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

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Soft Tune of the Bells

Sitting in my room on this chilly autumn afternoon, I can hear the bells clanging faintly to the tune of 'My Country Tis of Thee.' Perhaps it is from the clock tower? That would be appropriate, for the nation and time to be so coupled. Here I sit, with time against me, formulating a hairbrained scheme to preserve what in the public sphere is good and true and right. 'My Country Tis of Thee' plays accompaniment to my madness--The past echoes in thoughts of the future. Time links it all. Somehow, this fits.

A Man, A Legacy, A Dubious Future

Yassir Arafat died much as he lived, long fighting a losing battle. Whatever comment history will leave about his methods and his madness, it cannot be questioned that this man remained devoted until his last gasp of consciousness to the people that became his. Arafat was a strong, if flawed, leader, and Palestinians mourn today.

As with many individuals who devote their lives to grand ends, this man did not see the fruits that he toiled to harvest. There is no Palestine. There is no peace. But, yet, amidst the blackness of the day, there may be hope. Hope, though, is not an end of suffering, but the strength with which to endure it. Before even the tears dry on the eyes of the weeping children in the wartorn ghetto, the contest for control will begin. Even now, in their mock remonstrances, the power players of Palestinian politics lay their hands upon the throne.

From this pain, from the pain of generations, we can only pray solemnly for peace. Arafat prayed, I am sure, but more importantly, he strived, as well. Others shall. The path will not be clean of blood or of conscience, but what path of conflict and liberation is?

Arafat will be blind to future success. Perhaps, too, will his children. Perhaps we all shall. Only the trickling passage of time, cloaked in anger, violence, and tragedy, will reveal our fate. But today, on this day of reflection and remembrance, let us grieve with a grieving people. Let us also raise our heads and our hearts with that people in an earnest, proud oath to see this to its end. Then, maybe, Arafat can rest in peace. I only hope that the Palestinians can.

A Few Days Wiser: What Went Wrong

Editorial Note: If you think the sweet, sweet irony of this piece's length has not dawned on me, worry not! I realize perfectly that I'm in no place to say that Democrats aren't pithy...Oh wait, I am. This is my own little patch of dictatorship. Cheers!

I have been trying for days to write about what went wrong for the Democrats in the presidential election. But it is a silly task. A million talking heads have spewed forth their great rumination and it has been little more than cud. Indeed, I'll offer up my bit of nonsense to the chaotic slough, but it ought to be brief. This has been my colossal mistake--I have not been succinct and clear in every last attempt to communicate my message.

Much the same can be said for the Democrats. They could not clearly and simply communicate their message, their platform, their beliefs, and their identity to rural voters. This is a symptom not of policy that is in discord with the "values" (that word has been trumpeted about a lot) of rural voters, but rather of an ineffective dialogue. The Democrats have failed to connect with rural voters, whose importance in this election and the electoral process in general is overwhelming.

Instead of creating a creed that a platform fulfills, instead of being a party with a purpose, the Democratic party has stitched together diffuse goals that do not alone capture the hearts and minds of voters. Many rural voters are unable to point out what the Democratic Party really represents because the Party does not lucidly present its fundamental principles.

Indeed, what voters do see is what the Republican Party has been able to portray. The Democrats' inefficacy did not simply prevent it from informing the public, but it also facilitated the Republicans' brilliant efforts to distort the Democratic Party line.

Conservatism and the Republican Party have become synonymous with morality, ethics, and godliness. The good man is a good Republican. A flailing Democratic Party has allowed Republicans to frame the debate: The left is anti-God, anti-morals, anti-truth...No matter that the Democrats champion human rights, civil rights, the rights of the poor, the weak, and the oppressed...No matter that this administration has catered to the wealthy, bred injustice, and lied to the country. Despite the facts, Democrats are evil and Republicans are good.

Democrats must adopt the Republicans' techniques--to a point (the same level of distortion is not necessary). Every time a Republican politician violates the unsubstantiated claim of unquestioned goodness, someone has to point it out. The administration lied--It is not an administration of truth. The administration turned away from the sick, the weak, the hungry--It is not an administration of Christ-like compassion. The administration frittered away precious youngsters in a baseless war--It is not an administration of life. It must be clear that no gleaming angels administer edicts from their mighty Washington thrones.

At the same time, the Democrats must inspire the nation, from every church to every home, from every street to every park. They must vociferously stump on the idea that taking care of the underprivileged is godly. Providing health care is godly. Offering education is godly. Looking out for the elderly is godly. Demanding and ensuring fair treatment for all is godly. These do not contradict the teachings of Christianity or any other religion: They celebrate them! Emulating no other than Christ, the Democratic Party places lepers before kings, admonishing the greedy and uplifting the suffering.

While Republicans sieze votes by hanging a cross around the government's neck, the Democrats' platform is imbued with Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and every other "ism" that celebrates holiness in the practical sense.

It is by helping the most those with the least that government is at its best. This essential belief in building a better society upholds the fiscal and social policy of the Democratic Party. The party needs to make this known. It needs to inspire, singing this sweet song of noble acts in a resounding pitch. If the party sounds it, the clarion shall be heard. The deep valleys and the high mountains alike shall partake in a jubilee of liberty that cherishes a simple message of truth, of justice, of a bright light in the dark night that illuminates even the humblest traveler's path...And for once, the people shall know, because they shall be made to know, that holding this torch are liberals...For to liberate ourselves from the chains of a wayward past brings us to God, not away from Him.

Next Scheduled: Don't Call Everyone a War-Mongering Racist