Who's Your Cokie Now?
I don't know about the rest of you, but I've about had it up to here with post-election cant from the analyst set. Everybody's sounding a little too much like know-it-all Cokie Roberts for my taste. Liberals, reactionaries, the chronically muddled -- they all leave me cold right now.
The Christians did it to the secularists ... Kerry did it to himself... Karl Rove's a genius... Mary Beth Cahill's a moron... It all comes down to the condecending ways of the liberal educated elite....Or the ignorance of the beer swilling, gun-toting set... The politics of fear prevailed... The ideals of the Enlightenment are fading. Etc etc. etc.
Bah! Humbug! I reject them all.
Presidential elections are complex, multi-faceted happenings with a myriad dynamics, a thousand points of blight, and a heck of a lot going on at the local level that has nothing to do with grand national policies or over-arching social themes. Off the top of my head I can think of eight Republicans I know who voted for John Kerry and half of them did so because they love the other four and didn't want to upset them. There probably are just as many Democratic Bush voters out there with equally personal reasons for the way they voted that have nothing to do with much of anything except family or neighborhood or work place or block captain stuff.
The election was a lot closer than the media are portraying. But so what? That, too, would tell us little that is useful in gauging 2008.
Forget the red-and-blue map, an overplayed fantasy as misleading and counterfeit as the Swift Boat lies. The purple cartograms of Gastner, Shalizi, and Newman at the University of Michigan tell a more accurate and interesting and believable story. The nation is still evenly divided. A candidate ever so slightly different, a minimally different campaign strategy, a Richardson or a Feingold instead of an Edwards, a DNC that had it together (a lot better than it did), a media that was owned by a slightly larger olilopoly than just 6 mega-corporations, a little less rain in Ohio, a little more in Florida -- any one of those, or a lesser thing, and the presidential result could easily have been the other way 'round.
But so what?
Yes, I still believe Kerry would have made a great president -- perhaps one of the greatest ever. He was less than perfect as a candidate, but who wouldn't be? He allowed himself to be poltiically strangled by a rich and admirable Senate record that, absent early and effective politicking or a more astute media, only those who pay close attention could fully appreciate. Yes, I still think Bush is a criminal who, if he could, would happily march us to Armageddon while Cheney keeps picking the public's pocket.
What does this say about 2006? Or 2008? Not much at all. We have a lot of history to live, a lot of Bush bumbling (or worse) to endure, and a lot of other surprises yet to unfold.
Think the Democrats are in trouble today? In the dark days immediately after the historic rout of George McGovern in 1972, the nation's liberals and peace advocates, feeling like an isolated clutch of abandoned orphans, could not imagine that within two years Nixon would be thoroughly disgraced, his vice-president facing prison, and across the landscape not one person could be found who would admit having voted Republican in '72.
The world will turn. Christian Revivalism will wither and die, as it has every time before. Purple states will turn bluer. Red states will fade to brown. Blue states may get a little rouge on the cheeks. Bush will be hanged by historians of the future. The Democratic Party, if it is worthy, and, in any event, liberalism will see its fortunes flow and ebb and flow again -- in syncopation with the Republicans.
In 2002, I swore to myself I would withhold my money, energies, and my support because the Democratic Party had, as it seemed to me, turned into collaborators with some extremely bad foreign and domestic policies. But come '04, there I was digging deep in my pockets. The Democrats (thanks to Howard Dean) came back to their roots -- and their sense. Just imagine how bad you would feel if the same sniveling, shameful Democratic leadership you saw front-and-center in the Fall of 2002 had been in the forefront this year.
Next time may be the same -- and it may not. Who knows? The Democrats may hold onto their soul and nominate a candidate at least as good as John Kerry, maybe better. Or, the fault lines inside the Republican Party may burst and a candidate could emerge who says it's time to combine traditional conservative values, which prize civil liberties, personal freedom, and rationality with traditional Democratic values that promote social justice, internationalism, and logic.
Such a fusion ticket can call itself Whigs, or Progressives, or Democrat Farmer-Labor -- they can call themselves anything they like except Cokie Roberts -- and they will have my support.
It's too early to see what's coming. The only certainty is that no one knows.