Last Cigarette


MARK CROMER wants a divorce

[My first ‘Dear Jane’ letter to the Democrats, published in Low Magazine in the summer of 1996, a note left tentatively on the mantle as I reflected on our political relationship and my unhappiness with where we were, it was a sign of things to come. While it reads in the main like I could have written it yesterday, I can date it by the fact that I was still drinking beer, that its appearance in print on university campuses today would cause a riot (Low Magazine was a pre-Internet college publication) and that I’m not that mad at Michael Dukakis anymore. Yet it was another decade before I finally broke our once passionate marriage, er, political vows, re-registering as ‘Decline To State’ in California. I sent Hillary, et al, formal service of process but only heard back from Sen. Dianne Feinstein months later—asking me for money. Di-Fi’s post mortem fundraising pitch actually made me feel better, as it confirmed I’d done the right thing.]

Camelot it’s not.

Sitting alone in a comfortably dim corner inside Xochimilco’s Mexican Restaurant, an old joint that’s nestled in a crumbling strip mall on Pomona’s eastside, I’m shaking off a nicotine fit and waiting for my pitcher to arrive.

The waitress finally shows up and sets my glass bucket down politely. She flashes a sweet smile that tells me she knows I am here to get off the planet for awhile. She’s ready to help.

I appreciate it, as these are indeed tough times for white male Democrats like me. I’m not exactly sure how many of us there are left, but with every passing day I’m becoming more and more convinced that I’m a member of a political species that’s heading the way of the Condor; long past endangered but not yet extinct. My breed of jackass is turning into a political oddity that will likely be preserved on university campuses and studied by future generations, who will no doubt have a hard time believing that working class whites were once the foundation of the Democratic Party.

Sure, on the surface things don’t appear all that bad. I mean, my boy is still sitting tight in the Oval Office and unless he actually loads a bong on network television between now and November, every indication is he’ll be in the White House until the Millennium.

The gavel is about to come down in San Diego and Bob Dole will leave the Republican National Convention as his party’s official nominee, meaning that the GOP is on the last lap to the worst electoral ass-kicking it has suffered since LBJ obliterated Barry Goldwater in 1964.

Even Dole’s desperate gamble of adding Jack Kemp to the ticket is not likely to spare him from a crushing defeat at the hands of Clinton/Gore. Bob Dole is old, he looks constantly pissed off and not even the Republican faithful are fired up about his campaign. His most compelling plea to voters thus far has been “Vote for me, I’m not Bill Clinton.” That sham may have even worked for other candidates, but while telling voters that he’s not Bill Clinton, he makes the fatal mistake of reminding them that he is Bob Dole. And thus he is doomed.

Yet as much as I admire the President and eagerly look forward to his public burial of Dole, another four years of Bill Clinton isn’t going to be quite enough to keep me in a party that’s been in a slow burn for years.

Refilling my glass, I take a long hit and try to recall when my real disenchantment with the Democrats started, but it’s all sort of blurry now. The good times are much easier to remember. Facing a divorce, I suppose it’s good to reflect on the honeymoon.

It was a marriage that started back in 1983, the year I walked out of my Current Events class at Pomona High School and marched across campus to the library, where I registered to vote.

Coming from a long line of Establishment Republicans, my family and friends no doubt expected me to get with the program and join the happy majority that had ushered Ronald Reagan into office three years earlier. After all, I was the kid who had hoisted a hand-painted ‘Vote Reagan!’ sign in front of my parent’s house in that heady year of 1980.

But by ’83 things had changed for me. I wasn’t playing baseball and collecting Marvel Comics anymore. I was reading Camus, drinking Grasshoppers on the sly and playing finger pie as often as possible. Of course, so were most of my newly registered Republican friends. But they all seemed, as Holden Caulfield would have said, like a bunch of damn phonies.

I just couldn’t see aligning myself with a political party that advised our generation to ‘Just Say No’ to everything we were interested in experiencing. The Republicans were the two-martini lunch crowd telling us not to smoke a little weed. They were the old men who sexually harassed their secretaries while lecturing us to wait for marriage before fucking. They were the party of Abraham Lincoln doing business with white South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime. The Republicans represented oppression of our most sacred personal freedoms.

Accordingly, I registered Democratic. My mother cried, but it was just the beginning. I plunged into my newfound Leftist identity with a fervor that surprised even me.

In those early years I voted for a forgettable loser named Mondale, walked precincts for Willie White (who would become Pomona’s first black city councilman), went to anti-nuke demonstrations with the Alliance for Survival, marched on a short leg of the Great Peace March and did volunteer work for the sanctuary movement that hid political refugees escaping El Salvador’s civil war.

While my friends were listening to William F. Buckley lecture at Cal Poly Pomona, I was at the Claremont Colleges soaking up Leftist speakers theorizing about how and why the FBI murdered Black Panther Fred Hampton. During my downtime I took in lectures on the CIA’s involvement in the coup that deposed Chile’s Salvador Allende, its ‘black operations’ in Iran and how The Agency finally wacked out Che in some Bolivian jungle.

By the time I was 21, I was fairly convinced Uncle Sam was one mean mother fucker.

Of course, being a good Democrat, I was still living at home and I am sure my Republican parents half-expected to find a Viet Cong battle flag flying in my room.

In the mainstream, I stuffed envelopes and worked phone banks for Sen. Alan Cranston’s tough reelection drive against Ed Zschau in 1986. A good foot soldier, I was able to ride the hotel elevator down with Cranston at 2 a.m. as he descended from his suite to declare victory and announce to a roaring crowd that the Democrats had retaken the Senate.

