I am writing these words on the evening of Monday, April 10. Before telling you why I’m going to the trouble to make note of what you might otherwise judge to be a rather pedestrian fact, let me say that it bears no relation to my mostly adversarial relationship with deadlines.
While we’re on that subject, though, I might as well come clean: It is, if not entirely unheard of, then at least highly unusual to find me, this far ahead of my weekly Tuesday evening deadline for Weld, pecking purposefully at the keyboard in the effort to lash 1,500 or so words into what I hope turns out to be a coherent column.
This is not something I’m proud of, by the way, though it does put me in a category with one of my heroes in this lonely — and, if one cares about it, exacting — craft, the late Hunter S. Thompson. When it came to wringing the essence of Truth from the ceaseless flow of fact, conjecture, and outright falsehood that spews, geyser-like, from the maw of American society — most especially politics and government — Thompson was a writer of unique, undeniable, and, at his best, transcendent skill.
Even so, Thompson’s problem with, and simultaneous need for, deadlines was legendary. He was well aware of this, of course, and hit it squarely on the head in his classic 1973 classic of analysis and commentary on presidential politics, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72:
No doubt it has to do with a deep-seated personality defect, or maybe a kink in whatever blood vessel leads into the pineal gland…On the other hand, it might easily be something as simple and basically perverse as whatever instinct it is that causes a jackrabbit to wait until the last possible second to dart across the road in front of a speeding car.
This is a problem and a need to which I can wholeheartedly relate. I’ve been fortunate (more or less) to manage for a good many years now to make a living (such as it is) working primarily as a writer, and one of the things I long ago concluded about my writing is that it tends to be better when produced under some kind of pressure. There are occasional exceptions to this, of course, but by and large, I’ve found that I do my best work — a term I use in full knowledge and acceptance of its utterly subjective nature — when I wait for that last second to launch myself across the road of inspiration, just ahead of that proverbial car bearing down on me.
Be all of that as it may, it’s not the sudden desire to avoid testing the outermost limits of yet another deadline that has led me to abandon my customary race against the proverbial car. Nor, even, is it the thought of my editor weeping tears of wonderment and gratitude at the earlier-than-usual arrival of my contribution to this week’s paper.
What, then, has possessed me?
Well, to be perfectly honest, it’s a feeling that can only be described as disgust.
What is the source of my disgust? As you might imagine, it has something to do with the spectacle surrounding an event that has been anticipated for some time, and which actually happened just minutes ago as I write this.
I’m speaking, of course, of the resignation in disgrace of Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley. Twice duly elected by the people of Alabama, Bentley gave up the office he had held for more than six years as part of a deal to avoid prosecution on numerous charges — all revolving around the willful misuse and abuse of state funds, resources, and personnel — arising from his extramarital affair with a member of his staff.
That Bentley’s conduct — his abuse of the trust placed in him by the voters of our state, his negligence of the duties and responsibilities of his office, his abandonment of his wife of 50 years and estrangement from their children and other family members — was disgraceful goes without saying. So does the fact that he was a bad governor, but that was true long before he began locking his office door so he could carry on whatever he was carrying on with his communications director(one of several titles she carried) without fear of interruption.
But how does being a bad governor distinguish Bentley from every other governor in the politically bankrupt history of Alabama? Name me a governor who has served the people of our state well, and then prove it to me. I’m all ears.
In other words, the source of my disgust is not Robert Bentley.
Nor is it the members of our state’s Republican Party, or those of what little remains of the Democratic one. Their responses have been predictable: Republicans — the same ones who supported Bentley until it was clear that he had to be impeached just because he’s a Republican, and whose scorched-earth corruption and scathing hatred of the poor and needy has done more than Bentley ever did to put our state government into a hole we’ll be digging out of for generations, if ever — say it’s time to put this shameful chapter behind us, for Alabamians to “unite” behind the new leader of our state, the erstwhile Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey. In other words, things are bad because of us, but the last thing we need to do is change anything.
The Democrats say…well, allow me to be blunt: Who cares what the Democrats say? There are a few — very few — individual bright spots there, but as a party, they have no leadership, no ideas, and no vision of a better tomorrow to present to our downtrodden people. At the end of the day, they’re part of the same rotten system as the Republicans, and other than being completely devoid of power, they have no more interest than the Republicans in seeing that system change.
But neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are the source of my disgust.
The problem not our so-called “leaders.” Ultimately, the problem is us.
The problem is you and me. The problem is we, the people of Alabama. We, the people who routinely elect to our state’s highest offices thieves and shysters and clowns and fifth-rate hacks who have spent years of their lives proving that the only place they are employable is in the halls of Alabama government. We, the people, who given a choice between good and bad, will choose the bad — or, has happens more often, when given the choice between bad and worse, we will choose the worse.
Robert Bentley was not — is not — the problem with Alabama. Robert Bentley was a symptom of the sickness with which Alabama has suffered since…well, since a long time before anyone currently living in our troubled state was born. And yet, when Robert Bentley resigns because of a sex scandal, we read the salacious details of the intimate communications between him and his paramour and ruefully exchange risqué comments and titillating memes and dirty jokes. We do these things, and we cluck our tongues about how embarrassing this is for Alabama.
Embarrassing? Have you taken a good look around this place we call home? If not, let me give you a sampling of what’s embarrassing, or should be, if we cared more about the condition of our state and its people than about the image of our 74-year-old governor opening a hotel room door in his boxer shorts.
Alabama ranks 44th in the nation in the percentage of our citizens who graduate high school. We also rank 44th in women’s and children’s health, and 47th in public health overall. We rank 46th in median household income. We rank 48th in issues related to women, from employment opportunities to salaries and wages to availability of preventive healthcare to murder rate.
Where does Alabama rank highly? Well, in infant mortality, we’re number two in the nation. We have the third-highest poverty rate, and are the fourth most-dependent state upon the largesse of the federal government that so many of our citizens claim to hate so much.
But yes, let’s be embarrassed because our governor allowed his vanity and his libido to get the better of him. Let’s put this shameful episode behind us and let our state government — which, need I remind you, has also seen the involuntary departures of the highest officials in its legislative and judicial branches in recent months — get back to the business of pillaging our resources in peace. Let’s allow our new governor — who is, if anything, less qualified for that high office than our newly former one — to preside unmolested by politics until the election of 2018, when if she chooses to seek election, she will be torn apart by the host of Republican rivals who even now are licking their chops at the prospect.
On the other hand, maybe Alabama needs a deadline. Maybe we need to feel like that jackrabbit, that if we don’t get off the mark RIGHT NOW and get ourselves to the other side of that road, that onrushing car is going to smash us to smithereens, turn us into buzzard bait. Let’s say we start meeting the needs of our citizens by, say, 2020, or just shut it down. Sell it to the Russians or the Chinese and let them see if they can do any better with it than we’ve done.
Robert Bentley got what he deserves? Well, guess what, folks? So did we. And if history’s any indicator, that’s not likely to change anytime soon.