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The Truth, Mainly - 05/18/1992

'Bigot' appears to be on the road to recovery — or is he?

I need help. I'm a bigot and I'm having a terrible time overcoming my bigotry.

I'm bigoted against California—not the whole state, just the thick-air section south of a line 20 miles north of Santa Barbara and extending 60 miles inland from the coast. And I'm bigoted against Reagan-Bush people—not everyone who voted for them, but their handlers, their spin doctors, their apologists who refuse to see things as clearly as I do.

"You know what we need to do with those people?" I say to phone-in talk shows late at night. "We need to lure them into Southern California, then hermetically seal the border. Nobody in, nobody out."

"Thank you," the talk shows say. "Next caller, you're on the air."

I trace my bigotry back to my boyhood when some relatives moved to a suburb of L.A. In Kansas, they'd been warm and funny and charming, but after they crossed into California, somewhere between Barstow and the east edge of San Bernardino, the thick air caused their mental circuits to blow. They turned into what later would be known as Reagan-Bush people. But not long ago, they all moved north of San Francisco, cleared their heads, and became warm and funny and charming again.

It's that possibility of self-reform that's had me recently trying to give Southern California and Reagan-Bush people the benefit of the doubt. So when I read last month about the woman in Santa Ana who set her husband on fire because he ate a chocolate Easter bunny she'd bought for herself, I didn't say "Southern California. What do you expect of those people?" I said "Golly, she probably had a lousy childhood in Oklahoma. She was probably that way when she came to California."

Then there was the New York Times story about how, four days before the 1988 election, a federal prison inmate said he was going to hold a press conference to announce he'd sold marijuana to Danny Quayle. The director of the Bureau of Prisons in Washington ordered the guy thrown into solitary confinement until after the election. But I didn't say "Reagan-Bush appointee. What do you expect from those people?" I said "Gee, solitary confinement isn't so bad if you get out right after the election."

So I'm trying. But I need help. Because just about the time I get my bigotry under control, things happen, things get said.

Like the Southern California jury's decision to acquit the four cops we saw whacking hell out of Rodney King on the videotape. If some of the jury hadn't told uswhythey acquitted, I might have said "Gosh, the jury must have found out the beating was staged. The nightsticks must have been Styrofoam. The bruises and fractures must have been special effects."

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But then one of the jury members said they acquitted because Rodney King was "in full control" of what we saw on the tape. Another said "Rodney King was not being abused. Rodney King was directing the action."

And the President's press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, came up with a Reagan-Bush explanation for the riots that followed the acquittal: he blamed them on the social welfare programs of the 1960s. You remember—Headstart, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid, the Job Corps, that sort of thing.

I was already twitchy about Mr. Fitzwater's explanation of the Reagan-Bush fund-raiser the night before the acquittal. It was in Washington and it was called "The President's Dinner" and it raised $9 million. The New York Times said guests contributed from $1,500 to $400,000 each for a "sliding scale" of privilege. For $15,000 they got to sit with a congressman; for $92,000 they got their picture taken with the President.

Then Mr. Fitzwater, with what the Times called "startling candor," told us what it all meant: the donors were "buying access to the system. That's what the political parties and the political operation is all about….You're buying into the process."

"Plutocracy," I whisper to the mailman as he hands me my junk. "Fatcattery. Rule by the rich. Even the Reagan-Bush PR guy admits it. No wonder poor people are rioting."

He gives me a nervous little smile and edges away.

"And you know what I bet?" I yell at him—he's two houses down by now and walking fast. "I bet a lot of Reagan-Bush people think Southern California air's just grand! I bet they'd like to see it blow circuits everywhere! I bet it's part of the campaign strategy!"

(I'm out of control now. Somebody stop me. Call the Anti-Defamation League. I need help.)


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.


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