Democracy in action.
I spent most of the last three weeks trying to write a "Look at the bright side!" message regarding the presidential elections. And each time I gave up after a few sentences.
It's not just that Bush was re-elected. No, what really got to me was the realization that I live in a vastly different universe from most of the electorate.
The first shot came few days before the election, when I read that three-fourths of all Bush supporters believe that Iraq had WMD or WMD programs before the war. What is the point of participatory democracy, if nearly half of the participants can be so wrong about the most important matter under consideration? It's just all so capricious. Here, many of us are doing our civil duty, educating ourselves about the candidates and issues, and then there is this enormous wildcard, a huge percentage of the voting public operating under ignorant assumptions.
(To be fair I know that there are many thoughtful, intelligent and clear-thinking Bush supporters out there, who are in full command of the facts and voted for him because they truly believe he is the best man for the job. If you're one of them, I'm sorry we couldn't I'm sorry we couldn't cough up a candidate you felt you could vote for. Flawed though he is, I think Kerry was still clearly better than Bush on pretty much every issue ((remember the debates?)), but I understand that someone could come to the opposite conclusion. Maybe they're right, that Bush will be the better leader of the two. I hope so, though I find this highly unlikely.)
Then the bottom fell out. After the election, it was widely reported that voters said their top concern was moral values, which, if all that talk of the influence of Evangelical Christians is any indication, is a euphemism for "biblical values." As an agnostic-who-is-for-all-intents-and-purposes-an-atheist, I had something of an epiphany upon hearing this: I don't just live is a different universe from the "Iraq-had-WMDs" crowd, I live if a different universe from the 61% of Americans who believe the Bible to be literal fact. These people and I don't just have a difference in opinion on political matters, we have entirely different philosophies about the very nature of reality itself.
Of course, I have always been aware that this dichotomy existed, but, living in this bastion of secular humanism we call Los Angeles, it is easy to forget. The results of this election, however, really drove the point home. I felt like Col. George Taylor at the end of The Planet of the Apes, when he sees the Statue of Liberty and realizes that his hopes of "returning" to Earth are doomed -- that, in fact, he's been on Earth all along. "This isn't a bad day for America," I said on election night, when the networks showed a map of the nation almost completely colored red. "This is America!"
Anyway, I've been pondering things for a while, and I've decided that, yes, some good may yet come from this election. Here are my reasons for optimism:
€ No Scapegoatery: Bush won this election fair and square -- no 537 vote margin/hanging chad controversy in Florida, no Bush family friend Chief Justice Rehnquist/Supreme Court coronation. Yes, a legitimate Bush victory is a good thing. Now Democrats cannot simply point out that their guy got the popular vote then blame their loss on Nader or the judicial branch of the government. Now they have to engage in some actual self-reflection. Uh oh.
€ Voters May Stop Trying to Game the System: And speaking of self-reflection, perhaps -- and I realize this is probably too much to ask, but a dude can hope -- Democrats will realize that picking a candidate in the primaries based on his supposed "electibility" is not such a bright idea. I guess the idea was that them warmongering yokels down South would be so captivated by Kerry's Purple Hearts that they would march to their polling places Shaun of the Dead-style and pull the lever for him. Remember when Hillary talked about the right-wing conspiracy against Bill? Well, welcome to the left-wing conspiracy against Howard Dean. This is the man Democrats are most indebted to because he is singularly responsible for reinvigorating the party (yes, I still have my "Dean for America" sticker on the Hybrid). And how did they thank him? The weasels sat back as the media ran the good doctor out of town after his infamous night of unbridled enthusiasm. Not since Edvard Munch has a scream been this influential. So we were force-fed Kerry, a polished politician who knew how Washington worked. While there was hope he would continue Dean's then-popular, now-stifled anti-war rhetoric when he offered "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time" soundbite we were instead an audience to his promise to bring the troops home in four years. This was a grave disappointment to those like me who harbor fervent anti-war sentiments . Four years, you say? As had been widely pointed out, the U.S. was only involved in World War II for 3 1/2 years. Thanks for nothing, Senator. So Americans keep dying and, something ignored by most in the U.S., Americans keep killing.
€ Now Bush Has To Clean Up His Own Mess: Let's face it: a Kerry win would have been a Pyrrhic victory at best. With our military stretched so thin, our deficits at an all-time-high, job growth an oxymoron and anti-American sentiment on the rise, Bush has put America so far in the hole that the presidency was something of a poison pill for Kerry. He probably would have spent his entire first term just putting out Bush fires. And if America suffered another terrorist attack on Kerry's watch -- even if it was a result of Bush administration policies that have made American's less safe -- that quite possibly may have sounded the death knell for the Democratic party. Now, Bush is going to have to reap what he has sown. (This "bright side" is somewhat diminished by the fact that all Americans have to reap what Dubya has sown, but still ...)
Of course, the most compelling reason for me to be optimist is simply this: I have no choice. I have the imagination to envision a better nation. And in this race, rejecting the Republican campaign of fear and smear and, instead, rallying behind a guy trying to unseat an incumbent president in the middle of a "war" was an act of audacity unparalleled in recent political history.