SYNDICATED COLUMN: No News Is Bad News

The American Newspaper Goes Bye-Bye

If you’re reading this in a daily newspaper, chances are that you haven’t been out much lately. You likely haven’t gotten pierced, tattooed, shoved around a mosh pit or submerged by student loans. To be precise, you’re probably about 50 years old. In 20 years, if this column is reprinted for some as-yet-unfathomable reason, the odds are that you’ll be about 70. In 30—well, that depends on advances in medical research.

The American big-city daily, a grand institution of the 20th century, seems about to go the way of the era itself, but no one’s paying much attention. Just last week, the Phoenix Gazette, an afternoon paper that has appeared for 116 years, printed its last issue, its demise apparently caused by an old ailment: Americans prefer their written news in the morning. After toiling all day for Disney, Microsoft, Nike or whoever owns what’s left of the country these days, they seemingly can’t absorb information any heavier than televised info nibblets. This trend extends even to San Francisco, where the objectively superior Examiner is inexplicably gasping for breath in its long battle with the clunky, 1950s-era Chronicle.

Even morning papers are suffering. Victimized by incompetent management, intransigent unions, unpredictable spikes in newsprint prices and the decline of big-ticket advertisers (such as department stores), even leviathans like the Los Angeles Times have been forced to reduce costs. In New York, a city of voracious readers who just a few decades ago took 26 daily papers to work with them on the subway, the well-written but pitifully designed New York Newsday discovered that it couldn’t compete successfully with the News, Post and Times—of which only the last could be reasonably called financially stable.

It doesn’t take a professional demographer to see that if the average age of newspaper readers is increasing as quickly as the passage of time, newspapers will soon be joining the history they’d rather be recording. The American Society of Newspaper Editors, however, needed a poll to tell them that 40,000,000 Generation Xers (Americans in their upper 20s and low 30s) don’t read the daily paper. This cluelessness is partially indicative of how the industry got into this mess in the first place.

Editors know that their younger would-be readers are turning instead to free-distribution alternative weeklies, and to the bottomless pit of information available on the Internet, for their media fix.

I see the trend among my own peers, most of whom are college-educated and have plenty of disposable income. They pick up the paper on Mondays for the sports statistics, on Fridays for the movie listings or Sundays for the classifieds. With the exception of those who make their livings by commenting on current events, I don’t know anyone who reads a daily every day. Everyone reads a weekly or two, and perhaps a news-oriented Web site like HotWired.

Besides price, the primary appeal of the weeklies is youth-based content. While typically devoid of breaking news—an obvious shortcoming of a weekly deadline—alternative weeklies offer non-news features that people under 40 can actually use. The typical daily, meanwhile, doesn’t look much different than it did a half-century ago: Many still have a society page!

Here in New York, for example, none of the three dailies offers coverage of new albums, concerts or books that would interest anyone under 50. The Times commonly refers to restaurants that cost $50 per person as “intermediate” and discusses opera, dance and musical theater as if those forms weren’t as dead as Cole Porter, the News considers Garth Brooks the cutting edge of popular music and the Post hasn’t heard of the Internet. So my peers turn to the Village Voice and NYPress, the two dominant free weeklies that appear on Wednesdays and offer extensive housing listings and cutting-edge cartoons. (Truth-in-reporting clause: My cartoons appear in neither publication, though I sometimes write for the Press.) The trouble is: What do you read the rest of the week?

The death of the dailies is a slow-motion national crisis. Association of Alternative Newsweeklies President Jeff vonKaenel writes in the trade journal Editor & Publisher that “the idea of having no more dailies scares me.” It should scare us all. The content produced by even a bulky bone-crusher like the LA Weekly doesn’t compare in scope or depth with the daily output of the Times. Americans need and deserve the comprehensive coverage and sense of community that only a big city paper can offer. More importantly, alternative media aren’t prepared to replace the dailies. Even with their modestly increasing circulations, local weeklies will never possess sufficient capital to hire scores of journalists and photographers to cover the planet and question the barrage of propaganda pumped out by government and big business.

The Internet isn’t the answer either. Few public spaces are wired with decent online equipment. A decent PC costs $2,500, plus $240 a year for a typical service provider. For the foreseeable future, the information turnpike will be open only to the nation’s richest 20 percent. Nothing is, or will be, as cheap, portable or comprehensive as the daily paper—or as widely-read. A country without a common source of information and arbiter of issues is on a sure path to balkanization and tribalism. While TV news is widely disseminated, the increasing number of cable-news channels and all-news networks only further reduces the commonality of the American experience—and thoughtful consideration of the issues is intrinsically opposed to television’s primary imperative: entertainment. We desperately need daily newspapers to prevent the wettest of all corporate wet dreams from coming true: An apolitical populace that never reads, and never thinks.

Ironically, the vast resources available to big dailies from their media conglomerate parent companies is also their strength. Their only hope for survival lays in rebuilding circulation by recapturing their former roles as watchdogs of democracy with populist, anti-corporate investigative reporting. Weeklies should do what they do best—act as a foil against the mainstream media and offer edgy features that others are too afraid to print.

Dailies also need to go where their future readers are, with comics more sophisticated than “Garfield” and music critics who can identify trip-hop and travel writers who stay at a youth hostel when they visit Paris, not the Ritz. Unless they start hiring twenty- and thirtysomething staffers, preferably without journalism degrees—people from a wide walk of life, with divergent experiences and uncomfortable backgrounds—only a few dailies will survive, and then as an overpriced specialty item for the élite.

Faux alternative weeklies run by dailies (like XS in Fort Lauderdale) are condescending, transparent ploys to exploit the Gen X marketplace with splashy graphics. The way to update the daily press is from the inside, not by ghettoizing “youth” coverage into a separate section of the paper. Many executives fret about losing their older subscribers, but face it—they’re all dying anyway.

Publishers and editors at the dailies have a responsibility to their country to provide a vibrant forum for public discourse, but if civic responsibility isn’t enough incentive to move into the 20th century in time for the 21st, consider this: The unemployment line is even more boring when you only have something to read once a week.

(Ted Rall, a syndicated cartoonist and freelance writer based in New York City, has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Baltimore Sun, Pittsburgh Union-Tribune, San Francisco Examiner, Might magazine, Maximumrocknroll, P.O.V., the New York Press and numerous other publications.)

© 1997 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved

SYNDICATED COLUMN: You Kill Me, They Kill You

Our Love Affair with Official Mass Murder

On the evening of Wednesday, January 8, while most Americans were trying to choose between “Wings” and “Beverly Hills, 90210,” Kirt Wainwright lay strapped to a metal gurney, both of his arms stretched out like a man awaiting crucifixion, as a small group of witnesses gawked at him through a one-way mirror from an adjoining room. Nurses employed by the taxpayers of the State of Arkansas stuck needles into each arm and prepared to release poison—a mixture of sodium pentothal, Pavulon and potassium chloride, if you want to try this at home—into his veins.

