David McElroy is a writer and filmmaker in Birmingham, Ala., who plans to become benevolent dictator of the world just as soon as he recruits enough devoted minions to make it happen. He’s been a journalist, political consultant and small business owner. He’s widely considered the worst housekeeper on the face of the planet, and it’s rumored that the local Health Department has been trying to condemn his place for years. This is probably part of the reason he lives alone — with more animals than he’s willing to publicly admit to.
Award-winning journalist Zeke Dalrymple recently interviewed McElroy to give readers an intimate portrait of a very strange man.
Q: (Zeke) I gotta ask you right up front. When were you a prostitute? You’re too ugly for women to pay, so I’m confused.
A: (David) Not that kind of prostitute, Zeke. For years, when people have asked me what I do for a living, my standard joke has been that I was a political prostitute, because I was doing something that involved people paying me money to do whatever they wanted to get them elected. It’s been dangerously close to the truth. I was still pretty idealistic when I started as a political consultant, but what I saw along the way made me more and more cynical. There have been a few clients along the way that I’ve liked and respected, but not many.
Q: (Zeke) So you’ve really been a political consultant? What do they do?
A: (David) There are all kinds of consultants in politics. They’re basically hired guns who are brought into campaigns to help a candidate get elected. My specialty has been printed material, especially direct mail. We call it junk mail, but that’s a huge part of what gets candidates elected at a local level. I’ve mostly worked with legislative and local candidates, but I’ve done a bit of work for gubernatorial and congressional campaigns. I don’t really want to do it anymore, because I don’t believe in it — for lots of reasons.
Q: (Zeke) Are you telling me you’ve been working on political campaigns for about 20 years, but you’re telling other people to give up on politics? Are you a hypocrite or what?
A: (David) Yep, you could see it that way. I prefer to see it as a matter of me trying to help people see something that it’s taken me a couple of decades to figure out. The political system in this country is like our civic religion. When you criticize it, people react emotionally. They’ve been indoctrinated to love it for as long as they can remember. It was a slow process for me to realize that it was the wrong way to pursue change, so I’ve finally gotten to the point that I have to share what I’ve learned. If politics is our state religion, I’m like a preacher of that civic religion who’s seen the truth and lost his faith.
Q: (Zeke) So are you saying you’re smarter than everybody else? Are you the only one who’s got it figured out?
A: (David) Of course not. It took me 20 years to understand something that a lot of people knew years ago. That sounds pretty dumb to me.
Q: (Zeke) Hmmmm. Well, I’m supposed to ask you questions that’ll let people get to know you. Should I ask you embarrassing questions or throw softballs?
A: (David) How about somewhere in the middle?
Q: (Zeke) Let’s talk filmmaking. You made a short film that made it into 20 film festivals and won a few awards. Didn’t the libertarians like that one?
A: (David) Yes, it was pretty popular popular with libertarians. Democrats and Republicans each liked parts of it, but got upset with the parts they disagreed with.
Q: (Zeke) If you’re not really into politics, why did you make such a political film?
A: (David) Honestly, I didn’t set out to make a political film when I made that one. I set out to make a funny film. It just so happened that the idea I came up with was very political. I still love the idea and I’m mostly happy with the execution, but I’d say my thinking is even more overtly anti-state than it was when I made that in 2005.
Q: (Zeke) But isn’t it true that you just made that more as a love letter to a woman? Weren’t you just trying to impress someone?
A: (David) Sort of, but not exactly. I’d wanted to make the film already, but actually getting it done was definitely influenced by a woman. I’d even scheduled shooting once and then canceled because of various issues before she came along. I’d been wanting to make a film for 15 years, but I hadn’t been brave enough to take the risk. It’s true that I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to making it if I hadn’t had the incentive of wanting to impress a woman. I didn’t realize that at the time, but, yeah, it’s true.
Q: (Zeke) Are you going to make any more films? Or are you a one-hit wonder?
A: (David) I wouldn’t call what I’ve done so far a hit, really, but I do hope to make more films. I have a number of ideas, some of which make political points and some of which are completely apolitical. I’d mostly like to be funny, but I can’t help but let my views about government and the world creep into the work.
Q: (Zeke) So what happened to that girl?
A: (David) What girl?
Q: (Zeke) Don’t play dumb. What happened to the one you made the film for? Did you impress her? Are y’all married now?
A: (David) Ummmm. Let’s move on to the next subject, please.
Q: (Zeke) I have a girl back in Walker County I can introduce you to, but I don’t think she has all of her teeth anymore. Is that a problem?
A: (David) Thanks, Zeke. I’m single, but I’ll just keep looking on my own. I have a strong preference for women with a full set of teeth.
Q: (Zeke) OK, but having all your teeth is really overrated. You’re just too picky. That’s what you are. Anyway, where are you from? (I already know, but the schmucks reading this might care.)
