the glare I expected, I caught a bemused twinkle.

"You can say that now," he said, with a decidedly unsettling smile, "but when I think about the prospect of living in a United States that's under the control of that woman —" He silently turned into a cloud of swirling smoke and began to drift away.

"Thanks, but I'll feel a whole lot safer in Hell."