At the last minute, Justice Clarence Thomas, a letch who rose to the Supreme Court thanks to the affirmative action programs he opposes, requested a temporary postponement of the execution while he analyzed a potential conflict of interest (Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, who rejected Wainwright’s request for a stay, knew both of his victims).

Meanwhile, Wainwright remained splayed across the death gurney, the needles still in his arms.

About 45 minutes later, Thomas decided not to intercede, and the lethal injection went forward as planned. Try to imagine, if you can, the psychological roller-coaster ride that our legal system put this man through. There you are, ready to die, only to be offered a glimmer of hope. But they don’t cut you loose, they don’t give you a cigarette, they don’t let you pace around. You’re totally crazy with terror, strapped down, those needles itching, watching the seconds go by—then the minutes—one by one, passing incredibly slowly and quickly, both at the same time. Then, like some twisted junior-high-school joke (“You’re saved…not!”), it’s all over anyway. Game over.

Prison spokesperson Dina Tyler, was asked if it might have been more humane to remove the needles while Thomas deliberated his fate. “I don’t know,” she responded.

The sickening spectacle of the Wainwright execution was too much even for many death-penalty advocates. For the first time since Gary Gilmore was offed by a Utah firing squad in 1977, the news media is giving the grisly routine of state-sponsored electrocutions, gassings, injections and shootings a second look.

Most advocates promote capital punishment as a deterrent to crime, but after two decades of state-run death it obviously doesn’t work. The most bloodthirsty states, Texas, Florida, Virginia and Louisiana, each throw an inmate to the gods once a week, but still have some of the highest crime rates in the nation—including for capital offenses.

Another pro-death argument is that it’s more economical to kill prisoners than to feed and house them. Following this rationale, however, would mean murdering everyone convicted of a crime, not just murderers. Moreover, the exploding rate of prison construction (it’s California’s fastest-growing industry) suggests that our society likes to keep a substantial portion of its population behind bars. Otherwise, why would we jail thousands of people for minor drug-related offenses?

The truth is, capital punishment is eye-for-an-eye vengeance, no different than the stonings that Taliban rule has brought to Afghanistan. They killed, so we kill them. And there’s no doubt that most of those who are executed deserve to die. For example, Kirt Wainwright was 22 when he robbed a convenience store in Hope, Arkansas (Bill Clinton’s hometown) in 1988. The clerk, Karen Ross, handed over the money, but he shot her to death nonetheless. The next day, he also murdered another store clerk, Barbara Smith, the same way. Neither Karen Ross nor Barbara Smith were offered an appeal. They never got to say good-bye to their families. The Supreme Court never heard their case. If anyone ever deserved to die like a dog, it was Kirt Wainwright.

Unfortunately, the way we carry out the death penalty—shrouded in secrecy, with even the executioners hidden from the condemned—isn’t consistent with our bloodlust. These executions are carried out by our criminal justice system, with our taxpayer dollars, and as such should be public affairs. They should be nationally-televised during prime time, and rated for children’s viewing. If we sanction state-sponsored death, then we should have the stomach to watch it while we eat our nachos. Why should we protect our kids from what we view as justice?

Not even the executioners take pride in their work. As Dina Tyler told the Associated Press, “By doing these together, you only have to make that climb once to get mentally prepared to do this. I think everybody gets a little tense. It gets a little quiet. You see a lot of set jaws as people steel themselves for what they’re about to do.” If what they’re doing is so right, why are they so tense? Also, why not hold executions annually, killing dozens of people at once to make it easier? They could be buried alive in large pits or thrown into an electrified swimming pool!

While it’s true that many killers deserve to die, it doesn’t follow that the state should kill them. Setting aside the question of judicial mistakes, it’s much less dangerous to let relatives of victims kill the killers—after all, they have a vested emotional interest in getting even. But the government is supposed to set the highest possible example for human behavior. The state should urge us all to be our best, not turn us all into de facto killers. Every other industrialized nation has realized this, which is why we’re the only First World country that still puts people to death. Maybe, if we stop now, the rest of civilization will still have us.

(Ted Rall, a syndicated editorial cartoonist and freelance writer based in New York City, is the author of Real Americans Admit: The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done! (NBM Publishing, 1996).)

© 1997 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Unhip To Be Square

America Deserves a Cool First Family

We live in a square world
We all got square eyes
We live in square high-rises
We read from square books

—Thee Headcoats, 1990

The other day a C-SPAN interviewer asked Hillary Clinton how the First Family spends the time it has away from the glare of the klieg lights.

First of all, it turns out that the Big Three have a lot more time on their manicured hands than do most other Americans. According to Hillary, it’s rare that any official duties are scheduled between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Since Bill & Hill & Chelsea don’t have to worry about patching the roof, trimming the hedges or even shopping for groceries, they have their whole weekends to themselves.

There’s just not that much for leaders-of-the-free-world to do these days, what with all of the good wars already fought and corporate executives doing such a swell job running the economy. Two years of post-Gingrich gridlock have accustomed the populace to a legislative Pax Americana. And the outlook for the Clintons’ down time looks excellent, now that they’ve been returned to office. Amazingly, Bill got through an entire campaign without making any promises for their second term other than that, four years from now, it will be four years later.

History offers few precedents for leading with a mandate to do nothing. But the President shouldn’t think that he has no obligations to the public. The citizenry may not insist on any social programs, foreign policy initiatives or other sweeping moves from Clinton II, but when you’re number one, people require something from you, even if that something isn’t immediately obvious.

So, Clinton at least owes us a cool image. We’ve come a long way from Jimmy Carter, whose 1976 pre-election book was titled “Why Not the Best?” We expect nothing so grand anymore, but we do want our First Family to appear worthy of their fancy, taxpayer-funded surroundings. They should dress sharply, speak well and know how to crack a snappy retort. And they ought to have a clue about pop culture—after all, it’s our last national product.

At any given point in recent history, if you visited Britain you could see America in 20 years time. Right now, we’re 1977 England, a land of economic serfs governed by an oblivious elite, people with nothing to look forward to and no system worth caring about. Only the gaudy distraction of the Queen’s Jubilee kept London from going up in flames that summer. We may need the same thing soon.

As the Kennedys (and to a lesser extent, the Reagans) showed us, the folks who live at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are at their best when they act like royalty, but this First Family belongs in the maid’s quarters.

How the Clintons spend their private time is important to our national self-image—so what was Hillary’s answer?

