I couldn't find a puppeteer in Chattanooga, and the only mime I know couldn't break free from his day job.
Tuesday, as we lined up to vote, I had hoped to provide some theater at area polling precincts. Some symbolic gesture -- maybe a puppet, or a mime -- could have reminded us: never lose our voice as citizens. Never let them pull your strings.
But really, I should have called a magician.
Because American democracy has become a disappearing act in slow motion, an illusion of the real thing, a magic trick that makes us think we're actually in charge, when the entire charade is more spectacle than substance.
For the last few weeks, I kept hearing the same eight tragic words:
I'm voting for the lesser of two evils.
This, fellow citizens, is what it's come to? No choice but an evil one? Reaching this point was not an act of God, or some freak political accident where good people with good ideas are suddenly, accidentally omitted from the election process.
It was orchestrated, carefully calibrated so that the choices before you Tuesday were both false choices. Romney, Obama. Obam-ney. Doesn't matter, for the real issues are swept away and real solutions kept out of sight.
Our schools are sinking. Our politicians more crooked than the W Road. Our middle class, thin as ribs. Our financial system, warped. People are out of work, hungry, angry.
But for some, life is easy as pie.
The wealthiest in America saw their incomes rise by 250 percent in the years between 1979 and 2006, says Jacob Hacker, author of "Winner-Take-All Politics."
Deregulation, top-shelf tax cuts, financial markets treated like the Wild West. Lobbyists. Washington, controlled by the wealthy. Like a see-saw, we fall. They rise, by 250 percent.
(America, designed for Montgomery Burns. Smithers, let them eat cake.)
Our nation has entered its second Gilded Age, as the coming oligarchy cares not whether Obama or Romney gets elected, as neither really poses any threat to ending such inequity. Neither willing or even able to wrest control of this nation's systems back into a just balance.
"It's the have-it-alls versus the rest of Americans," Hacker told Bill Moyers in a January interview.
Our military budget is the largest in human history, yet calling for
substantial cuts has become profane, like we've turned the military into an idol.
"Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed," Dwight D. Eisenhower said in a 1953 speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors.
Meanwhile, it's been estimated that $6 billion will be spent on the November election.
"Elections in the United States are now characterized by the politics of a moral coma and corrupted by the pathological lies used to justify the rule of big money," writes Henry Giroux on truthout.org. "Matters of justice, truth, responsibility and freedom have been hijacked by a savage mode of capitalism that is as ruthless as it is criminal."
This election has also seen the slow death of civility. We've abandoned the hope of politicians modeling any formal, respectful civic behavior, as the vapid absurdity of pop media culture (Rush and Co.) has infected nearly all realms of political discourse.
Commonplace is this pseudo-political world where Big Bird is a wedge issue, 47 percent of Americans are spoken of in generalities, and the president is a guest on "The View."
"We're describing a massive erosion," Hacker said to Moyers, "but the question is could we see those democratic political institutions really cease to function effectively in the future if we have a society that continues to tilt so heavily toward winner-take-all."
As I finished writing this column, the polls were still open. The winners had yet to be announced.
But I know who lost.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...