Hill of Coke

Written by Christopher Caldwell on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.

This, in

turn, led to the rampant building of thousands of pseudo-adobe structures of
brown-painted concrete, every last one of which seems dedicated to selling “authentic”
pieces of Santa Fe history and culture. The result is the very Emerald City
of bogosity. It’s what you’d get if you took the one street in a small
European tourist town where they sell overpriced postcards and crepes–and
then duplicated it block after block. Of course it’s beautiful–beautiful
to upper-middle-class Americans, since all you can do here is stuff your face
with food and buy souvenirs. It’s a mall.

But what
a mall! What food! Monkfish sausage in chocolate barbecue sauce on a bed of
watermelon-coriander polenta with a coulis of jicama-laced espresso beans–that
kind of food. And what souvenirs! Spangled sombreros, adobe kiva nightlights,
phony Indian headdresses and art, art, art. The household god of Santa Fe’s
art world is, of course, that great cartoonist of the pudendum Georgia O’Keeffe,
to whom a huge museum is dedicated. But galleries here are full of “Indian”
art, or at least the kind of art white people make when they quit their jobs
in investment banks and really start to think about Indians a lot. Much of this
art is either extremely simplistic–a piece of silver hammered into a triangle,
say, and garnished with a turquoise. But much of it, particularly the sculpture,
is extremely erotic, if we take the Soviet brutalist understanding of the word:
spear-carrying nudes with ceremonial loincloths (necessary to keep the sculptures
salable to hotel lobbies), sinewy thighs and biceps (not to mention flatter
stomachs than you usually see on the reservation), wild shastas of flowing “Indian”
hair (sometimes carbonized black), and eyes fixed as if on some radiant proletarian

And the
stuff sells like hotcakes. Needless to say, it bears little resemblance to the
nifty little jewelry and boxes the actual Indians bring to town for the Indian
market. Still, there’s evidence of the local Indians buying into the idea
of Indian-ness promulgated by the tourist culture. How to put this? With their
actual ethnic identity weakening, they follow the logic of Samuel Huntington’s
Clash of Civilizations, and cast their lot with a wider race-group, as
represented in the mass media. It’s like the way certain Central African
immigrants to Europe neither maintain the customs of their old countries nor
adopt the customs of their new ones, but rather assimilate to the American black
culture they recognize from music videos. You see them all over Paris with their
baseball hats, their basketball sneakers and their rap music.

In New Mexico,
certain actual Indian shops sell shirts and fabrics with pictures of totem
on them–even though the Indians who built those live 1000 miles
north of here. Several groups of locals were playing Indian music on street
corners and store fronts–not the Southwestern hoonka-hinka-hunka-hoo stuff,
but the pan-flute-and-cuatro ballads of the Indians of Bolivia.
This ought to be a lesson for Easterners, who tend to see multiculturalism as
the project of statist busybodies. Out here, it’s more a tendency
that’s wholly compatible with the free market. In a place like Santa Fe,
ethnic caricatures are just profitable.

Coke Is It
was big political news around here last week. First was the primary for president–of
the Jicarilla Apaches. Second was a huge prison riot at the nearby Torrance
County Detention Facility, which ended in gunfire. Since that facility is privately
run, the state is in a (long-overdue) uproar over private prisons. And, last
Thursday, four kids playing Hacky Sack on the Santa Fe Plaza were arrested for
violating a 1995 ordinance that bans games involving kicking or tossing. “This
is a complete abuse of power under a tyrannical government,” 16-year-old
Simon Constable told the Santa Fe New Mexican.

right of course. But, amazingly enough, New Mexicans still had a lot of attention
to spare for the back-and-forth over George W. Bush’s cocaine use. From
this distance, it looked like two awful things happened to Bush on that front.
First, at a succession of press conferences, journalists discovered the logic
that would allow them to ask about coke until the cows came home: Just dwell
on government drug policy and Bush’s standing to administer it. Once they
got the hang of this logic, the skill with which they deployed it increased
hour by hour.

That spelled
the end of Bush’s jolly and charming dismissals, like, “When I was
young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.” For me–and
probably for most of the journalists trying to grill him into a Pulitzerburger–that’s
a fair enough policy. The problem is: That’s not the policy of the federal
. No: the policy is to take kids who are “young and irresponsible”
and send them to places like the Torrance County Detention Facility.

campaign spokesman Scott McClellan was resorting desperately to the Nixon-Clinton
Re-Ask: “What he may or may not have done in the past is not the question
we should be asking,” McClellan said. “It is, ‘Has he learned
from his mistakes?’” Oh, really? Is that the question we ask 19-year-olds
caught with a quarter-gram of coke at their sentencing hearings? Has that been
George Bush’s standard as governor of Texas?

Bush said was working. “It’s important for us to set examples,”
was a line he tried at one point. “And this kind of collective guilt of
Baby Boomers trying to confess on the public altar what they may or may not
have done sends bad signals to your children and my children and other people’s
children.” But here the wish was father to the thought. No one was talking
about “collective guilt.” No one was worried that “The Baby Boom”
had tried cocaine.

The second
setback, though, was self-inflicted. In Roanoke, Bush engaged the cocaine rumors
by saying he could have passed the background check on coke during his father’s
administration. This turned the speculation into a fun math game that ordinary
tv viewers could play. And they did! It was kind of like Bill Clinton’s
saying, in response to a marijuana question, that he had “never broken
the laws of this country,” which only sent people to their atlases to plot
out the foreign countries where the then-candidate had lived. Suddenly last
week, Americans were saying, “Okay, if George Sr. got inaugurated in ’89,
and if you subtract 15 years, and …” Really, the only remaining question
is just how recently he was leaning over some dirtball friend’s
glass-top table with a rolled-up dollar bill in his hand.

Bush, particularly
at his question time in Columbus, looked like Clinton in stunning ways. It wasn’t
just his bid to summon Clintonesque powers of evasion merely by invoking Clinton’s
very own “politics of personal destruction” formula. But also all
the tics: The sudden hypertrophy of his Southern accent, that “ah wouldna
… Ahma gwan tell yew…” delivery. The fake, just-thought-of-that giggle.
The very slow, continuous nodding, as if to say, “I’m agreeing
with myself–why aren’t you?”

Bush has
taken the only path possible: If he admits to having done coke, he’s dead.
But this is the Clintonite path, the path of one who (for whatever reason) cannot
give a straight answer. No matter what the polls say–and they say he’s
slipping in New Hampshire–this looks like bad business. Worst for the Bushies
is that the Clinton-Gore team is unlikely to declare its solidarity and take
pity on a fellow victim of the “politics of personal destruction.”
Au contraire. One can assume that somewhere in some federal agency’s
pipeline is a major, newsmaking federal study on “role models and cocaine
use,” destined to detonate around–oh, around September 2000 or so.