Saturday, October 23, 2004

Take a Deep Breath 

As 11/2 approaches (and the blood pressure rises) (and the pulse rate quickens), consider the counsel of William Greider, who reminds us that, whatever the outcome, this too shall pass. From The Nation:
When democracy turns ugly, it's good to take a deep breath and remember that the Republic has survived a lot worse than this. If the polls are all wet and the final vote breaks sharply one way or the other, people will want to claim 2004 as a historic watershed. But I doubt it. This election does not feel like resolution, principally because neither candidate nor party was willing to state the choices with the full clarity of bedrock ideas. Bush did not campaign on the right-wing reform agenda he has pursued so aggressively in office. The President's handlers well understand that a majority of the populace does not support it. John Kerry was equally shy, afraid even to say the words "right wing" lest it upset the addled undecided voters who do not like to make big choices. So this election opens an important new stage in the deepening conflict over political values and national direction, but probably doesn't settle anything.

What can we say we have learned? We know now that Bush and the Republicans, because they were drenched in ideological certitudes, missed a historic opportunity during their first term to build a stable majority by moving away from extreme impulses and governing to the center. Four years ago, given the confused and inert Democrats, the opening was there and was what I expected (boy, was I wrong). Instead, Bush governed with brutal conviction, taking no prisoners despite his lack of any public mandate. Going to war for fanciful ideological objectives made the risk-taking even worse. If Bush loses (which I still kind of maybe think he will), he will go down for the same reason his father lost in 1992. He was indifferent to the common reality-- the facts ordinary Americans perceived at home and abroad.

John Kerry had all Bush's flaws working in his favor but--let's face it--Kerry was a lame challenger. It took him all year to clear his throat and state the alternatives clearly (even then without the kind of convincing detail people yearned to hear). On the war, he was like a green tomato picked too early. His convictions didn't ripen until the second week of October. His debate performances were heroic, however. Kerry's split-screen contrast with the whiny President Resolute overcame the muddy slurs cast by Karl Rove and, more important, crossed the threshold of plausibility that faces every challenger. Kerry looks stiff and painfully serious but also more presidential than the other guy. Like many activist Democrats, I nurse the hunch that an intensified mobilization of fed-up citizens (including many silent votes from disenchanted Republicans) can elect the senator.

If Kerry wins, then the suspense deepens for us. If he governs according to what he said during the campaign, it will be a lumpish mess at best and could be disaster for the Democratic Party. On the war, remember, he talked a lot about killing and vowed to "win" this unwinnable war, even promised to expand military forces to do so. On most of the other large matters bearing down on the country--the deformities of overpowerful corporations, globalization's erosion of US economic strength, the horrendous trade debt, the shrinking middle class--Kerry either had nothing to say or offered platitudes and trivial remedies with no real meaning. As President, he is likely to be engulfed by economic disorders the establishment does not acknowledge or even seem to understand. Let's hope he is a quick study and, despite what we know of him, willing to abandon his long-held establishment beliefs.

If Bush wins and once again sticks with his convictions, I believe (and of course I could be wrong again) the realities will swiftly sink him, both in the polls and in governing authority. Some matters are not subject to the manipulative techniques of the Republican propaganda machine. If Bush is sufficiently shrewd and cynical, he will claim victory--soonest--and bug out of Iraq. The right-wing agenda reached its apogee during his first term, and he may imagine that the second term can consolidate and advance further. I don't think so. Aroused citizens and enraged progressives, if not the Democratic Party leaders, have had enough. They are not likely to return passively to inactive ranks . . . .

Right after the election, if I am reading the portents correctly, the country rejoins reality. A lot of the losers may be pleased, after all, that their guy did not win.

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