“We watch a lot of televised sports,” said the Yale Law grad. “Football, especially.” Great. While one hardly expects a guy who grew up in a trailer to while away his extra hours studying Proust, why watch football, the most inane of all sports, which when broadcast features only 6 seconds of action per minute, the one American sport so insipidly dull that it never caught on overseas?

Then the conversation turned to cinema. “What’s the best movie you’ve seen lately?” Without hesitation, Hillary smiled and replied: “Jerry Maguire.” She spoke in a breathless tone normally used to describe “North by Northwest”: “It was a great movie. We found it very moving.” Again, no one’s expecting the Clintons to have seen, say, “La Cérémonie,” but you have to question the judgement of anyone who would even admit to having watched Tom Cruise’s sports-agent flick. Like porn, it’s OK to enjoy it, but not to talk about it.

Okay, so what about exercise? How do the Clintons rate as outdoors people compared to, say, Teddy Roosevelt? “Yes,” said Hillary, “just the other day the President and I took a long walk.” Where? “Well, right here on the grounds. I walked him into the ground.” Look, I’ve been to the White House, and that lawn just isn’t that big. I couldn’t walk my cat into the ground there, and I’m not exactly Mr. Physical Fitness. What the hell are these people thinking?

Let’s face facts—the First Family are dorks. As if those New Agey “Renaissance Weekend” things aren’t sufficiently embarrassing, the Clintons insist on publicizing their attendance at a Baptist Church. Couldn’t they have chosen a cooler religion? And they listen to Fleetwood Mac. News flash: It wasn’t OK to like them in the ‘70s, much less now. Know how the Clintons always talk about wiring up schools to the Net? It turns out that Bill and Hill are waiting for Chelsea to teach them how to send e-mail before she leaves for college. They’re not even cool enough to be low-grade geeks.

Chelsea, old enough to know better, is still practicing ballet. Clinton wears hideous power ties from the ‘80s. When will this madness end?

Mr. President, it’s up to you to restore a wee bit of hip to the presidency. There’s a long line of cool moments to emulate—Nixon’s meeting Elvis, Reagan’s friendship with Charleton Heston (and you know they talked about “Soylent Green”), Carter’s wearing out three copies of the Sex Pistols LP. No one can teach you how to move into the ‘90s—you’ve got to absorb a ton of movies, a pile of CDs and check out how the greats dress. Meet with James Brown. Ask Courtney Love to play a concert in the Rose Garden. Ditch the sax, and pick up a guitar. Read some Richard Carver books. Watch “Pulp Fiction”; it’s like a self-help film for the savvily-challenged. If we Americans know anything, we know what’s cool, and you ain’t. (Note: The ironic use of the improper contraction “ain’t” amid proper prose is cool.) Now is the time to get started—and with all the spare time afforded us by ongoing unemployment, you can bet we’ll all be watching.

(Ted Rall is a cartoonist and writer based in New York. His latest book, Real Americans Admit: The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done!, was published by NBM Publishing in September 1996.)

© 1997 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved.

Wart Nation: Upward Mobility Through Excrescence

I first noticed the wart while showering in the Barnard dorm. It didn’t look like much – just a smooth, hard, round bump just to the right of my left nipple – but after twenty years on this earth, I’d never had any warts, moles or other weird skin growths before. I vividly recall being worried enough about it to make an appointment with Columbia’s official university dermatologist for the next day, December 10, 1983. His name was, naturally, Doctor Moley, and for those of you who require documentation of such things, his office was on Amsterdam Avenue at 114th Street. Anyway, people with free medical coverage can’t get finicky about inappropriately-named physicians.

Warts are strange. Not to be confused with their darker, hairier cousin the mole, wart viruses are among the oldest life forms on the planet – even pterodactyls probably had to deal with these hard little growths disfiguring their leathery wings. Warts come in tens of thousands of varieties. Everyone has wart virusues all over their skin, but almost all wart viruses are too damn weak to plant a root and become visible. We are a warty nation: According to a brochure I picked up at my dermatologist entitledWarts, the average American sports some sixty of these things. You should see this thing – it had photographs of people who have warts on their warts.

It’s not pretty to think about, but the virus is mildly contagious, which means you can and will get them from handrails, subway seats and other places where wart-ridden citizens drag their infected limbs. New York City is a dermatologist’s darkest, moistest dream, a place where warts, moles and all types of skin growths you’ve never given a thought fester and spread among 8 million people, each to be removed at more than $200 a pop. At 60 warts per person, the economics of wartdom add up to potential business of a staggering $96 billion.

The more stubborn viruses wait for your body’s immune system to weaken; then the little bastards strike. Some people use foul over-the-counter liquids like Compound W to treat their warts, but I’ve never heard of the stuff working. All it does is turn your skin white and smell like shit, like Gary Oldman in Coppola’s version of Dracula. Ointments are pointless, because they only treat the surface. It’s like a weed – you have to get down to the root.

The only methods that actually kill the fuckers are to have a dermatologist freezing them off with liquid nitrogen, burn them off with a soldiering-gun-like instrument or electrocute them with lasers. (Genital warts are even worse – they hurt like hell and usually require actual surgery.) Usually the resulting burn blisters. Then it starts to itch like crazy. A few days later the wart emerges from the gooey bloody hole in your skin, loosely hanging on my the bottom of its root despite it all. Then you yank it out, and if you work in food service, drop it some bad tipper’s meal. Even this doesn’t always work – some warts come back bigger and better than ever. Most people, figuring that the warts will die when they do, decide to ignore them. For the most part, warts are harmless, so there’s no point worrying about them or spending hundreds of dollars to treat them.

For the most part.

Which brings us back to that magical winter of 1983. Reagan was presiding over a recession, Culture Club topped the charts and I was a junior applied physics major at Columbia Engineering. I lived in the Barnard dorm under a then-pilot housing exchange with Columbia. It was the night before my first final exam, and for the first time since I’d arrived in college, I felt good about my prospects. The Mudd Club had just closed, so I had started sleeping more at night than during the day. My midterm grades had risen to decent, all As and Bs, and I’d actually been to most of my classes, done most of my homework and read most of my books. I was on my way to becoming a full-fledged member of the white power elite. In just two years I planned to be working on satellite-mounted laser-defense cannons for GE in South Jersey, pulling down fifty grand a year as I developed more efficient methods to incinerate millions of human beings within tenths of a second.

