Saturday, November 13, 2004

Don't Call Everyone a War-Mongering Racist

Editorial Note: Many thanks to Jodi Anderson for a riveting discussion about the psychology of the voter without which this public reaming of John McCallum would have hardly been possible.

John McCallum: You, sir, are absolutely wrong. I refer you to your November 3, 2004 rant about American politics. Now, I understand that this may have been some sort of coping mechanism to lick the Democrats' electoral wounds--But I'll have none of that. I advise you to stifle your rhetoric if it will be nothing more than a detriment to your cause.

You bemoan a faceless election, one in which the individual, human experience was forsaken. But you, yourself, put a face on the election...You carefully affixed a clear image to the misfortune of the contest. And you placed blame, so much blame. Did your fiery polemic strike the king makers who in the shade craft shadows of deception to cloud the minds of the electorate? Did you indict the politicians, who employ falsities and facades to build careers of power and influence?

No.

You pointed at your neighbors. At the voters. At America. To force a label of complicity onto the millions who punched a tiny hole into a little card is a dangerous path. But in an election of calculated misdirection, are the shepherds or the sheep to blame? Perhaps Americans should pay more than cursory attention to the Presidential election. Perhaps they should consider their selection with care, gravity, and a hint of ingenuity. Perhaps they should not simply heed the demagoguery of cable news talking heads. But does their political inattention make American voters irrevocably racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, hawkish, oppressive, and parochial? Can we really apply the logic of Nuremberg to the race to the White House? Are those who follow as culpable as those who lead?

With an electorate not of hundreds or millions, but of hundreds of millions, such disbursement of responsibility is both unfair and unwise. It is a great tragedy, but we live in a nation of sound bytes and slogans in which the media is no more than a protracted propaganda mouth piece for the domination of the materially and politically wealthy. It is no undistorted reflection of reality, no reasoned analysis of a phenomenon. Choosing a candidate, then, does not automatically represent an endorsement of every one of that candidate's policies. In fact, such selection is not even predicated on any sort of real policy knowledge.

However, if we, in our despair and frustration, continue to stop the buck at the American people, then they will embrace it all the more tightly. By forcing the burden of the adminstration's problems onto their shoulders, we may very well push those millions of Bush voters into taking ownership of the White House's positions. The more it becomes their fault that the country is riddled with injustice and loss, the more voters will seek to justify their selection.

Instead of jarring people to sanity, we will nudge them towards madness. If they hear a million times that the war or the amendments or the socioeconomic justice is because of them, they will begin to believe that it really was tied their own judgment. Attacking the voters for electing Bush makes his policies personal to them. Once voters acknowledge their hand, even just by proxy, in authorizing a direction for this country, then they will be loath to change positions. They don't want to be wrong. Nobody wants to be wrong.

The only hope for winning support (and elections) is to do just the opposite of what you here have done. Democrats must disassociate the electors from the elected. They must identify the disparity between the artful conniving of candidates and their true intentions. The Democrats must show the voters not that they were wrong, but that Republican campaigners misled them. These campaigns feigned an appeal to the sensibilities and values of voters, but it was no more than a ruse. That must be the approach, because democracy has placed the agency of selection, if nothing else, in the hands of the voters.

The Democratic Party cannot alienate them. It cannot toss upon them the guilt of millions. No matter how poetic the assailment (and yours was poetic) or how profound the analysis (and yours was profound), there is no victory to be discovered in demonizing our audience.

And if I'm wrong and you're right and the American people really do wholeheartedly ascribe to this administration's agenda, then we are lost. I have to believe that fundamentally, most Americans are not savage and hateful, because if they are, then we have no chance. Thus, we must work from the assumption that Americans are essentially decent people, but can fall prey to political distortion. So I ask, please, turn your searing anger against those who mismanage the trust of the people, but do not vilify those whom you must entreat.

Next Scheduled: Peter Beinart Confuses Me

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