Wednesday, November 03, 2004

It's the End of the World as We Know It

The liberal corner of the blogosphere is filled with "What happened," "What now," and "Oh fuck!" posts. Not wanting to be left out, I feel I have to offer my own post-election post. First, a few highlights from the others.

Kevin Drum:
The lefties will say we need to stop trying to be Republican Lites, the DNCers will say we need to move to the center, the New Republic will say we need to get serious about national security, Amy Sullivan will say we need to pay more attention to religion, George Lakoff will say we need better issue framing, the Washington Monthly editors will say we need a more potent vision, etc. etc. I'm not sure who's right, but we'll figure it out.

But one thing not to do is hide under the blankets and give up. We lost an election, that's all. There will be another one in a few years, and if we persuade a few more people that we're right, we'll win it. Tomorrow would be a good day to start doing that persuading.

John Quiggin:
While I’ve tried to be open to more optimistic possibilities, it’s far more likely that the second Bush Administration will be more of the same, and worse. The problem for the winners is that the consequences of the Administration’s policies, still debatable in 2004, will be grimly evident by 2008, and there will be no one but Republicans to take the blame. In purely partisan terms, as I argued several times before the election, this was a good one to lose.

Scott Lemieux:
The next four years, to state the obvious, will be ugly. Nothing good comes from this. I don't, for a second, relish the thought of Bush being left to clean up his mess. A lot of people will suffer, and path dependencies that will make even modest progressive reform difficult will be further entrenched. It will be a very, very, difficult struggle.

PZ Myers:
I fear for the future. The Republican party has established a solid base in America’s strengths: fear, ignorance, and swagger. The Democrats failed to win by opposing those ugly values; will they, too, resort to pandering to them in the next election? Will the lesson they learn be that progressive ideals must be sacrificed to make political gains?
I worry about my kids, and the children of those folks in Red State America who think safety lies in blithely handing a blank check to ideologues. How much of their blood will have to be spilled in self-destructive wars? How great a burden of debt will they have to bear, in order to guarantee that today’s wealthy are sufficiently comfortable? When the Supreme Court is loaded with mullahs of the religious right, what liberties will be lost to them?

The Anonymous Lecturer:
Here's my prediction for the next four years: the cultural conservatives will seek to Christianize the US completely. Anyone who dissents, criticizes or even asks questions about the neo-conservative/Christian right controlled police society will be labeled a terrorist or terrorist sympathizer. Welcome to the new "red scare" people. We're in for a ride.

Brian Leiter:
The results of the U.S. election were a resounding victory for fascist theocracy and war-mongering. A philosopher from England, who wrote to me this morning, no doubt expresses the view of the civilized world about Bush's victory: "The brains of a hamster, the religious and moral views of a savage, the record of an almost complete failure. And yet the winner of the popular vote."

With the exception of Drum's comments, the theme of most of the posts I've read today has been that Bush's reelection is a disaster of epic proportions. John Quiggin thinks that this disaster will ultimately benefit Democrats politically, but it's still a disaster. Leiter goes so far as to call it "a resounding victory for fascist theocracy and war-mongering," which expresses in much more histrionic form the other part of the view I've seen, both from the Left and from the Right. It's expressed best by William Bennett, when he says:

Having restored decency to the White House, President Bush now has a mandate to affect policy that will promote a more decent society, through both politics and law. His supporters want that, and have given him a mandate in their popular and electoral votes to see to it. Now is the time to begin our long, national cultural renewal (“The Great Relearning,” as novelist Tom Wolfe calls it) — no less in legislation than in federal court appointments. It is, after all, the main reason George W. Bush was reelected. (via Crooked Timber)

I am not at all surprised that conservatives like Bennett see it as a victory for their regressive religious and social agenda. That's all they can see it as. However, I am very surprised to see so many liberals thinking that conservative hillbilly morality had anything to do with Bush getting elected. Sure, about half of the people who vote Republican no matter what (you know, the 40% of the population who would vote Republican if Marx had an R next to his name on the ballot, and then be able to create a fairly good story to convince themselves that they did so for principled reasons) are fundamentalist evangelical Christians. The other half is a mish-mash of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, foriegn policy conservatives, and the like. Still, it's not this 40% of the population, composed of these two halves, that got Bush elected. He was elected because more than half of the 20% of the people who don't vote R or D every time voted for him (I'm assuming, and I think this is the case, that the turnout wasn't really more favorable for Republicans). Why did they do this? Some might have done so for social reasons, but I would bet a lot of money (if I had it) that the vast majority of the members of that group who voted for Bush did so because we are at "war," and Bush's election therefore says very little about the moral mood of the country that we didn't already know.

Here's a more detailed description of what I think happened with those voters. Some of them voted for Bush because they felt the evil we know is better than the potential evil we don't know. Some voted for Bush because they bought the absurd premise that even though Bush has bungled the aftermath of two wars, he can do a better job in the future than Kerry could (Kerry might have done just as poor a job, but he couldn't have done much worse). Some voted for Bush because they failed to understand that Kerry's voting for the war, and later opposing it, might have been the result of looking at the facts as they became available, rather than political posturing or an inherent indecisiveness on Kerry's part. Some voted for Bush because they are so scared of terrorism that they refused to recognize Bush's lies and mistakes, and that Bush has made the world more dangerous, and voted from fear rather than reason. I could go on, but you get the point. The bottom line is, the people who gave Bush a majority, and four more years in office, did so because of the war, not because they agree with his social agenda (which is not to say they disagree with it).

Is the apocolypse at hand, as so many liberals seem to think? I doubt it. Certainly, the next four years will be a mess. The economy will likely suffer, at least for those of us who don't make enough to buy a new Mercedes every year; things will likely not get better in Afghanistan, Iraq, or the "War on Terrorism;" our relations with other countries, especially our traditional allies, will further deteriorate, science will remain under constant assault, and a fundamentalist Christian social agenda will be further advanced. But this doesn't mean the end of the world. It just means that we liberals have our work cut out for us. I wish I could say I had confidence in our ability to accomplish what we need to accomplish, but I don't. The Democratic Party is simply not a vehicle capable of getting us to our desired destination. Furthermore, as this election shows, no matter how badly things get screwed up for four years under Republican leadership in all three branches of government, the American people are not capable of placing any blame on them. So is this the end of the world? No, but the world just became a lot more fucked up. Now back to metaphors.

UPDATE: You know how I said that only about half of the people who vote Republican in every election, no matter whose running for what, are really doing so for "moral" reasons? Since about 40% of voters fit this description, that would mean 20% of the voters are voting Republican time in and time out for moral reasons. Well, I was right. See the exit poll here, in which 22% listed "moral values" as the issue most important to them. (via Majikthise) Focusing on this people is counterproductive for liberals. They will never, never ever ever ever, vote for anything resembling a liberal agenda.

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