That night my girlfriend insisted that we sleep in her room. In the middle of the night, I started to feel really warm – sticky warm, as if I’d pissed in the bed. I was in one of those half-awake states where you’re asleep but can think straight nonetheless. I reminded myself that I was 20, so I probably hadn’t wet my sheets. Anyway, I hoped not. Then some part of my brain proposed that I might be sweating like a pig because it was so damned hot. That was impossible, though, because Philippa’s radiator never worked right and it was always freezing in her room. “All right, shit,” the skeptical part thought to the other one, “I’ll check what’s up,” and awoke.

There was blood everywhere – on the wall, the floor, all over both of us, everywhere. Philippa’s thick comforter was soaked completely through. It looked like someone had slaughtered a pig – a large pig – right over the bed while we were sleeping. A pool of blood a few feet across spread across the tile floor. My first thought was that I’d accidentally killed my girlfriend while I was dreaming about offing my dad for not paying my tuition. Then I felt a ball of blood hit my arm, warm and slick, and realized that it was spurting out of my chest like a garden hose. I remembered the wart, and knew immediately what had happened. Its root must have grown into an artery. The root had somehow become dislodged from moving around at night, it popped out like a cork and the artery burst. Amazing.

Philippa got up and tried to call an ambulance. “This is New York City!” I screamed as she tried to explain that no, it wasn’t an address per se, but a room within a dorm that didn’t have an actual street address. I held my hand over my chest, trying to keep my blood inside. “I’ll die waiting for a fucking ambulance!”

“Good point. I’ll call Robert. He’s pre-med. He’ll know what to do.”

Robert was planning to practice forensic medicine. At least he could identify the cause of death later.

“We’d better carry him to the hospital,” Robert said after surveying the mess. “You could die waiting for an ambulance in New York City.”

The thought of all that blood, my blood, spilled all over Philippa’s floor and the sight of what was left dripping out on the sidewalk of 114th Street finally hit me. It was snowing, but I felt not warm, but uncold. I passed out while they carried me over to St. Luke’s, but woke up just as we arrived. My body felt like it weighed maybe forty pounds. I could feel my brain pressed up against the back of my skull. I kind of miss that feeling; feeling your brain is really cool.

“We got a gunshot!” the attendant screamed after spotting the hole in my chest. On the operating table, I tried to explain about the wart to the doctor, a large balding guy with pink skin. “Don’t talk, man – you’re delirious.” I wonder if this technique works with delirious patients. Anyway, he cut off my shirt with scissors, cleaned off the wound, and stepped back for a moment. “It’s a wart,” he announced grandly. I was actually relieved; maybe I’d gotten shot without knowing it.

“Call the other doctors – anyone who’s not operating,” my doctor asked a nurse. Within what seemed like a few minutes, I was surrounded by at least a dozen men and women in white. “Watch carefully,” my doctor announced gleefully. “You’ll probably never see another one of these the rest of your careers.

“The wart’s root has grown into an artery, become dislodged and burst,” he continued, poking the wart and helping his career.

“I think it came loose during sex,” I offered.

“Shut up. You’re delirious.”

He used silver nitrate to force the bleeding to stop and put a clear bandage over the hole in my chest. You could look right through it into my chest. Then they gave me tons of blood through a transfusion – I think it was six pints. This was only a year after they started national screening for HIV, so I’ve gotten tested every year ever since. I threw myself a 10th anniversary bash when my 1993 AIDS test came back negative.

My wart was a boon for the bald doctor at St. Luke’s, who published an article in a major medical journal about my case. It was titled “A Potentially-Lethal Dermatological Condition.” My freak wart is a rare example of a terminal skin condition. Skin cancer doesn’t actually kill you, it’s the spread of the disease into your body that does. Anyway, that’s what the doctor told me – I don’t know squat about this stuff. All I know about this wart is that it screwed me up less than 24 hours after I discovered it!

The first thing I did after getting discharged from the hospital was to go to Tom’s of Seinfeld opening credits fame. Losing a lot of blood makes you ravenously hungry for greasy diner food. I ate three full breakfasts and enough side dishes to bring the tab to $30 in a place where you can get two-eggs and bacon for $2.40. I still have the bill. Then I headed back to my dorm, where I found Philippa trying to scrub the blood off the wall. It looked like a finger painting done by an elephant – pretty cool, but very gruesome.

“I want you to clean my comforter. It’s disgusting!” she spat upon seeing me hours after my brush with the Big Sleep.

I was still too weak to argue, so I lugged the thing, still incredibly heavy with my blood, to the bathtub. Incredibly, cold water really did get all the blood out, but I bet that thing still smells slightly ferrous. Finding no affection from my soon-to-be-erstwhile girlfriend, I decided to seek solace from other girls instead.

“Show me your chest!” Felicia and Judy demanded. Soon a crowd of women gathered in the 5th floor hallway to stare through my transparent bandage at the blood rushing past the dangling remnants of my once-fearsome wart. “It’s gross – but kind of cool,” one commented. Unfortunately, this didn’t lead to any illicit sex.

I ended up missing all of my exams. Under Columbia’s professor-as-tyrant policy, any teacher can arbitrarily deny a student the right to take a make-up test, no matter how legitimate their excuse. Three of my teachers, eager to get their winter breaks started, opted to fuck me over by refusing me a make-up. Failing a final means failing the whole semester, so I ended up on academic probation. The following term I failed a class, so I got expelled. No one likes to date a drop-out, so Philippa dumped me. Never underestimate the power of a wart to change your life.

A week after my transfusion, I went to see Dr. Moley to have the wart extracted. He injected a local anesthetic above the wart and went to cut in, but I warned him: “It’s going to spurt. There’s a lot of pressure under there.”

“Listen, son,” the guy snarled, “I’ve been doing this since before you were a thought in your father’s balls. Shut up and let me do my job.” I guessed that working with rich college kids would make anyone surly after a while.

“Yeah, but it’s really, really-”

He pressed down and sent a perfect jet of blood shot straight into his eye. I was too afraid to laugh. “I told you it would spurt,” I whispered.

He did a crappy job sewing me up, zigzagging all over and pulling the flesh every which way. The scar is really huge, but it makes a fun conversation piece at the beach.

After I got expelled, I had no prayer of ever pursuing my parents’ dream of my becoming an engineer of mass destruction. I worked in a series of financial services jobs, first at Bear Stearns as a $10,000-a-year trader-trainee, and later at the Industrial Bank of Japan. The bank liked me and kept promoting me and giving me raises, but it was during that time that I decided that I’d never be happy doing anything other than drawing cartoons for a living. One night after work in 1987, I drew a cartoon before dinner. I’ve done three a week ever since then. Four years later, I got syndicated. Last year, it finally became a full-time job. For the time being, I’m really happy about my career, and I know that I owe it all to that fucking wart.

