How things are: A chat with Jim McDermott

Jim McDermott stopped by the office last week to chat.

The blue-eyed, affable Democratic Congressman was pretty confident that John Kerry will prevail in November, but this was before weekend polls showed Bush bouncing to a double-digit lead.

You can say this about the 67-year-old MeDermott: Meet him in a crowded room and he's apt to look in you the eye rather than over your shoulder to see who's next in line - a rare quality for a politician. And he actually converses while speaking. He doesn't dribble out cookie-cutter vacuities.

McDermott talked about his frustration with the Bush administration. No surprise there.

He remembered, as a first-term congressman, touring Africa and Asia in 1988 to assess the burgeoning AIDS epidemic.

"I could never get a Republican to go with me to see what was going on," he said of those years. "Bush said he will put up $15 billion for AIDS but where's the money? What makes me angry is how it has been politicized."

On health care: "He (Bush) has done nothing. Nothing. We have four or five million more uninsured. He's left a huge issue on the table which affects everybody."

MeDermott's affability can morph into a hardening of focus and speech when he gets to the gist of a hot-button issue.

"The number one cause of bankruptcy in this country is healthcare," he stated. "That's in the richest country in the world and the President doesn't do anything."

The talk swerved toward Iraq, the election and the polls.

And "Fahrenheit 911," starring, among others, Jim McDermott.

"It's a successful piece in that it gives people an awful lot to think about," he said of Michael Moore's "documentary."

I wonder.

Moore, in at least a couple of areas, played footsies with the facts when just the facts would have served.

"If Bush is elected, Michael (Moore) failed," McDermott said. "If Kerry wins, the movie is a success."

That's hardly the anatomy of a documentary.

And that's part of the problem: Facts have been the first casualties of the presidential discourse this season. And the Republicans play the propaganda game alarmingly well, much better than Democrats.

It would have been smarter for John Kerry, when it came to Viet Nam, to play the quiet hero. He should have rented a few Gary Cooper flicks. Instead, he stuck out his jaw and got socked - by people who avoided Viet Nam and the draft.

And they're getting away with it.

I wish I shared McDermott's optimism about November, but this election, more than ever, seems to be about winning over the votes of the gullible. The specter of Sept. 11 was invoked from the Republican Convention podium ad nauseum. The formula is so transparent and old as the hills: Scare the hell out of them, and then promise you'll protect them.

And the drum for connecting Sept. 11 and the war in Iraq was banged ceaselessly. Say it often enough, and loud enough, and wrap it in the flag enough and people will believe.

This Republican Convention made Richard Nixon, who at least had intellectual curiosity, look like a centrist.

Still, McDermott thinks this country will do the right thing on Election Day.

He said he's observed the kind of grass roots activity on Kerry's behalf that he's never seen in a presidential race before: students, punk rockers, sideline voters becoming activists. He noted that the Tractor Tavern in Ballard raised $30,000 for Kerry.

As for the Administration's war in Iraq: "It's pretty clear they didn't do as much reading (on the subject) as I had. I think it's much worse than we know. We're being shielded from it."

Asked why Sept. 11 seemed to have numbed much of this country to critical thinking, McDermott said, "This country lived in a cocoon of security. We didn't believe anybody threatened us. The response is to turn to an authority figure. We were led down a path totally without reflection."

On the subject of dissent, McDermott turned serious.

"In wartime, my President right or wrong. Well, I saw that in Viet Nam," he said, referring to his psychiatric work with returning combat vets.

"It's a dangerous thing for a society to decide the Emperor is beyond question."

There are fewer than eight weeks before the Election.

The Republicans have appropriated the tragedy of Sept. 11. They've turned it into their own, private football and it's tucked firmly underarm. They can sniff the end zone, and a good part of the crowd is cheering them on.

They're getting way with it.

Democracy rests on the wisdom of the people.

To be honest, that's what's scares me most about this whole thing.

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