Like some gawker slowing down to linger over a roadside disaster scene or a NASCAR junkie unable to tear himself away from video footage of some particularly spectacular speedway carnage, I find myself returning again and again to the Nov. 2 election results.
I should have known better than to bring up the subject to my friend Romero. "What disaster?" he inquired brightly. "I don't know why you liberals never learn from your mistakes. Why don't you cope the way I have?"
What? Sink even more deeply into cynicism? Move to Vancouver? Stay in bed with the down comforter pulled up over my ears? What ’coping' are you talking about?
He paused to make sure I got the emphasis he intended. "I've decided to become a Republican," he said.
I looked for the little twitch around the mouth or the slight crinkling of the eyes that would indicate this was merely weird Romero humor, an elaborate setup leading into what was sure to be one of his acerbic commentaries on the stupidity of the voting public.
But there were no cues. Could he actually have thrown in with the GOP? He couldn't have ... could he? God knows there probably is deep within us all a frustrated Republican yearning to break free, a perennial loser eager to be on the winning side at least once, a shadow millionaire capitalist salivating over the possibility of finally being on the receiving end of a tax cut.
Only conscience, family upbringing and some vestigial sense of social justice keeps that latent inner yuppie under control. Under the right set of pressures, who knows? Stronger men than Romero have buckled.
"A Republican? You? Um, I don't quite know how to put this, but after all, you are a Mexican. Will they let you in?"
"Ha! You haven't been paying attention, I can see. Don't you know that Bush had the backing of Hispanics in this election? The papers were full of it. I'll be right at home. Besides," he sniffed, "I'm not a Mexican any more; I'm a ’Southwest Hispanic' now. UNM says so."
Actually, despite the misleading headlines, Kerry still won a top-heavy majority of votes cast by New Mexico's Latinos. It's just that they didn't turn out in the numbers they usually do. I attribute that to heavy-handed clerical involvement in some parishes that warned against voting for a pro-choice candidate.
Arguing theology is rarely productive, so I concentrated instead on family guilt. "Do your kids know about this? And your elderly mother; can her heart take it if she finds out? And your wife—I know she's not going to be happy about this."
It was scary. He actually sneered like Dick Cheney as he rasped that he wouldn't let himself be influenced by such considerations, since, "you can't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs."
Right before my eyes he was morphing into a Republican. I noticed he had moved his wallet closer to his heart. It could be protected more easily there if a pickpocket made a grab. Self-consciously, I kept both my hands on top of the table, in clear view.
"Look," I whispered, "you have to keep a broader perspective. The Democrats actually took control of several previously Republican state legislatures in states like Montana and Colorado. And we made great strides in organization and fund raising. Don't give up; it'll get better." But my voice cracked and he noticed.
"You liberals," he snorted. "Always hopeful. But do you realize the Republicans have won seven of the last 10 presidential races? How can you say things are getting better? I'm being realistic, damn it. I want to go out a winner."
Then I had an inspiration. "Do you know why Kerry conceded so quickly, Romero?"
I mean not half a day after the polls closed, when lots of us were clamoring for legal challenges, recounts, protracted battles, he cashed it in; bowed out graciously. "Did you wonder why?" I said. "He took a close look at the next few years and decided he wasn't going to be the one presiding over the disaster ahead.”
Think of it. We sink $50 billion deeper into debt every month, with no end in sight; not even an easing-up in sight. That debt will come due soon. And the Iraq War, a black hole into which 50 American soldiers vanish each month, along with enough dollars to rebuild all our schools and house all our homeless, tasks we won't undertake because we can't afford them.
And the War on Terror, that never-ending nightmare in which the more terrorists we destroy the more we create so that our "successes" pave the road for some future unthinkable disaster. All those chickens will be coming home to roost soon. "I think John Kerry decided that George ought to be the one saddled with fixing the mess he's created," I concluded.
Romero blinked. He was weighing the truth of what I'd said; I had him. He wouldn't want to become a Republican only to get stuck holding the bag.
"Damn," he said. "I never knew just how fiendishly clever you Democrats are. Who would have thought of that ploy: losing the election to make sure Bush doesn't get bailed out. I tip my hat."