Saturday, 6 November 2004

Moving forward

America has made a grievous error.

I'm not going to spend much effort analyzing why. As Matthew Yglesias notes, "these things are multicausal. Elections are complicated." When elections are very close it's easy enough to make the argument that the results hinged on one particular cause (e.g., the Massachusetts gay marriage court decision), but there are dozens of factors that moved significant chunks of votes one way or another. It's simplistic to single out one or two as being crucial.

I was surprised by the result. Nonetheless the best I was hoping for was a 52-47 break for Kerry. Either way we're talking about closely split electorate. A real surprise would have been for either candidate to have a 10 point victory. It's really remarkable how the media pundits imbue the opinions and feelings of what's really a small minority of voters - those voting for the first time, or those who remained on the fence until the end - with so much meaning. Of course they are very important, because they have a great deal to do with the ultimate result. But let us not confuse their decision with the decision of the country at large. An overwhelming majority of Americans voted the way they had planned to vote two years ago, even before we knew who the Democratic nominee would be.

Too much of all that; what now?

In the last several years millions of progressives have made connections through organizations like MoveOn, Democracy for America, and countless other issues oriented groups which have been energized by a commitment to fighting against disturbing trends in our nation's governance. As awful as a continued Bush presidency is likely to be, it does provide a nucleus around which to rally our resolve. Bush may talk about reaching out to those who voted for his opponent, but the fact remains that his agenda for this country remains an anathema to many of us who value economic justice, stewardship of the environment, respect for various cultures, scientific inquiry unburdened by the agenda of profiteers, consumer protection, and world peace.

But let's be honest. Many if not most of Bush's supporters share a large portion of those values, and earnestly believe we are mistaken about how best to get there. If what is heard most from the 'left' is how stupid and ignorant the yahoos that voted for Bush are, then we will marginalize ourselves, and give credence to mockery from the other side. Plenty of intelligent and compassionate people made a weighted decision that the country would be better off with Bush than with Kerry. Plenty of them don't even particularly like Bush. Attacking Bush's supporters is simply counterproductive. Attacking the 'religious right' generically as zealous hypocrites, when they know themselves, and know that they do care about the less fortunate in our society, and even in poor nations around the world, simply cements their belief that we are the arrogant know-it-alls who don't, in fact, know it all.

What needs to happen instead is to focus investigation on policy and its effect. Bush will be able to enact a great deal of legislation in the next four years which will have deleterious effects on many undeserving victims. We will need to find those stories and tell them, relentlessly. We will be well served to be civil in our discourse, but we need not avoid harshness when it's warranted. And I'm afraid it will be frequently warranted. We need to define our alternative policies and get our representatives to vote for them. Filibusters may be occasionally appropriate, but if they become the order of the day, Democrats will just be seen as obstructionists and lose further ground in Congress in 2006. It is better to vote against the bad bills and lose, and let the blame rest squarely where it belongs when the results of those bills come home to roost. There's no particular reason to believe bipartisanship will be strong in the next four years. Alliances with moderates across the aisle could be important in removing some of the worst pieces of legislation, but I don't hold out much faith for that being a major source of solace.

We also must continue the organization and movement that is now one of the strongest progressive movements America has ever known. We have tools at our disposal, and the Bill of Rights has not yet been overturned. If the administration overreaches in stifling our free speech rights, I still believe a majority of Americans will cry foul, even if they don't agree with our speech.

The arts will remain a major source of free expression, and one that can reach across ideological boundaries. We should expect an explosion of activity from creative people the world over, whether it's street theater, web humor, public poetry slams, or more conventional writing and theater presentations.

Personally, I will continue my crusade to push the point that reasonable people can have radical ideas, and society can benefit by synthesizing wisdom from disparate perspectives. Good people abound throughout society, including positions of influence in government or the boardrooms of industry. Alliances with these people are essential in keeping our hope alive.

The results of this election are a bitter disappointment. Some grieving is appropriate. But as I keep hear people saying, tomorrow the sun will still rise. People will still strive to move forward and great hope always remains. In the coming months, I plan to start featuring profiles of heroes and sages, both of our time and of times past. These people who persevered through monumental hardship to accomplish great strides provide enormous inspiration to those of us who may see obstacles to our progress as overwhelming.

Keep the faith!


-epm said...

First of all, I wish I had your steady, calm demeanor. I find reading your blog very centering.

Over the past day or so, through the cathartic release of my own blogging, I've begun to think more calmly; more constructively. I tore pretty quickly through the stages of grief: Denial, Anger... skipped right over Bargaining and went right to Depression. Now I'm at Acceptance. And with acceptance comes more rational thought.

The fact that we are only given two viable candidates from which to choose will, by definition, divided the country. It's academic, nothing more. Real division is not that there is a virtual 50-50 split between the two candidates, but rather the gap in visions between the two. Real division is measured in the size of the gap, not the fact there is one.