© 1996 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Just Because You’re Oblivious Doesn’t Mean They’re Not Out to Get You

Conspiracy Logic and TWA Flight 800

Pierre Salinger says that he has an August 22nd Secret Service report that proves that TWA Flight 800 was shot down accidentally by the U.S. Navy.

According to the former Kennedy Administration press secretary, Navy ships testing missiles off the coast of Eastern Long Island in July assumed that all flights in the area were flying at 21,000 feet, so they used 13,000 feet as their test altitude. Flight 800, however, had taken off late from JFK Airport, and was flying lower than previously scheduled in order to avoid another plane.

Air traffic controllers, in “a tragic error,” neglected to advise the Navy, Salinger said, and a Navy missile blew up the plane. This scenario jibes with dozens of calls to the FBI from witnesses who claimed to have seen a streak of light heading towards the plane just before the blast.

Salinger acknowledged that the alleged Secret Service memo has been posted to the Internet for two months, but said he had waited until the elections to speak out, presumably to protect the incumbent Democratic president. “The truth must come out,” he told reporters in Cannes, France, on November 7.

Not surprisingly, the government has treated the ex-ABC News correspondent like some bizarre conspiracy theorist. “The United States military did not shoot a missile at this airplane,” New York FBI chief James Kallstrom scoffed. National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Jim Hall attacked Salinger “not only for causing consternation and pain to families of the victims but also for the fact that a once well-respected journalist would seize information he now admits was third-hand at best and try to promote it as some scoop of his.” Clearly, the government was not pleased about the Salinger bombshell in light of recent efforts to pin the explosion on mechanical failure.

Navy mouthpiece Lieutenant Commander Rob Newell responded that the nearest warship, the USS Normandy, an Aegis-type missile cruiser, was 185 miles south of the crash site. He said it wasn’t testing weapons, and its radar was set to a maximum range of 130 miles. The Normandy, Newell says, “couldn’t even see the TWA plane.” Newell said a Navy P-3 Orion anti-submarine plane was in the area, about 80 miles away, but said it doesn’t carry missiles. Jane’s All The World’s Aircraft, a standard military reference text, states that the P-3 is capable of carrying missiles.

Whether those 230 people were blown out of the air two miles above the Atlantic Ocean by a terrorist’s bomb, a mechanical failure or a missile gone awry, there’s something painfully amusing about the spectacle of government officials scrambling to deny the “friendly-fire” theory. Why do Americans persist in believing in outrageous theories about government crimes, accidents and cover-ups? Their standard defense is: We’re too nice to do such things. And if you don’t buy that one, try this: We’re too dumb—the government is just too disorganized to pull off a conspiracy.

The thing is, monstrous government conspiracies are now considered historical fact. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson led Congress into a mammoth escalation of our involvement in Vietnam after North Vietnam fired at American ships in the Tonkin Gulf. More than 50,000 dead soldiers later, historians of all political stripes accept that the Tonkin Gulf incident was a fiction, a scam invented by LBJ to get us into the war. Why assume that today’s officials are any different than the ones who lied to us about that?

During the late 1960s, the FBI decided to put the radical Black Panther Party out of business. At the time, the nation was told that the Panthers had shot back at agents coming to arrest them and had gotten killed for their trouble. A few years later, it came out that the only shooting had come from the FBI side. According to autopsies, the black nationalists had been shot in their beds, sleeping.

The 1972 election saw political skullduggery assume epic proportions, as the Nixon Administration sandbagged the man they perceived as being its most dangerous Democratic opponent, Edmund Muskie. GOP operatives phoned New Hampshire primary voters at 3 in the morning, urging them to vote for Muskie. George McGovern won the Democratic nomination, but just to make sure, Nixon’s henchmen broke into his running mate’s shrink’s office and leaked his private records to the press, forcing McGovern to choose a new veep. If America had any decency whatsoever, McGovern would be allowed the four-year term he was cheated out of back in 1972, but as things are, he’s long-forgotten. Nixon, of course, died a statesman, and one wonders why voting matters in a country with such manufactured elections.

The American government has admitted to overthrowing the governments of Argentina, Iran, Panama, Chile and countless other nations. It tried to kill Fidel Castro with cigar bombs, train Laotian hill-tribe people to fight the Vietnamese, tapped millions of phones and opened millions of letters. There’s never been a satisfactory explanation for the JFK assassination or the killings of Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King or Malcolm X. They tested dangerous drugs on prisoners and soldiers without their consent. Oliver North testified on national television that the Reagan-Bush Administration imported cocaine for sale on American streets to fund illegal weapons to the Nicaraguan Contras. A secret plant irradiated the residents of downtown Cincinnati for decades, with tacit government approval. Just last week, the Pentagon admitted that it’s been covering up the extent and seriousness of Gulf War Syndrome for the last five years. With that stellar record, it’s not exactly shocking that many blacks think the government invented AIDS as a form of systematic genocide, or that they buy into the recent San Jose Mercury-News series accusing the government of dumping narcotics on the inner cities. Eight percent of voters supported Ross Perot in the last election; maybe the Texas billionaire’s story about the government’s plan to disrupt his daughter’s wedding sounds a little wacky, but it’s completely conceivable.

Trust is fragile. Every time the government tells people a tax is temporary and later opts to make it permanent, every time it promises a public work that doesn’t get built and every time some newly-declassified document proves that our leaders lied about something 15 years ago, citizens learn that their leaders are both malicious and dishonest. Unfortunately, the credibility gap between politicians and the public they supposedly serve has rarely been more extreme than it is now. That’s half of the reason why, even if Pierre Salinger turns out to be wrong about TWA Flight 800, Americans are so easily persuaded by conspiracy theories. The other half is that they often turn out to be true.

(Ted Rall, a syndicated cartoonist and freelance writer based in New York City, has written for Might magazine, Maximumrocknroll, P.O.V., the New York Press and numerous other publications.)

© 1996 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved

SYNDICATED COLUMN: United We Fall

The Melting Pot Boils Over

Driving west across New Jersey recently, I was relieved to see the mile markers drop to single digits, and finally to zero. I was struck by a sign posted at the state border that read: “Welcome to Pennsylvania: America Starts Here.” As someone who grew up in Ohio, that seemed to make perfect sense. New Jersey is, perhaps, more “America” than Manhattan; nothing in America is less American than New York. Still, New Jersey isn’t really “America.”

Continuing my trip—I was traveling to visit my mom in Dayton—I wound westward through a 15-mile-wide sliver of West Virginia that serves as a de facto DMZ between the mid-Atlantic and Midwest regions. As I crossed the bridge in Wheeling, Ohio’s welcome sign declared “Ohio—The Heart of it All.” Indeed, the media had yakked a lot last year about the sweet irony of forcing the warring nations of the former Yugoslavia to sign their peace treaty in the “heartland.” There’s no doubt you’re in what the French would call l’Amérique Profonde when you pass through hundreds of miles of open fields or talk to the residents with their hard, earnest faces and blandly confident accents.

