It's been several days since the horror that we collectively call Election 2004. I am feeling somewhat better, although I really can't bring myself to make much of a connection to the post-election analysis. I read an article a few days ago about how Canada is bracing itself for a flood of gay "refugees" who have been investigating what it would take to relocate across the border. The first thing that strikes me is an overwhelming sadness at the concept of an American refugee. I don't care whether you approve of homosexuality or not, but the fact that the electorate has singled out a group of its own citizens and driven it to the point that a decent chunk of them are contemplating fleeing the country is a black day for this country. Of course, despite our national mythology about being the home of freedom, we have a pretty dark side that includes slavery, internment camps and segregation... that's only talking about large-scale, state-sponsored oppression. We haven't quite lived up to the ideals that out Founding Fathers enshrined in the Declaration of Independence... of course, the Founding Fathers didn't live up to them either. I can't say that I don't understand the urge to pack it up and head to Canada, but I've never been the type to give up, so my basic realization is that we have a hell of a lot of work to do to clean up this mess.
One of the biggest things I've worked on the past few years in my life is the realization that everything happens for a reason and that we can (and should) learn from those events that we like the least. Now, that philosophy hasn't eliminated the visceral feeling of anger in the pit of my stomach, but it has helped. Looking back at the period leading up to the election, there seemed to be a belief by progressives, Democrats, and the rest on the left that more money and turnout would solve our problems. Obviously, this election can teach us many things. At its core, this election was about three things: fear, hatred and ignorance. I know those who voted for Bush won't like that characterization, but if you look beneath the surface, that's the core at the Republican campaign -- fear of terrorism, fear and loathing of gays, and ignorance of what is going on in the world around us (especially the war on terror and Iraq). Rove and company did a master marketing job by cloaking these in the mantle of patriotism and morality and drawing attention away from Bush's record.
So, what can we learn from this? The biggest thing, in my mind, is that more money and high turnout will not change things if we keep doing things the way they were done in this election. Beyond that, I think the "undecided voter" phenomenon demonstrates that a big chunk of people really doesn't want to deal with the issues in any sort of depth. I just don't believe that someone can remain undecided for such a long period of time if they've taken the time to really get informed on the issues. So, that means that a lot of people are looking for a quick, easy choice. I think that really demonstrates the effectiveness of the Bush administration's tendency to keep the drum beat of their message going, regardless of the facts... If you're not paying close attention, you're going to believe it just because you've heard it so frequently. Another big thing is that you're better off framing the issues being for something rather than being against something. Certainly there were many more voters there who were VERY excited about Bush than there were really jazzed about John Kerry.
So, if you're a progressive and want to see changes in this country, how do we go about getting things done in the face of what may be the zenith of the conservative movement? I think the most obvious thing is that we have to change our approach or we're going to get our asses kicked. One point in our favor is that it appears that those in power have really gone all out to stay there. The marriage of social/religious conservatives and traditional conservatives is hardly a good one. Basic traditional conservative principles such as fiscal discipline, individual liberties and limited federal power are nowhere to be found in this administration. The whole Halliburton and Enron fiascos demonstrate that corruption is a major problem. So, I think we have to be willing to team up with traditional conservatives seeking reform. It may make for some strange bedfellows, but I see a major wedge on the right coming up. The other positive thing is that Bush can't run again. I can't see Cheney running for President. The supposed frontrunners are McCain, Giuliani and the Governator. Of course, Arnie is a no go because he wasn't born here and there is absolutely zero chance of the Constitution being changed on that point. Giuliani and Arnie are also generally pretty liberal on social issues such as abortion and gay rights, so that won't play well in Born Again land. I also don't see much love between McCain and the hard core conservatives who are calling the shots right now, so its hard to envision who the Republicans will offer.
On a more individual level, though, what can we do to try to get things done in the face of hostile legislatures and courts. I was watching one of Geekslut's
recent videos and he suggested that its time for us to start acting more like Republicans. I disagree with his idea that this means we should start being selfish and greedy, but I do think that it's time to start approaching things from a different angle. I think it's time we have a better idea of concrete things we want to get accomplished and then come at it from another direction instead of the traditional liberal/conservative mindset. There's certainly precident for it back in the Progressive heyday of Teddy Roosevelt and that era, and I think it's time to pull some pages from his playbook.