By the time you read this, Montana's special election will be over (unless you read this on Thursday, in which case the results won't be in until later in the day). From my perspective here on Monday, the outcome remains shrouded in doubt. I have three days left to learn that Rob Quist still owes $17,000.01 to Columbia House for a bunch of CDs, and Greg Gianforte still has time to shoot a bear at the zoo. But you happy readers of the future already know what happened.
Thus concludes the longest election cycle in recent memory. We all know that the 2017 special election was a rehash of the 2016 presidential election, with Gianforte as Donald Trump and Quist as the Democratic candidate no one particularly likes but we all have to get behind anyway. That original contest—the Empire Strikes Back to our present Attack of the Clones, if you will—stretched all the way back to May 2015, when Sen. Ted Cruz became the first Republican to announce. We've been in campaign season for two years, but all that's over now.
Over, too, is the 2017 session of the Montana Legislature. This one was not so lively as recent installments, since the schism between conservative and moderate Republicans has died down. The power of the far right has waned, and Art Wittich has returned to Bozeman to slumber and feed. All across the land a heavy silence lies, broken only by the chittering of my teeth.
I am in politics withdrawal. If you include the 2015 session, I've been writing about campaigns and legislation for 28 months straight, and now I cannot understand the world without it. Frantic, my brain assigns political meaning to apolitical events. A gigantic pickup truck tailgates me down South Avenue. Is this some sign of an emboldened base of Trump supporters? Both our automobiles fall into a gigantic pothole, killing us and releasing a swarm of angry mole people. Democrats?
Strawberries are in season at the grocery store, but that's just what Mike Pence would eat. I cannot live on kale and quinoa, though; that's the kind of effete snobbery that cost liberals the election. I am forced to content myself with what's in my refrigerator. But cilantro and Bolivian cocaine don't even taste right anymore, now that Wall Street is back on top.
From Toby Keith to Kobe beef, all that was once innocent has become freighted with political meaning. Part of it is our present cultural-historical moment. To paraphrase the Chinese curse, we live in interesting times. As politics becomes simultaneously more cutthroat and less willing to address substantive problems, it annexes other parts of our identities. Camouflage, Subarus, yoga and the Griz—they all seem to be part of some master system of symbols now, each one occupying its designated position on the left or right. The politicization of everyday life has become, in the words of George Washington's first inaugural, completely nanners.
But even madness has its limits. As I struggle to determine which is going crazy faster—society or myself—I take comfort in knowing that there are two things politics can never touch. The first is the satirical cop-on-the-edge sitcom Sledge Hammer!, which ran for two seasons before being canceled in 1988. And the second is universal health care. Both of these exist in the shrinking realm of topics that neither Republicans nor Democrats care to investigate.
In April, an Economist/YouGov poll found that 60 percent of registered voters favored federally funded health insurance for every American. That number increased to 85 percent among respondents who voted for Clinton. Yet universal health care remains a nonstarter for both national parties, even as they search for new swing issues—transgender bathroom rights, Russian influence on the last election, the very reality of the news—with which to carve up the electorate.
You would think a proposal that enjoyed the support of 85 percent of Democratic voters in the last election might appeal to the Democratic National Committee. But last weekend in Sacramento, newly minted DNC chair Tom Perez ignored a crowd of nurses and other health care professionals who had rallied to draw attention to the issue, saying only, "We make sure that health care is a right for everyone, and not a privilege for a few."
No, you don't. Right now, in the richest country in the world, Americans are dying because they can't afford medical treatment. The Democratic Party is willing to do anything it can to regain control of a sharply divided electorate, except seriously pursue a policy that almost two thirds of that electorate wants. Even in a world gone seemingly mad, there are some things we can rely on. Your haircut may tell me who you voted for. But whoever that is will never offer us what we really want.
Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture and the complete lack of any distinction between the two at combatblog.net.