Monday, October 04, 2004

The Stepford Electorate

The election is less than a month away, and voter registration deadlines are approaching. Please, please register to vote.

I will be on an airplane tomorrow night and will therefore miss the Vice Presidential debate. My TiVO will be humming, though, and I am hoping that John Edwards comes through. He made his fortune by delivering compelling arguments before a jury, so my fingers are crossed that this will be his moment to shine.

In honor of the spirit of debate, here is my latest commentary, in search of an audience.

The Stepford Electorate by Amy Tiemann

What can a 1970’s feminist horror film teach us about politics in the year 2004? I was surprised to find a connection when I recently viewed the original version of "The Stepford Wives" for the first time. As the film reaches its climax and reveals the secret that the town’s husbands have conspired to replace their wives with domesticated robots, the doomed herione asks the high-tech mastermind why they did it. His answer chilled me: "We do it because we can."

The husbands abused power and got away with it simply because they could. They took their opinionated wives out of the equation; all the better to silence them than to have to continue arguing or listening to their annoying feminist rhetoric. The women who became suspicious were considered crazy outsiders who were making trouble out of nothing. In each case, potential whistleblowers were replaced before they could sound an alarm. The original film executes the premise as straight-up horror, while the 2004 remake plays it for laughs.

That phrase, "Because we can," caught my attention because I had just heard the same reasoning given by Bill Clinton to explain his affair with Monica Lewinski. Clinton claimed not to be excusing his behavior, but his mistakes reveal the easy excesses of privilege, power, and hubris. The most powerful man on earth risked his reputation and marriage for cheap sexual gratification….just because he could.

Then there is George W. Bush, currently holding the title of most powerful man on earth. I am not the first person to conclude that the most reasonable explanation for our government’s decision to invade Iraq is that, well, we are invading because we can. The war was convenient and seemed doable, protecting our access to cheap oil and providing us a base of operation to influence the Middle East. Speculation along these lines was not a secret before the war. These facts were hiding in plain sight, among other possible explanations, overshadowed by the official reasoning that Saddam Hussein posed an immediate threat with weapons of mass destruction. The alternative views passed through a media cycle before conveniently fading from our nation’s collective attention span.

During this election year, how many of us have let our leaders know how we feel—pro or con—about the policies they have implemented on our behalf? With voter turnout in Presidential elections hovering around only fifty percent of the voting age population, it is no wonder that politicians are so receptive to the influence of organized, vocal special interest groups. If we expect our leaders to represent us well, we need to make a clamor to let them know that they can’t turn their backs on the will of the people—to show them that they have to listen BECAUSE THEY CAN’T afford to ignore us.

After all, the only thing worse than being Stepfordized by force is going quietly as a willing volunteer.

Amy Tiemann is a writer and the creator of the website


This American Life, 12/20/2002, "Why We Fight"

Nicholas Lemann, The New Yorker, 9/16/2002, "The War Against What?"

Gary Leupp,, 7/2/2004, "Just Because I Could": On Obscenities and Opportunities

Clinton quote, 60 Minutes, 6/20/04