ITíS ALREADY COLD in Troupsburg, New York, on the Pennsylvania border just southwest of Elmira, one of the reddest areas of a very blue state. Comedian, author, and activist Barry Crimmins ó a founding father of Bostonís comedy scene, an Air America Radio writer and commentator, and a long-time Phoenix contributor ó is trying valiantly to stay warm at his home there, despite the icy prospect of four more years of George W. Bush in the White House. Heís stoking the fire (metaphorically) with Never Shake Hands with a War Criminal (Seven Stories Press), his recently released collection of 26 short essays, several of which were first published in these pages. The book is part memoir, part political history, and part social criticism, offered with a good measure of biting humor.
When the 51-year-old Crimmins lets loose on the Bush administration, lambasting one injustice before veering off to the next, you may forget that the foundation of his career has been making people laugh. But then he slips in a wry assessment here and an idealistic hope there, and you remember that no matter how frosty it gets, Crimmins will keep giving us reasons to smile.
Never Shake Hands with a War Criminal (the title war criminal being Henry Kissinger, by the way) has come out just in time for the holidays ó the ideal consolation gift for the discouraged liberals on your list, or the perfect bait for potential converts. We checked in with the author and got his views on the left, the Bushies, disenfranchisement, electoral politics, and finding comfort in the long view of history.
Q: You compare the Bush administrationís first term with the torment of long, cold winters in your hometown of Skaneateles, in central New York. It looks like weíre in for another frigid four years ó whatís been going through your mind since Election Day?
A: Thoughts of glaciers and ice ages have crossed my mind. But fortunately Iíve had a job to do, writing for Randi Rhodes and Air America, so Iíve had to ó itís odd ó remain distracted by remaining connected and continuing to fight.
I think weíre in a very dangerous situation now, where I honestly believe the majority of the people in this country are being told theyíre in a minority. And that they donít hold the dominant view. I mean, I guess the view is dominant, but the preponderance ó their view is in the minority. I really donít think most of the country are reactionary, evangelical lunatics. Thatís sort of a fascist situation, where youíre telling most of the country that theyíre out of step with the country. So itís scary. And itís also scary, now. This administration ó anything that could even pass for adult supervision is gone now.
Q: Like Colin Powell?
A: Yeah, people who at least feel guilty when they lie. So itís gonna be tough, but weíve been through other tough things before. You know, people thought it was over for good after Nixonís big win in í72. These people are really arrogant. Pride goeth before a fall ó look out below. All we can do is play it as they lie.
Q: Speaking of Nixon ó in the essay that begat the title of your book, you write about standing up to pure evil by not shaking hands with Henry Kissinger when you ran into him in a CNN Green Room in 1988. How can we stand up to todayís evil?
A: Well, I mean, I would like to think anybody ó when pure evilís cut off and just by itself ó by itself itís just this little man, whoís scared and realizes that heís vulnerable. Being able to summon the drastic resources that he had at his fingertips over the years, heís very big and scary. But by himself he was just a man. And I as myself was just another man. I ran into him, and I didnít like that man, and for once the situation wasnít rigged for Kissinger, and he just looked like a little scared guy. It wasnít like I was standing up to him at a state dinner or anything.
Q: What would happen if you ran into Bush or Vice-President Dick Cheney?
A: In other words, are they war criminals? Hell yes, they are. Iím not going to back off that. This needless war is a crime. Clearly these people have no qualms about anything. I mean, the United States of America has been caught torturing people under their watch. They have little or no respect for the principles of the flag they wrap themselves in ó supposedly stand for. They donít believe in elections. Their entire keep-out-the-vote effort in this election was really clear. But then again, if you look at how they handle themselves internationally, why would you expect them to be any different here?
Look at what theyíve tried to do in Venezuela; why would they care about free elections here? They donít. They donít care about it; they did everything they could to keep out the vote. Thereís all this really questionable stuff with all this electronic voting thatís just insane. And they donít care. Theyíre just snickering. Theyíre just fixers. Theyíre dirty ó I think theyíre fascists.
Q: So are you still holding out hope that investigators will discover suspicious election activity in Ohio?
A: What would be nice is to discover the true intent of the voters throughout the country. Including a lot of places where I think they probably padded the total with this electronic voting. Maybe Bush really did win this election. But thereís so much sleazy stuff that happened ó and there was such an effort to keep people from voting, to keep people from their voting rights, I mean, unbelievably questionable things that happened with this electronic voting, I mean, all kinds of shifty stuff all over the place ó that no matter what happens, no oneís ever gonna know if he won this election or not.
So as far as Iím concerned, George W. Bush will never serve one day as legitimate president of the United States. If he had any guts ó which he doesnít ó but if he had the guts he likes to pretend he has, he would have gone out there and found out for sure. But why bother, when you can fix it or at least attempt to skew it dramatically. And the keep-out-the-vote effort was at least an attempt to skew it. It was also an admission, as far as Iím concerned, that they didnít think they could win a fair election. Kerry and the Democrats tried to get out every vote they could, which was an indication that they thought they could win a fair election. Thatís the difference. I think that in and of itself is telling.
So after that, to be told that Iím part of this minority, and Iíd better change things around, I better start thinking differently, kowtow more to these superstitious evangelicals ó you know, people who actually give Christianity a bad name. Iím not going to go along with that. So thereís a lot to do over the next four years. And from a cynical, personal viewpoint, you know, this doesnít hurt my business at all. But I feel bad. I would rather that I was the person put out of work rather than however million people are either going to be put out of work or be working somewhere a lot worse, under a lot worse circumstances.page 1 page 2
Issue Date: December 3 - 9, 2004
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