Battling Our Greatest Fear

By Danny Elfman
Huffington Post, 2008.11.09

About a month ago, I found myself dropping into an all too familiar pre-election depression. I was having dinner with my wife, a writer and a journalist friend. The jovial topic of discussion was where we were thinking of moving when McCain-Palin won and the inevitable Supreme Court changes occurred. My wife and I had discussed England and my friend informed me that she and her husband had considered New Zealand.
Yes. It had seemed that bleak. Am I a pessimist? Yes, I am. That's the way I'm wired. And the last two presidential elections really nailed it for me -- big time. The Republicans, had in my opinion gotten too big, too nasty, mean spirited and ruthless to be stopped. They were able to "copyright" the word FEAR and use it again and again to effectively hammer the American public. And the Democrats, it seemed, had become too easy to attack. Like a mismatched boxing opponent in a ring with no referee, their reactions were too slow, leaving them open to low groin shots and head butts.
In short, the Dems seemed to make lousy fighters.
In my view, Karl Rove and his buddies had changed the playing field forever in the battle for the White House. And the Democratic Party, even after two blown elections, had not yet learned to adjust to the new playing field and the new rules.
Watching how the Republicans worked, it appeared that while running against Kerry, Bush would run one campaign and the Republican Party would support it with a more direct and lower aiming complimentary campaign, while the 527 groups would be the covert special ops swooping in and aiming for the guts.
And so, there I was at dinner during that time when a tremendous barrage of horrific lies and distortions were raining down on Obama from all directions. And I wanted to know why wasn't I seeing any direct response ads to hit back? Was it just that we Democrats simply weren't wired that way?
I was impressed with Obama consistently taking the high road. That's who he is, and that's what he should be doing. But where was that ground level support? And I couldn't help falling into that awful deja vu sensation of complete frustration and helplessness.
The bottom line is this -- it got me thinking. I'd given all the money I could and I still wasn't feeling any better. And my constant complaining and the pessimistic storm cloud that was following me around was bringing my wife, and my whole family down. Even my dog seemed morose.
What ensued was an all night internal argument that echoed and ping-ponged around my brain until I had to get up and leave for New York in the morning. By the time I landed I had more or less come to the conclusion that why couldn't I, an ordinary bum, do SOMETHING! ANYTHING rather than sit and whine.
I began making phone calls and sending out emails. Lots of them. I started with my daughter Lola, who worked with a political consulting agency, and I began to slowly get an education on what's involved in creating a political ad. I knew what the first message was that I wanted to get out there. It was not an original idea. It's what everybody I knew talked about all the time. It was easy.
Sarah Palin was my worst nightmare.
It was like experiencing a real-life reenactment of the movie The Omen. Not that I literally thought Sarah Palin was Damien with a 666 birthmark on her scalp, but it still felt like some kind of terrible pre-ordained horror. Worse -- a person who thought that "seeing" Russian land in the distance gave her an edge on international relations? A person who believed that men walked with dinosaurs when the world began 6000 years ago? Worse. The idea that person who believed that the "End of Days" would likely happen in her lifetime would possess the launch codes for enough firepower to actually bring that Armageddon to fruition without God's help. The personification of the repressive, small-minded extreme religious right in the driver's seat of the racecar called Earth!
Uh uh. No way.
President Palin; "one heartbeat away". It was a message that I'd seen dozens of versions of on YouTube, but they weren't getting onto people's TVs in their homes. That's the only place you can effectively get a message to a person who might be on the fence. My cursory research showed that there were many McCain supporters and undecided voters who felt the same discomfort level that we did with Palin. They were the ones who I wanted to connect with.
I won't go into how difficult it really is to begin a political non-profit group, to understand the myriad of rules and regulations, the differences of 527 groups and PAC organizations. It's really boring....'nough said on that.
But once started, it was hard to stop. And suffice it to say, it was a great relief for my wife to see me doing something that both shut me up with my constant whining and seemed to have snapped me out of the terrible hopeless mental state I had fallen into.
So here we are a month later, with a TV ad and internet ad and a PAC called And it's interesting to see how this message is even more relevant now that the Palin effect has mushroomed to such monumental proportions.
And who the hell am I trying to jump into politics like this? Am I smarter than everyone else? No, I am most definitely not.
Am I arrogant and egotistical enough to imagine that I could actually change the course of the election? Of course not.
I was driven by this crazy idea that I might, at the very best, make a tiny, tiny dent in a giant iron-plated machine, like attacking an army tank with a hammer.
But, more than that, I was driven by the possibility that MAYBE, just maybe I was one of many independent people and groups who, like myself, were doing something. And that MAYBE, if enough hammers were going at once, then just MAYBE that dent might become a bigger dent. And if we were extremely lucky, we might actually open a small crack in that machine.
I guess this is what it must have felt like in some tiny isolated trench in one of the world wars when some small tenacious group fought without having any knowledge of whether or not they were having even the most insignificant effect, but held to the hope that there were many others out there doing the same thing and though no single shot could end the war, many shots coming from many directions might.
And that was my whole goal. Absurd as it may seem. To take a one tiny shot from a different direction and hope that it was one of many, coming from all directions.
I will be the first to admit, shamefully, that I am an extremely reclusive and self-centered individual who gets completely and hopelessly lost in his work... the kind of person who would sit in his basement obliviously writing music while the world came crumbling down around him.
And I must admit that, until now, I've never felt the call to do anything remotely like this, something that was for a "common good" in such an abstract way, something that had no "gain" or "upside" for me. In fact, I've been fearful that all I'm likely to do is bring down a mountain of shit on my family and me. And I may very well look back on this from some point in the future as the dumbest thing I ever did...
But I still had to try.
And finally... This is the big one. I know things look good now, much better than they did a month ago when I began all of this. The Democratic Party has really pulled itself together and I'm actually proud of them. And, as expected, Obama has run an amazing, even inspiring campaign. But I still am who I am. The race is still too close and the stakes too high and I still expect the worst and won't relax a second until Nov. 4th.
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