Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

I say, I say, I say

"I don’t like the little ones," Busytot mutters darkly after spending a couple of hours playing with people approximately half his age (those one and a half year old whippersnappers). When I ask what inspired this Sauron-like pronouncement, he explains: "I just want them to talk proply, like me. Not like ba-ba-ba and da-da-da. Proply, proply, proply, like dat."

The boy’s still got a few language issues himself. He thinks pocket knives are for cutting pockets, and he called a halt to toilet training once he figured out there were no actual trains involved.

But he’s onto something. I like people who talk proply, too. And I wince when people talk, shall we say, malaproply. Which makes this a particularly painful election season.

Today, on the White House lawn, George W. Bush came up with this:

"I understand that -- what mixed messages do. You can embolden an enemy by sending a mixed message. You can dispirit the Iraqi people by sending mixed messages. You send the wrong message to our troops by sending mixed messages."

Got the message? "Ba-ba-ba." So as not to dispirit anyone, the President followed up with a completely unmixed message, a handy potted history of how we got where we are today with all the messy bits left out. It’s pol. sci. for the kindergarten set:

"See, 9/11 changed everything. September the 11th meant that we had to deal with a person like Saddam Hussein. Of course, I was hoping it could be done diplomatically. But diplomacy failed. And so the last resort of a President is to use force. And we did. And now we're -- we're helping the Iraqis.”

See? Or in other words, "da-da-da."

But the alternative isn’t exactly inspiring. I like big words as much as the next almost-three-year-old, but the orotund John Kerry just doesn’t know when to stop. I worry that it’ll end in tears... on November 2nd. Kerry’s speeches are magisterial, grandiose, long-winded pontifications, packed full of redundantly unnecessary verbalizations of a largely superfluous nature. And that’s the short ones.

Kerry has come out fighting in the last few days -- accusing the President of "colossal failures of judgment" -- but who knows if this new-found ability to get to the point will win him back the ears of his countrymen. In a recent piece in the New Yorker, Philip Gourevitch captures the perverse appeal of Bush’s monosyllabic simplifications, their folksiness and their ballsiness. And this piece by Philip James nicely illustrates the vast stylistic gulf between the two candidates.

It’s hard to see how any voter could remain undecided, as if this were a choice between two different flavours of cheese. Kerry is chalk -- noble, firm, unimpeachably white, with a dusty whiff of the classroom -- and Bush is cheese, that bright yellow stuff in a spray-on can that you know contains no nutritional value whatsoever and has to be bad for you in the long run but damn, it is what it is, no mixed messages, squirt it on.

(By the way, if you were hoping to do a taste test on the VP candidates, good luck: John Edwards has all but vanished from view, and Dick Cheney has made an art of eluding reporters, effectively banning representatives of major news outlets -- among them the New York Times, Knight-Ridder, and National Public Radio -- from following him on the campaign trail.)

The choice is not up to us, though, is it? Well, maybe it should be. Writing in the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland makes a modest proposal: that we should all get to vote in the upcoming election.

When George Bush spoke to the UN yesterday, he invoked democracy in almost every paragraph, citing America's declaration of independence which insists on the equal worth of every human being. Well, surely equal worth means an equal say in the decisions that affect the entire human race.

In the absence of a constitutional amendment extending the suffrage not just to emancipated slaves and women, but to foreigners everywhere, we’ll have to get creative: also in the Guardian, John O’Farrell thought it might be worth buying votes on eBay. With no success:

Sadly, in my first attempt to bid for a vote, I lost the auction to someone calling themselves GWB@whitehouse.us.

Still, the winner was kind enough to send me an email. It said: "Nice try, limey, but we've got a lot more money than you and you're not the first person to have this idea. P.S. How do you think I got in last time?"

We can only hope that those who can vote, do. The only US citizen in our household won’t be of voting age for another fifteen years, so I’m encouraging my students -- smart and sensible, every one -- to do their part. I can’t tell them who to vote for, of course, and anyway, “Vote for the home team, you know, the Yale candidate, the one who was in Skull and Bones” doesn’t narrow it down a lot. Although it does rule out Nader, which is a start.

Anyway, you’re not meant to bring politics into the classroom, because, I don't know, it might be educational or something. A literature professor in New Jersey (NY Times, registration required) got in trouble when she attempted to make voting a requirement for students in her classes this semester. Write the essays, attend the lectures, tick the box, or you don’t pass. Her compromise: an honesty box system, with students required to enter the voting booth but not obliged to actually vote.

God forbid that anyone should impinge on the freedom that is, as the current President never tires of reminding us, the Almighty’s gift to all people. He's so keen on it that he suggested in a recent stump speech, perhaps unintentionally, that he'd like to extend more of this precious gift to gynecologists frustrated by the rising costs of doing business:

We need to do something about these frivolous lawsuits that are running up the cost of your health care and running good docs out of business. (Applause.) We've got an issue in America. Too many good docs are getting out of business. Too many OB/GYNs aren't able to practice their love with women all across this country.

Ewwwwww. Excuse me while I postpone my annual exam for about a decade.

But there goes George, practicing his love with voters all across the country. From the same speech (which he delivers almost verbatim at every stop along the way):

THE PRESIDENT: So I had a choice to make at this point in our history: do I trust the word of a madman --


THE PRESIDENT: -- do I forget the lessons of September the 11th, or take action to defend this country? Given that choice, I will defend America every time. (Applause.)

AUDIENCE: Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!

And the crowd goes wild.

It’s got a lovely rhythm, though, hasn’t it? Four-more-years! Four-more-years! U.S.A! U.S.A! Ba-ba-ba! Da-da-da!

No wonder John Kerry's starting to spit the dummy.