Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw

Andy Stone
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

Well, geez, I picked one hell of a time to come home, didn’t I?

Often enough, after a long trip overseas, you head back to the States with a kind of desperate home-sickness – a case of “Somebody get me a cheeseburger!” (as Steve Miller screams at the end of his classic, “Living in the USA.”)

Sometimes the strangeness of foreign lands – wonderfully strange though it may be – can wind up being just a little too much in the end.

It’s why we travel and sometimes, it’s why we’re desperate to get back home.

Right this instant, in fact, I am reminded of this culture-shock effect because I idly picked up a pack of chewing gum that was lying on my desk (really, this is true), thought the gum tasted a little odd, went to look at the ingredients and discovered it was left over from a visit to Budapest back in June. The ingredients list includes: es mentolizü cukormentes ragogumi edesitüszerrel … and lots more.

Easy to understand how a few weeks of living in a world where everything looked like that could make you crazy for a cheeseburger.

But our trip over the past six weeks hasn’t been anything like that.

We were in Italy and, although Italian remains semi-incomprehensible to me, it isn’t terrifying the way Hungarian is.

Eventually, I figured out that “Uscita” was not the name of a Tuscan hill town – it means “exit.” I also figured out that “Arezzo” doesn’t mean “stop” – it’s a Tuscan hill town. (You take the next “uscita” to get to “Arezzo.” You don’t jam on the brakes to “arezzo” for the exit for Uscita.)

Anyway, at the end of our six weeks, we left Italy fondly and a little bit sadly, wishing we could stay longer, but still eager to return to our pets and our friends, our home and our views of the mountains.

And then, far too early the next morning, we awoke to the horror of democracy, “God’s gift to mankind,” as I believe it has been called.

Don’t get me wrong – please, please, please! don’t get me wrong – I truly do believe that democracy is a glorious thing.

But this year’s version of democracy is … well, if we’re going to classify democracy as one of God’s gifts, then – to celebrate my return to the USA with a genuine all-American automobile metaphor – this year’s model, Democracy 2010, is God’s own Edsel. (I have to point out that when that infamous Ford failure was unveiled in 1957, one critic said its oddly shaped front grill made it look like “an Oldsmobile sucking on a lemon.” I mention this only because Democracy 2010 also brings to mind the words “suck” and “lemon.”)

The first night I was back in the States I had dinner with friends – no, that’s not true. I spent my first night back in the States passed out in a puddle of drool after damn near 48 hours in transit from Siena to the Roaring Fork Valley. Little did I suspect that “passed out in a puddle of drool” was the best way to appreciate the run-up to Election Day 2010.

Anyway, my second night back was when I had dinner with friends who all agreed that this was the nastiest election season they could remember. Politics is always rough business, they acknowledged, but this year everything seems to have been amped up by an injection of mean spirits – and money.

It’s been non-stop attack ads for the past couple of months, they told me – on TV, on radio, in the mail and by automated phone calls.

It didn’t take long to find out they weren’t kidding. Plagued by jet-lag, I turned on the TV Sunday night and almost sprained my thumb trying to hit the mute button as a stream of negative ads gushed out and flooded our bedroom.

I swear there was one two-minute break with four 30-second ads: first a Republican ad attacking the Democrat, then a Democratic ad attacking the Republican; then a different Republican ad attacking the same Democrat; then a different Democratic ad attacking the same Republican.

I remember years ago, when attack ads were first becoming the norm. One political observer who didn’t mind the new breed of nasty ads asked, rhetorically, “What’s the difference between an attack ad against a candidate and a positive ad for a candidate?” And then he answered his own question: “The attack ad contains at least one fact.”

There was some truth in that. Positive ads tend to be great big baskets of platitudes, while an attack ad picks on something a candidate has actually done and lambastes him for it.

That’s the way it used to be anyway.

These days, politicians have discovered that fact-free attacks work just fine, thank you very much. You just make something up about a candidate and then attack him for it. Keep piling on the attacks and eventually the fact-free nature of the so-called “fact” becomes irrelevant.

I’m reminded of the story about the optimistic little boy who, confronted with an enormous pile of horse manure, jumped for joy and began digging, exclaiming, “There must be a pony in here somewhere!”

Just change “pony” to “fact” and you get a taste of Democracy 2010. No pony, just a lot of manure.

Look, I know, as the fellow says, that “Politics ain’t beanbag.” I appreciate a good hard political fight – even if it gets a little nasty from time to time.

But there’s a difference between nasty and dishonest.

Even in a barroom brawl, most people accept the rule of “no biting, no gouging, no punching below the belt.”

You might hope our political leaders could at least have the common decency of drunks in a brawl.

Oh yeah, you might hope, but you’d be disappointed.

As I write this, the polls are still open. As you read it, the results are in. Do biting, gouging and low blows pay? You can read the answer on today’s front page.

It’s great to be home.

Somebody get me a cheeseburger!