Friday, November 05, 2004

Making sense of the Election
I'm not going to apologize for this entry, because it's my blog and I think it's fair to use it as an outlet for self-expression. I can, however, think of several reasons that you may not want to waste your time reading this. For one thing the election has already been analyzed to death by everyone else. For another thing I've been out of the country for the past 3 years, and probably not the most qualified person to analyze the mood of the country. And also I'm very bitter about the election results, and that bitterness is seeping into what I'm writing.

Let me also say that several of my friends have also written pieces on the election, all of which are much better than mine, so if you only have the time or energy to read one of these things, read theirs instead of mine.
Brian Bork wrote this piece which I think is the best thing he's written on his blog so far.

My friend Aaron here in Japan, although not an American, does a good job of capturing the frustration I also feel.

Phil Christman apparently had his piece wiped out by his computer, but maybe by the time you read this he'll have written some of it again. Whatever it is I'm sure it will be better than mine.

Still with me? Okay, then for anyone who wants it here is my two cents...
For organizational purposes I've divided this into the Right, the swing voters, and the South. Let's start with
The Right
I've mentioned before on this weblog, but I recently read an interesting book called "Take Back the Right" by Philip Gold. In the book Gold, a life long conservative, describes what he feels is wrong with the conservative movement. Obviously I'm coming from a slightly different angle on things than Gold is, so I don't agree with everything he says but I think he has a few good points.
Gold says that the right is so antagonized by the left that it has long ago adopted the policy of automatically reacting against what ever the left is for. For instance Gold says that no one intelligent person in their right mind could be against the basic principles of environmentalism, feminism, or gay rights, but conservatives have become so infuriated by the confrontational tactics of the left that they have adopted as their motto, "we are against whatever they are for."
Gold says this trend began during the Vietnam war, and states that "It is arguable that popular support for the war would have faded years before it did, had not supporting the war become a form of protest against the protestors." The war in Iraq has already been compared to the Vietnam War in many ways, but perhaps this is another area where similarities are apparent. And if we can extend this to include support for not just the war but the administration as a whole, I think this is in fact why a lot of conservatives voted for Bush.
Janeane Garofalo in her appearance on the daily show (which you can watch here), puts it somewhat differently when she says that at this point a vote for Bush is no longer an indication of an ideology, but of a character flaw. At this point there are so many flaws evident in the presidency that anyone who is still supporting Bush is just doing so out of pride and ego and a refusal to give into the left.
But never under estimate the human capacity for stubbornness. And this is I think a large reason why Bush won the election.
The lessons for this are two-fold. First obviously we on the left need to improve our dialogue with the right, and to try and talk to them in a way that won't have automatically put them on the defensive. Perhaps it is time to soften the rhetoric a bit in the hopes of coming to an understanding, and try and talk to the right in a way which lets them know we respect them even as we disagree. And secondly those of you on the right need to stop being such fucking idiots and grow up. (Yes, that is humor, just so there's no misunderstanding).
As for the swing or moderate voters who went with Bush: hard to say obviously. When I was watching the election coverage on TV Wednesday afternoon (my time) I heard the talking heads say over and over again that the poor showing for Kerry is an indication of how much the Democratic party has lost touch with the American people.
Somewhat maybe, but let's keep things in perspective. This is the first election Bush actually won. Four years ago the popular vote went to Al Gore. If you add the Nader votes to the Gore votes in 2000, the popular vote was heavily weighted to the liberal side.
Now you can spin this several ways of course. Nader in 2000 to a certain extent functioned the way any popular 3rd party candidate functions in the sense that he drew support from many people simply frustrated by the two party system. However he undeniably ran on a liberal platform, and it's probably fair to say at least a majority of people who voted for him agreed with his platform.
As for Al Gore: I wrote an article for Chimes after the 2000 election commenting on the Gore votes. Chimes actually declined to run the article, so it never saw the light of day, but in the article I argued that Al Gore was a terrible candidate. He was stiff and cold. He had a reputation for dishonesty. Historically sitting vice-presidents have difficulty getting elected president, and on top of that Clinton was one of only two impeached presidents in the nations history and his administration was plagued by scandals (real or imagined). Therefore, I argued, the votes for Al Gore can not be attributed at an Al Gore charisma, but instead perhaps indicated the majority of Americans simply agreed with Al Gore on the issues.
Again I do realize you can spin that election different ways, but that's the way I see it. So what changed between 2000 and 2004? Did the majority of Americans suddenly have an epipheny and realize they agreed with the Republicans? Or was this election more about terrorism and security than about domestic issues?
Richard Clarke in his book "Against all Enemies" argues that the Bush administration carelessly ignored the terrorism before September 11th. Afterwards, Clarke says, Bush took the obvious measures that anyone in his position would have taken, and got enormous political credit for it. And then Karl Rove shamelessly advised the Republicans to run on September 11 for during the midterm election.
I obviously don't need to clarify my views on this. But there's no denying that the Bush administration played the terrorism card for all it was worth. Dick Cheney even said repeatedly that if John Kerry was elected president it would make another terrorist attack more likely.
So I think we need to ask if this election indicates agreement with the Republican issues, or simply shows that the Republicans were successfully able to scare the swing voters into line.
But when I say that this election was about security and terrorism, I mean that it was about security and terrorism to the extent that it was about anything at all. I think about what issues dominated the news in this election. Kerry's service in Vietnam and the swift boat veterans. Bush and his lack of service. Kerry and his flip-flopping. American politics are always a circus, and this election should almost be seen more as a competition between two men rather than people voting to advance the issues they care about.
The South

I'm going to try and keep this short because, let's face it, I know nothing about the South. Aside for a couple Spring Break trips I've spent no time in the South. But the "Solid South" as a reliable Republican voting block is a significant handicap to any Democrat candidate. All Bush had to do was pick off a couple Northern states and he could win the election.
If you've been reading the same newspaper articles and websites I have, you have seen the accusations that the Bush administration has revived Nixon's "Southern Strategy" to cater to some of the more ultra-conservative (read racist) elements of the South. But I'll just bring up the point and leave it at that. Someone who knows more about the South can perhaps comment on this more. You can send me an e-mail or post a comment on the blog.

Anyway, that's my take on the whole thing for what it's worth. Needless to say I'm pretty crushed by the outcome of the election, but... Ah fuck. I can't think of a silver lining right now.

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