Yet my suspicion that the Democratic Party was the party weren’t really confirmed until 1988, when presidential candidate (and front-runner at the time) Gary Hart was caught with Donna Rice perched in his lap down in Bimini. It was beautiful. He even cruised there on a boat called Monkey Business. As the nation convulsed with a terrific sex scandal, fueled initially by a couple of impotent reporters at the Miami Herald, I was confident I had made the right decision in selecting my political affiliation. The Republicans were nominating (and still are) the same sterile old men who hardly had enough blood pressure to sustain an erection.

Meanwhile my candidate was down in the islands, pouring some boat drinks, soaking up the sun and getting a little nookie. The only thing missing from the picture was Jimmy Buffet, and I’m still not convinced he wasn’t in the captain’s chair on that trip.

But it didn’t really matter. Hart went down with the ship, Mike Dukakis slithered into town and I was dealt a losing hand once again. That fall election was perhaps the first time I caught a whiff of the political isolation that eventually led me to the edge of the long plank I’m standing on now.

Lined up against Bush, a Yale boy who can’t even speak in complete sentences, Dukakis managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by embracing the weepy-eyed, mealy-mouthed, politically correct wing of the Democratic Party. His namby-pamby incompetence was highlighted when, during the debates, Dukakis was asked what he would do if his wife was raped.

Back during the ‘zine revolution.

He should have looked directly into the camera and said “I’d find the guy who did it, put a bullet in the bastard’s gut, wait a minute or two, and then pump six more into his twisted face. Now what would you do?” This was the correct answer. It was the right thing to say. America would understand.

Instead, Dukakis started babbling about convening a global anti-drug conference and his willingness to put bad guys in jail and all sorts of other unconvincing prattle that sounded like Teddy Kennedy trying to explain Chappaquiddick. I figure Dukakis lost around eight million votes in about 15 incoherent seconds.

So it would be four more years in the wilderness before my party would finally surrender to common sense, however briefly, and put together a ticket headed by a savvy political vampire named Bill Clinton. No matter how many times the Republicans shanked him in the heart with a wooden stake, Clinton rose again and again from the grave to wreck his vengeance upon them.

But my bliss over Clinton’s success in 1992 was superficial and short-lived. The fact that it was a smart, centrist Democrat who was finally able to deliver the goods and recapture the White House seemed lost on much of the party, especially in California. In the Golden State, Democrats have been on a steady march to the outer reaches of the far-Left since Clinton’s inauguration. Perhaps they find solace out there on the fringe, a place where the ideological campfires of their shrinking tribe struggle against the darkness of opinion polls that show only 16-percent of Americans consider themselves ‘liberal.’

I never imagined there would be a day when I would quote Ronald Reagan in a sympathetic tone, but I must say I share some affinity with the man when he noted “I didn’t leave the Democrats, they left me.”

Indeed, I haven’t left the Democrats, but they have been packing their bags on me and heading for the door as they disregard common sense on a host of issues from crime to immigration to welfare reform. Like the Republicans of the Cold War era, the Democrats of today are prone to regurgitate the same sort of simplistic, knee-jerk, stale old slogans they’ve been shouting for the past twenty years when confronted with almost any hot button issue.

At every tack and turn, liberal Democrats have opposed even the most basic efforts to restore any semblance of safety on our streets. In both policy and practice the party seems intent on surrendering entire neighborhoods to the most violent breed of criminal our society has ever experienced. In the faces of every thug, con, killer, rapist and gang member prowling the streets today, the Democrats see a poor child who didn’t get enough schooling or enough hugs. Call me jaded, but when I see a shaved-headed gang member with ‘Fuck A Fool’s Life’ tattooed across his chest, I just see a scumbag who is a professional predator.

Like Michael Dukakis, the Democrats want to combat crime by building more schools, offering more social programs and ensuring more ‘rehabilitation’ for convicts. I want to build more and better schools not because it might play a role in reducing crime, but because we have an obligation to educate our children and give them the best jump on life as possible.

As for the career criminal who now roams our streets like a hunter enjoying open season, I favor building as many prisons as necessary to hold each and every one of those cockroaches for every day they were sentenced to serve. No time off for ‘good behavior,’ no conjugal visits, no television sets, no gym equipment and no auto or woodshop classes.

If prisoners riot, they should be shot. [And a shout out to Gov. Nelson Rockefeller in that regard.]

Of course my view doesn’t exactly jibe with a guy like Bill Press, Chairman of the California Democratic Party, who recently took to the airwaves to declare pizza companies that refuse to send their delivery people into gang-infested neighborhoods are responsible for the crime in those neighborhoods.

In short, Press blamed Pizza Hut for creating the Crips, Bloods and Big Hazard. Such an absurd position is in fact the very core essence of what drives Democratic policy today: the Victim Plank.

This apologist philosophy also pollutes the party on immigration and welfare. Democrats infantilize illegal immigrants and welfare mothers, insisting they are not responsible for their reproductive habits or public behavior. You want to have ten kids when you can’t even afford one? No problem. After all, you’re just a poor immigrant or a welfare mama who doesn’t know any better. You say you want to drink beer in front of the housing projects all day and piss on the light poles? Don’t worry, we’ll blame Pizza Hut.

This party is so fucked up that if I weren’t so bitter about it—if I didn’t feel so betrayed—I might actually get a twisted kick out of it. I’ll go to the polls one more time for Clinton, but after that I’m not sure what I’ll do.

The only thing I know right now is another pitcher sounds pretty good. And when that’s empty, I’ll step outside into a fading August sunset and light up one last smoke for the ride home. I’ll roll the windows down and let my mind unfocus on such reassuring things as the warm, charcoal-scented breeze and the crisp echoes of gunfire in the distance.