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Aftermath

Filed in: politics, Mon, Nov 8 2004 10:26 PT

So, it’s been about a week since my last blog posting. Which is a rarity for me, while I’m still at home. I suppose it’s safe for most to assume that I’ve been sitting around licking my wounds, recounting exit polls in Ohio, or doing the random screaming, crying and/or hand-wringing now common among those of us on the wrong side of the cultural divide.

But in fact, I got over the Bush victory pretty quickly. I’m just glad the campaign is over. It’s been too long, it’s cost too much, it’s flooded our brains with data that has everything to do with politics and nothing to do with governing. It’s been a cancer on the people of this country, and I for one am glad it is now in remission.

If you are a Democrat, realize this, and move forward: we got beat. Straight up. Three and a half million more people voted for their guy than our guy, a statistic that suggests to me the answer isn’t really hidden in those black boxes in Ohio. I know that most of us will go to our graves knowing that 2000 was a tragedy, but 2004 was not. How we recover depends on whether we’re willing to draw bright lines between ourselves and our opponents, which is something the Republicans have been crushing us at since the Lee Atwater era. We tried finding new votes, and that didn’t pan out. Now we have to take what votes are out there and convince them, with a common image and voice. And we’ve got to go to Bush territory next time to do it.

If you are a Republican, you need to realize that only the barest majority voted for Bush. The Sunday morning talking points for the Republicans was that this was the first time since 1988 that a majority voted for a single presidential candidate. Well, duh. Ross Perot got 19% of the vote in 1992, and still managed 8% in 1996. Ralph Nader pulled down 2.74% in 2000, in the tightest election sine 1960. This year was the first time since 1988 that it was pretty much a heads-up contest: Nader claimed only .4%. Of course somebody is going to win a majority.

Any way you spin it, 51% is not a mandate. Bush’s father won 59% of the popular vote in 1988, and Reagan took 58.8% in 1984. So let’s stop playing with the figures. We’re not all that dumb.

Either way, you need to realize that holing up amongst yourselves and coming out every two to four years to sling arrows at one another is not a productive strategy for governance. The reason I was so relieved at the end of this election is that we’ve been at this campaign for two years now, and rather than separating ourselves on issues, we’ve separated ourselves on gut instinct. Our opponents’ party is this or that, things we’ve heard for decades. My guy is looking out for me. Any agreement between the candidates is spun as softness; any strong disagreement, and our opponent is “out of touch”. There’s very little in the way of discourse since 2000, and even if you’re on the winning side of this election, this should be a cause for grave concern.

John Perry Barlow has plenty to say about this, as well:

At the very least, I need to take the other side seriously. Dismissing them as a bunch of homophobic, racist, Bible-waving, know-nothing troglodytes, however true that may be of a few, only authorizes them to return the favor. I don’t want somebody calling me a dope-smoking, fag-loving, one-worlder weirdo, however true that might be. We are all masks that God wears, whatever God that is. We might try to treat one another with according reverence. At least we might try to listen as though the other side might have a point. I truly think we all owe one another an apology.

We cannot forget the flip side to majority rule. It’s minority rights. The State Department has a great explanation of this principle, which is worth reading at least once:

Majority rule is a means for organizing government and deciding public issues; it is not another road to oppression. Just as no self-appointed group has the right to oppress others, so no majority, even in a democracy, should take away the basic rights and freedoms of a minority group or individual.

Minorities — whether as a result of ethnic background, religious belief, geographic location, income level, or simply as the losers in elections or political debate — enjoy guaranteed basic human rights that no government, and no majority, elected or not, should remove.

What should happen, in these circumstances, is the formation of a center-right government. We all know Karl Rove thinks he has a mandate. But we should also know that this is a fallacy, and he should know the positioning of his party in 2008 depends on remaining palatable to moderates. Rove can guide the Republicans to a position of strength, election after election, by keeping Democrats engaged somehow. Appointing four Antonin Scalias to the Supreme Court, on the other hand, will shore up the base Bush no longer needs, while energizing the left and shaking free a lot of the soft Republican support. A two-party system is only viable as long as you don’t try to swallow the opposition whole.

Another thing to think about: the last terrorist attack had America rush to Bush’s defense. The next one breaks strongly the other way. Likewise, the next recession can’t be blamed on Clinton, or liberals in Congress. With great power comes great responsibility, and the greatest of majorities in Washington can come apart pretty quickly when it fails to dance to the music that’s playing. Food for thought.

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