Sunday, November 07, 2004

Post-Election Musings: The Limits of Tolerance

So I’ve been holding off holding forth on Decision 2004, mainly because I wanted a few days to allow my partisan passions to cool into a more reflective frame of mind. And so I have, though I’m still walking a pretty narrow ledge between profound depression and impotent rage. Mostly depression, though, because it’s not as if the election outcome was a surprise in any way. It’s been clear for years now that a disquieting cultural rift has been growing and deepening between the “blue” and “red” areas, the coasts and the middle, the urban and the not-so-urban. Especially the latter, which just reinforces my long-held conviction that people in this country would empathize with each other a lot better if everyone from an area of under 100,000 population were required, before the age of 15, to spend at least one year of his or her life in a city of more than 1 million, AND VICE VERSA. The bobos need to send their kids to the breadbasket, too. (Speaking of bobos, I think a sequel should be written to David Brooks’ book titled “Bobos in Hell,” or maybe, if you’re more optimistic, “Bobos in Purgatory.”)

Unfortunately, given where we are now, there’s no impulse on either side to try to bridge the gap. The conservatives don’t have to and don’t want to—they feel vindicated. The liberals, appalled by the message coming from the heartland, don’t want to and don’t see how we can, even though it’s now clear that we’re going to have to if we want to stay alive politically. Morally, ours is an ideology of tolerance, if that isn’t an oxymoron, which is never going to win over those who think we’re tolerating things that are absolutely wrong and need to be wiped out.

Whether we can win back enough of the Bush voters depends on how many of them regularly vote based principally on whether the candidate or his party shares (or appears to share) their views on abortion, gay marriage, religion in schools & public institutions, and pop culture, rather than on their economic well-being. As a driving factor, the latter lost out to the former this year—clearly. We have to hope it doesn’t every year. This year may just have been a tipping point, what with gay marriage and attacks on the Pledge of Allegiance and the Ten Commandments, and who knows, maybe even Janet Jackson’s breast. That said, I find it ironic that after mobilizing the religious right and appealing to the moral sensibilities of the people closer to the middle, Bush set as the first priority of his second-term agenda...the privatization of social security. Um, we’ll see how that one works out for him.

But there was also a third factor in this mix—the fear of terrorism, which also tilted in favor of Bush. And here is where I am frankly at a loss. Bush and company waged war in a country that had nothing to do with the attacks of 9/11, and now thousands of people are dying in Iraq without any indication that a stable, viable democracy is being established. Our intelligence system still sucks, and Osama is still at large. How in hell is the guy presiding over this mess a fitter leader to protect our country than Kerry? Bring in the fourth factor—personality, which I think in the end was what decisively skewed this country towards Bush. Notwithstanding his poor performance in the debates and even poorer track record in Iraq, Bush still has a lock on the I’m-a-simple-Godfearing-guy-who-sticks-to-his-guns-and-takes-the-devil-by-the-horns image, at least in 51% of the public eye. It goes hand in hand with the moral values that also fired up his supporters: that Iraq is fundamentally a moral crusade. To my mind, this is a really scary perversion of Wilsonianism.

What the Democrats need is someone with more charisma than Kerry (who has about as much as a rock), more comfort with his religious faith (yep, sorry, fellow agnostics and secular humanists, this country’s never gonna elect someone like us), and a hell of a lot more eloquence in framing why the Democrat vision of how this country should be governed is the right one. Paging Barack Obama—in about twenty years, perhaps? Edwards I don’t think has it. Hillary, definitely not, though I do love the woman and would personally vote for her.

In the meantime, I fear for our country. Not so much because of Bush alone, though his administration makes my blood curdle on a daily basis: I expected him to win, though maybe not by such a decisive margin. What I didn’t expect was for the Republicans to increase their power in the Senate as well as the House. In the words of a mentor, we can anticipate legislation the likes of which we have not yet seen, not to mention a Supreme Court and federal judiciary who are going to do their damnedest to reverse every trend set in motion by the New Deal and the Warren Court. If you think that is a good thing, then there is nothing more to be said. But I do not.

Wow, that was a long ramble. I might just as well have pointed to a few good op-eds—there have many excellent pieces on why the Dems lost on all fronts. I haven’t yet figured out how to establish active links in this blog, but there’s a great, admittedly intra-party ongoing dialogue on Slate on “Why Americans Hate Democrats,” the best of which, in my opinion, is Diane McWhorter’s “Morality is the new race”:

Also check out Thomas Friedman’s Nov. 4 N.Y. Times op-ed on the “Two Nations,” at, and Thomas Frank’s Nov. 5 NYT op-ed, “Why They Won,” at


Blogger starsheep said...

First off, if I may be blunt, you people need to take a chill pill. I swear, you don't take losing very well. You lose the election, find out Republicans are taking over the Senate and suddenly ... WHOA! LOOKOUT! IT'S THE ARMAGEDDEON! I mean, hell, I got depressed when Clinton got re-elected but then .. you know what? Live with it. Obviously not enough people agreed with me at the time. But you guys ... you wake-up one morning with our current situation and suddenly you panic and bitch'n moan like never before.

Could it be that you didn't see this coming? I don't mean to rub it in because I personally couldn't care less about Bush either. But seriously, was THAT impossible for you to see that Bush and maybe Republicans would "sweep"?

Liberals have always been painted as arrogant, but this hand-wringing I see every liberal is suddenly doing sort of solidifies that view.

Also, I'm not so sure Bush is screwing-up the war. If you read what's out in the press, sure. But if you look a little closer, I think he's doing quite allright. Let's face it, the WMD thing was a sham. If you're going to attack a country for WMD, you're not going to keep talking about it for a year THEN attack. For awhile there was a "leak" about how the WMD was really a ... what was it ... a bureaucratic reason (?) to push for the war. If so, what's the real reason?

For that, I'm going to have to agree with others who have said this was a way for the US to force a policy change in the Saudi regime. And lo and behold, which country is getting targetted by Al Qaeda after we invaded Iraq? Yep. Saudi. Obviously they're doing something right to warrant the attacks.

Oil? No. Look at oil prices now. Halliburton? Yeah, and Vince Foster was killed by Clinton's thugs too.

That being said though, I'm going to end this by emphasizing just how surprised I am with the reaction from your side of the coast/political spectrum. Heck, having been a Sox fan you should at least be able to deal with losses. Or did you forget all that after this year's win? ;)

(Sheesh that was a long comment.)

4:24 AM  

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