Going back east, however, I encountered that same “America Starts Here” sign at the Pennsylvania-West Virginia border. Now, this was confusing. Was Governor Tom Ridge, who signed the sign, implying that West Virginia—or for that matter, Ohio—was less American than Pennsylvania? After all, there are several un-American anomalies unique to Pennsylvanians, not the least of which is something called “Dutch” cooking. (When in Pennsylvania, starvation isn’t always a bad thing.) Anyway, this got me thinking about which places are really “American” in America.

From watching Hollywood movies, you might make the mistake of thinking California is “America”, but the only reason those dry hills and weird L.A. cityscapes are featured so prominently is because directors are too lazy to pack up a camera crew and go somewhere else. Californians are nationally reviled as kooky, New Agey, politically-correct weirdos who lounge in their hot tubs while race riots, mud slides and brush fires rage around them. Clearly, California is not “America.”

The South isn’t “America,” either. Although they’ve produced things that all Americans love—Elvis, greasy breakfast food, racism—they have those dumb accents. And they’re too slow. The ex-Confederacy has ceded the cultural and political dialogue of this country to the Yankees ever since Appomattox. National TV anchormen reflect the cultural norm—ever wonder why neither Tom Brokaw nor Dan Rather drawl? America is so unsouthern that we import cultural icons like Peter Jennings and Michael J. Fox from Canada. No one would give the South a second thought if it weren’t for the Super Tuesday primaries held once every four years.

You can’t count Nevada, Colorado, Wyoming or Montana, either. Sure, mountains get a nod in “America the Beautiful,” but real Americans are suspicious of people who live in the hills. Mountains are for “Deliverance” extras, militia types and flying over. There isn’t much farming there, either. “America” has lots of cows, lots of corn, maybe some grain. You also have to have some minorities—at least a few token ones—and the Rockies are as white as a freshly-bleached piece of Xerox paper.

The Pacific Northwest doesn’t even pretend to be “American.” The only thing Washingtonians and Oregonians have in common with the rest of the United States is that they hate Californians, except more so, because Californians mostly live in Portland and Seattle. It rains all the time, conifers outnumber deciduous trees, which are both outnumbered by dead trees, and bait shops in the middle of nowhere offer double cappuccinos. Americans go to Javaland to test their mellowness with caffeine. It ain’t America.

Then, there’s the stupid states, the places where there’s no proof that anyone actually lives. Idaho, according to a half-decent River Phoenix movie, has a lot of empty space scarred by flat highways, but that’s pretty much what you’d suspect. Then there’s Arkansas, Oklahoma, the Dakotas, etc.

Indiana is only notable as the inconvenient place separating Chicago and Cleveland for no good reason. The Northeast has a lot of stupid states like that. (Who the hell cares about Rhode Island, Maryland, Rhode Island, or Delaware?) New Jersey, long the butt of New York-based comedians’ gags, is more than 50 percent paved. Now that’s stupid. The ultimate stupid states are Hawaii and Alaska. Three decades after statehood, national maps rarely even show these add-ons, and 48-star flags are quickly snapped up at yard sales. Puerto Rico, if granted statehood, would become another stupid state schoolchildren remember to forget.

You can make a case for the Plains states, but not that many people actually live in places like Kansas, Nebraska or Iowa. There’s certainly something very “America” about all those amber waves of wheat and stuff, but there’s the whiteness problem again. Also, they don’t have any real cities. Cities, of course, are the least American thing of all. Nonetheless, the ideal American state would contain one or two decent-sized cities surrounded by a lot of suburbs, surrounded by oceans of agribusiness. Think of California, but with rainfall and without the Californians. Also, ever since “Children of the Corn” and Bob Dole, most real Americans get the willies when they think about the Great Plains.

Our national consciousness centers around the hard-ass Anglicans who landed at Plymouth Rock, but New England is, ironically, not America. They have those weird accents up there, for one thing. They eat seafood that doesn’t come in cubes. Even the conservatives are liberal. The states are all too small. It’s cool, but it just ain’t America. New York, with half its population living in one apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and the other half in heart-shaped tubs in the Catskills, is too schizo to be American. In fact, New Yorkers pride themselves on the very un-Americanness other Americans deride.

So, we’re left with the original Northwest Territory, the area running west from Pittsburgh, south to the Ohio River and just west of the Mississippi River. Minnesota and Iowa are out, however, because it’s so cold there that everyone talks like they’re in Denmark. Also, there are liberals there, and Americans are not liberal. We’ve already ruled out Indiana, but let’s also delete Michigan, which is definitely a dumb state for having both a Lower and Upper Peninsula. What the hell were their cartographers thinking?

Which leaves us with Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and western Pennsylvania. Delete Pennsylvania because of the strange food. Illinois goes because of Chicago, and it has that New York State identity duality problem between urban and rural. I was in Wisconsin recently, where several people made strong arguments for the land of dairy being, in fact, the “real America.” Actually, Wisconsin has a lot going for it—a few decent-sized cities surrounded by suburbs and lots of farmland in between, conservative whites mixed with enough blacks to be noticeable but not to have any political influence and a pretty average geographical size. Still, it’s all the way up there on the Canadian border, and to me any state that purports to be America has to be in the middle of the country.

Although it’s the last holdout, and I would love to see the place of my origins declared as the only American state in America, Ohio doesn’t quite pass the test of Americanosity either. My hometown, Dayton, used to call itself “America’s Most Average City,” and that was true. Its generic demographics made it a favorite site for pollsters and product testing. The trouble for Ohio is that it’s all city—most of the state’s inhabitants live in one of eight cities, making it one of the most urban places in the Union. America isn’t urban, you know.

Some of you touchy-feely types (hello California!) might conclude from the preceding that there is no such thing as a generic America; that the United States is a brilliant hodgepodge of cultures, mannerisms, architecture, music, foods and attitudes, and that the amalgamation of this social cocktail has created a country that is unique in its diversity and tolerance.

But these days, the only thing Americans have in common is hatred. They hate immigrants from countries other than the ones they came from. They hate members of other races, other religions, other genders, other sexual orientations. The rich hate the poor, and the poor hate them right back. Americans read hate in the newspapers, watch hate on television and talk hate on the radio. Forget business—the business of America is mutual contempt.

America ends here.

(Ted Rall, a syndicated cartoonist and freelance writer based in New York City, has written for Might magazine, Maximumrocknroll, P.O.V., the New York Press and numerous other publications.)

