An Echo Not a Choice
It’s been a rough eleven months for me. It’s very hard not to speak of the reality one sees when that reality is not pleasant and when it is contrary to what good people hope for and have convinced themselves will come to pass. I silently endured all the claims that the polls were wrong, manipulated or worse. I not so silently challenged those who claimed that Rove was not good at his job, but they shouted me down. Silently, or mostly so, I watched Democrats engage in groupthink as they over-thought this election and claimed that it could be won by a uniform and/or merely ABB.
I held out the hope that GWB could implode before election day. Slender hope because far more egregious things have been done by GWB than what took down other Presidents in the past. Reagan may have had a Teflon coating, but GWB is plated with six foot thick lead casing. I kept hearing echoes of 1968, 1972 and 1988 in this election. Yet, the form I kept sensing was never “liberal” versus “conservative.” It was raw political power, audaciousness and deviousness against hapless, clueless and wimpiness. The unlearned lessons from each of those prior contests were different, but as we compounded our errors, we have now managed to be soundly defeated by arguably the worst President, who in the next few years will remove any doubt about “arguably.”
Unlike others, I don’t sense that a new dark force has gripped the nation in the past forty years. The change is that the dark force in this country no longer has a strong enough opponent and has learned how to get more of their irrational morons to the polls. They are now free to impose their dark vision on a mostly clueless nation. A nation that has little knowledge of and respect for the Constitution. A nation that cannot connect the dots between their well-being and the institutional stability that the New Deal gave us. A nation so trapped in myopia and the superstition of religion that they believe that they are superior to all others and have earned their rewards all on their own. In short a nation that thinks like and shares an inflated ego with GWB.
By 12/02 it was not possible to determine if GWB was going to be unbeatable like LBJ was in 1964. He was never going to be like Nixon who was personally disliked but policywise not too far out of step with the general public. It was possible that he could become like Carter, personally respected for his morality but presiding over events that the country held him accountable for even when they weren’t within his control. Yet, given the response of the nation to GWB after the 9/11 failure on his watch, expecting him to be held accountable for anything was a dicey proposition. We knew that we were outgunned and outmanned organizationally, politically, in the media and financially. We also knew that we had only one shot at GWB to get it right.
From an historical perspective, GHB was the GOP placeholder as Truman was the DEM placeholder – the man assigned to maintain the gains of their respective Parties as they refueled. Neither was strong enough to hold back the countervailing winds for more than four years. (Note: this is not about the respective merits between Truman and GHB or any others that follow, but only their place in the timeline of the waxing and waning powers of the two Parties.) Our Clinton was their Ike. The one who got them to the WH, slowed down the advances of the opposite Party, and did little to advance that of their Party. Our JFK/LBJ is their Bush/Cheney, the ones who will take the recent advances of their Party to the next level. The ones with the inherent flaws that could finally give the opposition the wedge or lever with which to drive home an alternative vision.
The task for the GOP in 1964 was no less daunting than what DEMs faced in 2004. They were selling an economic and world vision that was not acceptable to or in the interests of the majority. The New Deal at that point was the religion of the electorate, and no less so than the faux Christianity of the GOP is today. They didn’t even come close to making the sale in 1964 because they failed to put lipstick on the pig and had yet to identify how to successfully exploit fear of “otherness” and inchoate fear in general. They got closer in 1968 but had to soften their agenda to get there because their chosen standard bearer was so personally unlikeable. They arrived in 1980. However, the primary political philosophy is a straightline from Goldwater to GWB. The Eisenhower GOP may grumble but not enough to quarrel with having at least some measure of power even if it means that they detest 80% of what their Party has come to stand for.
The GOP rightwing vision that first became an organized political philosophy that could fit under the GOP tent in 1964 had never wavered nor been compromised in the long-term. They may have lost in 1964 but it also informed them of what pockets of voters they could exploit. George Wallace handed them another piece of the puzzle in 1968, the male blue-collar vote outside the south. They inherited the single issue anti-abortion fundamentalists more than having identified and courted them – Reagan did, after all, sign one of the early bills granting women the right to abortion when he was Governor of CA. GHB didn’t know what to do with that voting bloc but GWB/Rove were not similarly handicapped. Thus the GOP has built a coalition with even less common ground than what FDR put together in the thirties. But their organization on the ground and in the nooks and crannies of the electorate is awesome and will serve them well for a long time to come.
In my view Democrats had a real choice in this election cycle. One that was only barely discernable in 2000. (One that astute readers of political winds would have read in 1994.) The rough outlines were much clearer after the 2002 elections. The right and the left in their own way told us what was wrong. From Rush we were told that we stood for nothing and from Nader we told that we were too indistinguishable from the GOP. Our response was to be more like the GOP and continue placing the personal morals bad boy Clinton on the DEM pedestal. Highlighting no difference and indifference to personal morality that easily becomes equated with general “values” in the hands of the GOP propaganda machine. Our choice was to either replay the elections from 1994 on or agree on a set of core principles for the long run and present them in stark relief to the GOP. We had no way of knowing if Dean would have become our Goldwater or Reagan. Either way, we would have more to sift through the ashes of than we have today. So easily predictable and just as easily dismissed as we lurch towards 2008 and are offered a choice between Hillary and Edwards as the latest ones who will save us from ourselves.
(At least for a few days, I don’t have to engage in self censorship. And I did see the rout coming, including that today we would be saying, “Ta ta Tom.”)