A: (David) My childhood was in about half a dozen places, generally in the South. I’ve lived in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi and Maryland.
Q: (Zeke) Maryland’s not in the South, you know?
A: (David) True. When I was a kid, we were in a suburb of DC for about a year. I don’t remember much from there. I ended up in a little town near Birmingham by the time I was about 13, and I lived there through my college years at the University of Alabama.
Q: (Zeke) What did you study down there? Were you just all about the football or did you go to class sometimes?
A: (David) My class attendance habits weren’t the best, but it didn’t have anything to do with football. Maybe it was more laziness. As for what I studied, I was all over the chart. I seemed to change majors just about every semester — journalism, political science, film/television production, history. I even considered physics and philosophy, but I have no idea why. Some of the things I did then made little sense. For instance, one semester I even tried to take Latin — as an independent study. That was pretty stupid. I dropped it. I think most of the professors were happy when I slinked out of town to take a job managing a newspaper newsroom.
Q: (Zeke) If you were an animal, what kind would you be?
A: (David) What kind of a question is that?
Q: (Zeke) Barbara Walters asked stupid questions sometimes, so I do it, too, to throw people off. So what kind of animal would you be?
A: (David) I don’t know. A cat or dog. I’ve had a bunch of those.
Q: (Zeke) That’s kind of boring. You’ve got to do better if you want me to stick around with this.
A: (David) Well, ask better questions. You’re putting me to sleep, Zeke. You’re supposed to be award-winning and hard-hitting.
Q: (Zeke) OK. How about this? If you don’t like the political system, what do you want to replace it with?
A: (David) I don’t want to replace it with anything. That’s the point. I want people to develop their own systems and alternatives. We’ve had enough top-down approaches. First we had random kings and other dictators who claimed the right to make decisions and control people. Then we had democracy come along and say it’s OK for someone at the top to make decisions and control people, as long as everybody got to vote about it. That’s just replacing one dictator for another. What I want is for people to slowly, organically figure out and organize new systems of their own. You might have a bunch of people get together in one area and live in a commune, sort of like socialists, but voluntary. You might have other people buy some land and build a city to run like a Disney World type place, except as a city instead of an amusement part. There are all sorts of models that might develop. In the meantime, as long as we’re stuck with a system that’s dysfunctional and asserts the right to control you, the question becomes how to stay under the radar of the system and live with as much freedom as the coercive political system will let you get away with. Whatever time or money you might devote to politics, devote it to building something instead. Build a business. Build a family. Build a place to escape to when things get bad here. Every minute you spend on the political process here is a minute that you’re taking away from building your own future.
Q: (Zeke) That doesn’t sound very patriotic. Don’t you love America?
A: (David) I love my home, but I love my future family and my self interest more than I love any imagined obligation to obey someone else and do what a state teaches me to do.
Q: (Zeke) You’re not making sense. There’s going to be a government anyway, so shouldn’t you try to influence who gets elected?
A: (David) First, I don’t believe that any state has the right to force any peaceful person to obey its will, so I don’t want to contribute toward the legitimacy of that state, even if I recognize that I have to obey it in order to stay out of jail. It’s like paying protection money to the mob. It’s not right, even if it’s the only way to exist. But even if you believe the state has a legitimate right to control people, the idea that your vote can change anything is a mathematical fantasy. You’re much smarter to be working on an escape plan than to be trying to beg the state not to control you quite so much.
Q: (Zeke) So why are you doing this website? Are you just trying to sell people on believing this same nonsense you believe?
A: (David) I’m not trying to talk people into anything. I’m looking for people who already see the world this way and want to help figure out how to live that way. If anybody who’s reading doesn’t agree — and then becomes convinced — that’s fine. But that’s not my purpose. I can’t argue anybody into believing anything against his will. I don’t even want to. I just want to find people who’re like-minded on this issue. Maybe we can help each other figure out sane futures — without the state getting in the way.
Q: (Zeke) I still don’t understand this, but I’ve got to go soon. I’m due to host SwapShop on the radio in just a little while. That’s our top-rated show, you know.
A: (David) OK. We’ll talk again another time. Maybe I can explain it better later. Thanks for stopping by, Zeke.
Zeke Dalrymple is an award-winning journalist with WDUM radio in Jasper, Ala. He grew up in Jasper, but traveled far for college when Ochita College of Kayoe, Hawaii, offered him a fencing scholarship. He was captain of the fencing team at Ochita, and he still holds a league record from a match during his senior year in which he laid 3.7 miles of fence in just eight hours. After receiving a double major in speech communication and women’s studies, he returned to his hometown, where his voice has become familiar to listeners on shows ranging from fan favorites such as SwapShop and Just Kiddin’ Around to the hard-hitting journalism of What’s Goin’ On. He has no political biases or beliefs of his own, preferring to champion the common sense of whatever is popular with his listeners at any given moment. He and his wife, Gertrude, have a dog, a cat and one and a half children.