Seattle is an island of crazy liberalism in the state.
—GOP State Party Chair Chris Vance, The Seattle Times, Nov. 7
OUR ISOLATION IS keenly felt in the wake of the election. We find ourselves in an America where the White House, Congress, and the judiciary are snugly in the hands of the Republicans. The only place where Democrats still hold sway is in a small corner of the imagination. On The West Wing, President Josiah Bartlet romped to re-election over a Dubya-style empty suit, gaining the right to rule an imaginary America. Yet there's even trouble in fantasyland: The sharp drop in The West Wing's ratings this fall were perhaps a harbinger of what the real-world off-year election was about to deliver.
Seattle is a lonely blue island in red-sea America—shaded by the sheltering Space Needle that sways like a solitary palm in a New Yorker castaway cartoon. But which island are we? There are so many choices:
Fantasy Island: That's the place where the vegan inhabitants imagine that the Democrats lost because they were not liberal enough. Here, in the deep Green jungle, you hear whispered "I told you so"s. Fantasy Islanders believe that America is just waiting to be freed from its own selfish timidity. They take it as an article of faith that when things get bad enough, the slumbering giant of socialism will awaken. Look, eets dee plane, dee plane! When it lands (it probably will be an Airbus), Fantasy Islanders will lead us all to an enlightened future that looks a lot like Canada. It never occurs to them that if we wanted Canada, it would be easier just to hop aboard the Victoria Clipper.
Treasure Island: This is the Gold Coast archipelago that is ever eager to tax itself, regardless of consequence. The inhabitants take it as an article of faith— indeed, it is almost a religious rite—to pay taxes and support worthy causes, with "worthy" being defined as whatever makes it onto the ballot. On this island, "yes" votes grow in bunches like bananas, and price is no object: billions for rail here, billions for monorail there, cost overruns, deficits, $6 million for portable potties—it's all good. Everything seems like a bargain on this pricey rock where starter-bungalow-fixer- uppers are $300,000—and that's before you deal with the backyard toxic waste. But tossing some coin toward problems is good karma. In fact, the whole state benefits from the tax base and generous ways of these friendly islanders. Sadly, island largesse isn't always reciprocated by those who live on the mainland, despite having ferry boats named after them.
The Island of Dr. Moreau: This is a scary place where weird political creatures mingle and mate in a mongrelized world of Darwin gone mad. Here, monorail voters try to kill other forms of mass transit; environmentalist politicians vote for more freeways; greens ally with anti-tax Republicans; Democratic labor leaders jump the bones of building-lobby knuckle draggers; and ber-hybrid Tim Eyman terrorizes all. Have I mentioned the zombies who run the school district and the electric company? The only worse place is Olympia, where the inhabitants have lost the ability to make sausage, so they eat their young while the colonial governor tends to his paperwork (call him Lord of the Files).
Gilligan's Island: This is the tiny atoll where the beefy Skipper is stranded at City Hall without any resources. What was supposed to be a three-hour spending spree has turned into a tide of red ink. Each week, the Skipper and his sidekicks try to scheme their way out of a fiscal mess and are sometimes aided—but often thwarted—by the lovable Seafair Clowns and Pirates on the City Council: Ginger, the Professor, Heidi, and the rest. Every episode, his castaway crew begs the Skipper for help. Can he spare a fire engine or a bridge loan made of coconuts? But the Skipper says there are only so many coconuts to go around, and he needs them for his own priorities. He calls that policy The Skipper's Way. Understand, little buddy?
Road Island: Almost large enough to be a state, this one-time paradise is now choked with traffic. Its infrastructure is delicate, especially for being smack-dab in an earthquake zone: floating bridges, potholed byways, and a leaning viaduct that might soon match the tower in Pisa. Despite all the inconveniences, the streets are clogged with cars driven by inhabitants too stubborn to use alternative forms of transport. And it's a good thing, too, because if everyone rode bikes or took the bus, the local government would go bankrupt. There wouldn't be any traffic tickets or parking fines to fill island coffers.
Mysterious Island: This refers to a strange, pervasive phenomenon in this spooky, mist-shrouded place. Stuff just seems to happen, even if the natives don't want it to. Third runways are built despite environmental concerns; multimillion-dollar parking garages pop up in "blighted" neighborhoods; stadiums are built even when people object; tourists flood downtown, disgorged from cruise ships that no one remembers inviting. And did I mention the Tukwila Triangle that swallowed light rail? The mayor swore rail would be laid six months after he took office, but it's been almost a year and no sign. They say it's a train to nowhere. Which makes sense on an island, I guess. Many of the city's politicians are riding it to oblivion.