SYNDICATED COLUMN: So Much for Democracy

Is a Clinton Victory Worth the Cost?

My involvement with the Democratic Party started at age 9, when my mom took me along to pass out McGovern-Shriver leaflets door-to-door in our solidly Republican neighborhood. “The Democrats,” my mother explained, “are the party of the people. Republicans only care about rich big-shots.” Nothing I have seen since 1972 has contradicted the latter part of that summary of our two-party system. Watching my mom’s enthusiasm while she tried to reason with our neighbors and dialed number after number in the dingy campaign headquarters in downtown Dayton convinced me that there really was a chance of ousting President Nixon—a man, who all attempts at historical revisionism notwithstanding, was the devil. My fourth-grade class held a mock election that fall. There were 32 little Nixonites to my one Democratic vote.

I quickly learned that, in America, Democrats usually lose, even when they win. Jimmy Carter squeaked by Ford in 1976—an astonishing fact when you consider the unelected incumbent’s corrupt pardon deal and idiotic demeanor—and never enjoyed a mandate to act like a real Democrat. The great Reagan defense build-up actually began in 1978 under Carter, along with draft registration and the U.S. refusal to attend the 1980 Olympics because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I was convinced that Carter lost in 1980 because these compromises had lost him his party’s liberal base, but I still worked for Mondale and Dukakis as they continued to pursue watered-down liberalism, organizing college students and dodging New York cops while wheat-pasting posters in the subways.

The capitalism run-amok excesses of the Reagan and Bush years made it easier to be a Democrat again—by the time 1992 rolled around, there was nothing more important to the country’s political and financial health than getting George Herbert Hoover Walker Bush out of the White House. The day after the election, a reporter called me to ask my reaction. “I feel like an evil cloud has lifted from the country,” I told him as I scribbled file labels at one of my three jobs. “Americans have rejected the idea that caring about other people is a sign of weakness.” I really did feel that way.

Which brings me to November 5th, when I will not be voting for Bill Clinton.

I am personally better off than I was four years ago, but the country has continued to go to hell. The reasons are simple. Given the first chance in a century to get national health protection passed, he blew it by proposing an outlandish scheme designed to protect insurance-company profits. Then he signed NAFTA and GATT, treasonous free trade deals that sell out American workers for the benefit of his corporate pals’ bottom lines. Even Reagan and Bush never pushed hard on NAFTA. To be sure, he did the right thing by sending troops to Bosnia, but he waited so long that the people they were sent to protect were all dead by the time they got there.

Clinton’s 1995 copresidency with Newt Gingrich was an embarrassment, but the last straw was his cynical election-year betrayal of the poor by eliminating welfare without creating the jobs to replace it.

My friends argue that a vote for Ralph Nader or Ross Perot—or for that matter, opting to stay home and watch TV—is a vote for Bob Dole. In a rigid two-party system, they’re right, but so what? Even if there were a chance that Dole could be elected, he and Clinton are both essentially the same: Both are pro-business, pro-choice and deficit-obsessed. A Dole Administration might cost the nation a few progressive appellate judges, but on the issues that really matter, most Americans wouldn’t notice much difference.

Furthermore, casting a protest vote, or not voting at all, is an effective means of telling the mainstream parties that you’re not interested in what they’re offering. While low voter turnout allows “winners” to claim mandates at press conferences, they know that the truth is that their message isn’t selling. While it may mean supporting a “spoiler” in the short term, it can force the big parties to reevaluate their directions.

This year, voting for Clinton potentially tells him that you agree with everything he’s done so far when you’re actually voting for the anti-Dole. If you support NAFTA and guaranteed unemployment and making children homeless, fine. But our republic wasn’t intended to have voters support the lesser of two evils—or likely winners simply because they’re likely to win. If you substantially disagree with Clintonism, you have a moral obligation as a citizen to vote for someone else. If no other candidate else appeals to you, your duty is to stay home.

Some people may question how I could abandon the Democrats after all this time. But I never left the party—it left me.

(Ted Rall, a syndicated cartoonist and freelance writer based in New York City, was a 1996 Pulitzer Prize finalist.)

© 1996 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved

SYNDICATED COLUMN: A Divine Strategy

Ancient Deities Adapt to a Brave New World

Until recently, God it had it all—omnipotence, ubiquity and benevolence. As the leading beneficiary of the current global trend towards monotheism, the guy who made everything and ran it all didn’t have to do much to attract popular support. Then, in 1993, God’s pollsters came to him with some bad news: his numbers were slipping.

“I was down to 43 points, and falling fast,” God recalled at a recent interview. “In New Jersey it was like they’d never even heard of me. I had to do something fast.”

Polls revealed that many people felt that God was out of touch with their concerns. “I prayed for my boss to be slowly gummed to death by sea cucumbers,” said one respondent, “but he’s still here, counting how long I take to go to the restroom. So much for the power of prayer.” Furthermore, God’s existence had in the past been justified by the existence of causality, design and purpose in the universe—an assumption that recent advances in chaos theory have rendered obsolete.

Advisors to the central deity of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and those other faiths told him that the only way to recover was to take a page from his chief opponent’s book. “You can move towards evil without actually becoming evil,” his head speechwriter said. Within days, God announced his transformation to a “New God.”

At the time, many religious observers were skeptical that a deity could abandon over 5,000 years of straightforward love for mankind in favor of a more pragmatic approach that asked people to be responsible for themselves. Now, three years later, it’s clear that God has adapted with incredible ease to his new image.

First he decided to give up positions that many had seen as overly judgmental. “Take sin,” he explained during one of his weekly radio addresses. “Who’s to say what’s sinful and what’s not? Sure, a murderer who carves up his best friend with a butcher knife might seem bad. But the guy must have had his reasons, right?”

But strategists also determined that others considered God to be too soft on mankind in general. Many missed the 17th century Calvinist view of humanity as a loathsome spider dangling from a tiny thread above a flame, averting disaster by the Almighty’s whim. To address this nostalgic yearning for a fiercer, more vengeful Supreme Being, God caused an increased number of airplane crashes, bursting dams and a variety of new diseases—all in order to make the interplay between behavior and destiny appear more fickle.

In addition, God has finally managed to shed the “M” word—merciful. “I’m tired of being tarred with the brush of being called ‘kind and merciful,’” God recently told a group of Rotarians. “Mercy implies wimpiness. And the other side doesn’t have a monopoly on fire and brimstone.” Since late 1994 he has ignored 85 percent of prayers from the poor and sick. He has also smitten a half-dozen cities entirely without provocation.

To be sure, devout worshipers of God—his traditional core base—are not pleased with the New God. Some suspect that the new image resulted more from budgetary than ideological considerations; concern for mankind was much easier thousands of years ago when there were only a few million people.