There may well be a core of common values among those who supported Bush and those who supported Kerry. But I'm concerned about the far right wing politicos in the Republican party that, year after year, have become less the fringe and more the core. I don't know how this can be more evident than in who the Republican party has offered up as their standard bearers this time around, in the likes of John Thune in South Dakota and Tom Coburn in Oklahoma, for example. These are people committed to a win-at-all-costs agenda, not to constructive dialog and compromise. And you see it even now with Bush choosing to make anti-gay marriage an issue in the first days of his second term.

It would be nice if reasonable people could come together and have a conversation, to find ways for our mutual goals to be realized in a civilized manner. But I don't think the leaders and godfathers of the Republican party want that. Indeed, what I hear is a winner-take-all, we don't have to listen to the "losers" mentality. And the media is perfectly happy to pander the the power brokers.

In order to build a Coalition of the Reasonable, we will have to work at the grassroots and local level where it's harder to see your opponent as a faceless cliché, easily dismissed. We have to drive for compassionate, tolerant governance at the local and state levels first; to make bitter, divisive rhetoric a liability, not a rallying cry. We must shame the Grover Norquists and Karl Roves and all in the ultra-right wing who shamelessly -- I might say blasphemously -- use the pulpit to proselytize a political agenda.

I hope there is a chance for rational people of differing camps to come together, to work together with respect. But don't underestimate the ruthlessness of this administration and the extent to which it will go, to demonize all opposing opinion and to prevent such meeting of the minds from happening. Every time we have taken Bush at his word, we have lived to regret it. I still fear we're in for some very dark times ahead.

Walker said...

Thanks for the comment, Eric. To think that I might help to be centering helps make this feel to be worthwhile. You will note that my suggestion that it is counterproductive to attack Bush's supporters, exempts Bush himself or his administration from any such amnesty. For that matter supporters who engage in trickery and deceit are fair game for being exposed as well. Specifically I am cautioning against these sweeping dismissals of large segments of the population.

Having said that, I strongly suspect that if there were a way to administer an intelligence test of all voters who *switched* parties between 2000 & 2004, the results would be rather stunning, but I will still refrain from demeaning Gore voters who switched to Bush as a group, because individually they are a varied lot, and it just doesn't accomplish anything.

On my blog I tend to focus on attempting to have a global perspective, but that doesn't mean that I eschew specifics when going after the criminals who use the cover of being part of the Bush administration to hide their wrong behavior. I am highly suspicious that Bush would not have won this election without fraud, and I am working as are others to help uncover it. I'll calmly state the possibility of it now, but I will refrain from making outright assertions until I'm looking at evidence that I feel is compelling.

If I can be part of bringing a cloud of illegitimacy to this presidency, I'll be more than happy about it. Underneath my calm surface there still lies some seething (and I believe justified) anger.

I will stubbornly resist the temptation to transfer that anger to all the decent people who voted for Bush in good conscience.

-epm said...

People believe what they are told. Well, incurious people do. To that extent I'd say a large portion of Bush's supporters -- casting no aspersions beyond lacking intelectual curiosity -- cast their vote on a false presumption of reality.

For this I blame the Bush administration for it's lies, cable news orginizations (FOX News in particular) for championing and expanding on those lies, the mainstream media for not challenging the lies, and preachers, priests and bishops who profess the "will of God" to manipulate their faithful flock for political ends.

When you control the message, you control the people. Just ask Vladamir...


PS. Sorry... once I get typing I end up working myself into a froth. :) I'm really not that radical in the flesh...

Keeping the faith,

Anonymous said...

I found your blog from its link on WatchBlog, and have now finished reading (or at least skimming) your entries up to this point.

So far, I've found that you probably disagree with me on just about every one of my major political tenents, but that you do so with a great deal more polish and grace that I'm used to hearing from your side. So I will come back - after all, no-one deserves to speak if they will not also listen.

And thanks for resisting the temptation to call all of us who voted for President Bush idiots. I find odd and interesting and disturbing that both sides feel incredibly persecuted, hated, and out-funded by the other side. One of the biggest reasons I voted for Bush rather than Kerry (other than the fact I like Bush as a person) was that Bush has the right enemies, and Kerry has the wrong friends. Organizations that despise evangelical Christians almost universally support Kerry, and those that respect Christians mostly support Bush. I find it hard to vote for a candidate when I think the majority of his party hates me and what I believe.

Thanks for writing a good blog. I don't know if you'll see this remark, since it comes from so far down the list, but I will be back in the future. As I've said in other places, it's good to know that there are people like you on the other side - it gives me hope that this partisan bickering neeed not end in civil war.

Anonymous said...

Oh, by the way, I'm pleased to discover a fellow lover of David Brin. I haven't read anything recent by him, but I've devoured almost every science fiction book he's written that our local libary has.

LNShapely said...

Walker- You are to be admired for your thought full approach. People want the easy route complain, whine,blame - go ahead! What does that accomplish? Nada. Elections have become selecting the best of the worst. Where are leaders we can truly back? But how to be an SOB with guts enough to handle the presidency and be a peacemaker at the same time?Quandry. I did not believe Kerry had the guts or foritude for that job. His Congressional record over his very long career did not impress me as quality material.
Democrats do need to strengthen their focus forward. Excellent idea.