Reached at her hospice in Calcutta, Mother Teresa asked: “What’s the point of obeying God if he acts more and more like the devil? At that rate you might as well go for the real thing.” Still, the world’s most famous nun emphasized, she was sticking with God for the time being.

Others, fearing divine retribution, spoke only on condition of anonymity. In Tehran, a leading imam said: “Look, we all understand that it’s a new world out there. So maybe we pray twice instead of four times a day, okay, I can see that. But he’s been advertising for souls on the World Wide Web!”

Indeed, Satan is bitter about the New God, claiming that God has taken over many issues that were once the Dark One’s own. “In the old days, good was good and evil was evil. You didn’t need a program to tell the players. But now it’s all mixed up! Everyone’s moving to the center, but by giving up our core identities I fear that we’re all losing our souls.”

Satan, too, has attempted to broaden his base by appealing to people who were traditionally considered good, by curing certain obscure venereal diseases and opening a soup kitchen in Mexico City. He has even reached out to the MTV generation with bumper stickers reading “Beelzebub is cool,” but the Prince of Darkness still seems unable to overcome the perception that he doesn’t care about the environment.

Meanwhile, God’s remarkable progress, which has earned him the moniker the “Comeback Creator,” continues as his popularity rating leads Lucifer’s by nearly 20 percentage points. As this year’s holiday season looms, even the malcontents seem likely to stick with the “New God.” “Where else can those goody-two-shoes go?” God scoffed recently at a press conference during which he announced the end of morality as we know it. “It’s not like they’re gonna go to the devil.”

(Ted Rall, a syndicated cartoonist and freelance writer based in New York City, has damned his soul to eternal hell.)

© 1996 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved

SYNDICATED COLUMN: ‘Civil’ Democrats Defend Kemp, Dole on Morals

‘NEW YORK, August 32—In an active demonstration of his convention speech call for a new era of “civility,” yesterday President Bill Clinton (D-AK) took the unusual step of coming to the defense of his Republican opponents on moral issues.

“I have come under fire over so-called moral issues myself,” said Clinton, who survived the Gennifer Flowers and Paula Jones scandals and now leads the polls by twenty points. “This isn’t about partisan politics—I know how painful it is to have one’s private life overshadow one’s accomplishments in the public arena.”

Clinton then turned his conciliatory remarks to vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp, who has been dogged by rumors that he attended a gay orgy in California ever since columnist Drew Pearson wrote about the incident in 1967. The episode became public when then-Governor Ronald Reagan fired a staffer who also attended the orgy in a remote cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It has come up several times during this year’s campaign.

“The Democratic Party has always supported homosexual rights,” Clinton said in a hastily-called news conference held in front of the Anvil, a gay bar in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. “Is it so wrong to love another man? There is absolutely nothing wrong or immoral about a buff 32-year-old quarterback rolling around with a bunch of sweaty nude men in the middle of nowhere. It took great courage for the Republican Party to nominate the nation’s first openly, or closeted, as the case may be, gay, or bisexual, or whatever, vice-presidential candidate.”

“There will be those bigots who would otherwise have supported our opponents on the Dole-Kemp ticket this November but plan to vote Democratic instead because Jack Kemp chose to experiment with his sexuality three decades ago,” Clinton continued as a hand-picked crowd of transvestites and male prostitutes cheered. “Well, hear this—the Clinton-Gore ticket doesn’t want your vote! Just because Al and I have always limited ourselves to straight sex doesn’t mean that we don’t support Jack Kemp’s right to

rub his firm, tight, rippling biceps against the twitching thighs, supple buttocks and welcoming arms of a dozen men greased down with massage oil!”

Clinton also reaffirmed his party’s support of gay marriage.

“In fact,” the president concluded, “Jack Kemp and Bob Dole have every right to come out of the closet. If elected, I think they ought to divorce their wives and live together as man and wife—which would demonstrate that the Republicans are serious about deficit reduction by eliminating the expense of maintaining a separate residence for the vice president.”

Jack Kemp could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, while campaigning in front of the Grassy Knoll Bar & Grill in Dallas, Vice President Al Gore (R-TN) told an enthusiastic lunch-hour crowd of born-again Christians that it was time to “reach out” to Bob Dole, Newt Gingrich and other well-known Republicans who have gotten divorced.

“Ronald Reagan, a great president, divorced Jane Wyman before most people were even born. Newt Gingrich knew that marrying his high school math teacher would help him get the SATs he’d need to get into a good college, but when it came time to enter public life, that wife was no longer appropriate,” Gore said, his facial expressions alternating masterfully between sympathy and understanding. “So he divorced her in that hospital bed—but if he hadn’t done that, he wouldn’t be who he is today. Similarly, you won’t find any mention of Bob Dole’s first wife in his autobiography. Dumping the mother of his only child wasn’t an easy decision, but it gave him the opportunity to marry a woman who would one day run the Department of Transportation!”

A well-dressed heckler screamed out: “What about Bill and Hill?”

“No!” Gore responded directly to the man. “It’s wrong to compare marriages along party lines. No one knows why Republicans get divorced while Democrats stay married, but we are all Americans. We are inclusive and we are tolerant and we are nice, and that means accepting lifestyles that we ourselves may not necessarily agree with. We’re bigger than a few sundry ‘til death do us parts.”

A Dole spokesman replied: “It’s about time the Democrats started talking about family values.”

(Ted Rall, a syndicated editorial cartoonist and freelance writer living in New York City, is the author of The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done! (NBM Publishing, 1996), a graphic novel depicting the true confessions of Americans’ worst crimes.)

© 1996 Ted Rall, All Rights Reserved.

Real Americans Admit: The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Done!

For my first (nonfiction) graphic novel, I gathered answers to the question “What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done?” from 540 Americans from all walks of life. I asked fellow plane passengers, people at parties, family members…and I took out ads in newspapers too. I serialized their answers — everything from murder to animal cruelty to a mere one-night stand — in ComicsLit magazine and compiled the best 64 pages worth into this book.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? The answer to that simple question partially defines what and who we are.

Worst Thing won the first-ever annual Firecracker Alternative Book Award in 1997.

This book is out of print. If I do a sequel or it is developed into a reality TV show — something that has been repeatedly discussed — that would likely change.

“By turns funny, unpleasant, and pathetic depending on your point of view (the animal abuse ones really bothered me), these stories are interesting in a voyeuristic way. The book is sort of like Ripley’s Believe It or Not merged with the Jerry Springer show.” —Comics Get Serious

Graphic Novel, 1996
NBM Paperback, 8.5″x11″, 64pp., $8.95

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