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November 4, 2004

Staying put

Posted by Phil on November 4, 2004 7:11 PM

After I brought in the Kerry/Edwards and Kernan (D for IN governor--he lost, too) signs, the big question was whether to scrape the K/E stickers off my cars' rear windows, or leave them on for...whatever they might say to fellow drivers in the coming months.

"Kosmic Fool on Board"

"I Don't Know Why I Live Here Either"

"Whatever Happens Is Not My Fault, Fucker"

I had already planned a vacation day Wednesday to use however events demanded. I spent the morning rather creaky due to two martinis, four hours' sleep, and, of course, the psychic sucker-punch Dame Fortune had been saving for three years and eleven months. I kept turning on the radio--and turning it off. Turning on the TV--and turning it off. The info-habit was still on me, but today there was nothing left that I needed or wanted to know. I listened to Tom Waits's The Black Rider, an obligatory November listen and seldom more appropriate than today, with its arcane and tragicomic atmosphere of sin, sham, and dank, claustrophobic provincialism.

I browsed my customary, reasoned group of bloggers and pundits, most of them posting light through the late-morning (ET) hours. Few held out hope, nor did I, though of course de facto possibilities remained, until they didn't. I dipped a toe in Salon, but studiously avoided Slate and the real news. I still haven't looked at the Times or the Post. I thought about racking up a full-on Fuck-The-Man set in the CD carousel--Sex Pistols, Public Enemy, Fugazi, ... maybe some Dylan ... but my heart wasn't in it, and Tom Waits trailed into silence. In retrospect, I should've blasted Mingus all day; now Max is asleep and it's too late.

By chance I turned CNN back on just in time for Bush's concession. Heard Cheney use the word "mandate." No accident, that, and it's funny how, even to me, 51 percent does seem like one. Those damn Republicans sure can move the boulder. Bush, I thought, seemed rather subdued. Pleased, certainly, but--could it be?--humbled, and not a little stunned. I wondered if a part of him, after he voted and commended the outcome to God and the People, had started feeling somewhat relieved that he might just get to go cut brush in Crawford come January.

Bush said what he was supposed to say, for beneficence and strategery, and the Angel said, "Oh, he's just a normal husband and father trying to soothe the nation and re-assume his responsibilities." But the Devil said, "Right, you son-of-a-bitch, like with your noble words it is impingent once again upon the LIBERALS to do what we do so well and, generous and trusting, rise above the reeking memory of your perfidiously flung muck and extend the hand of friendship so you can spit in our palm again." From "Sore/Loserman" to Enron to Abu Ghraib to the Swift Boat Vets, the flood is ever tossing at the lip of the spillway.

Four years isn't that long to stay drunk, is it? It's not so much that Kerry lost, Democrats lost, WE lost. It's that THEY won. Bush? Validated. Karl Rove? Vindicated. Fox News Channel and those proudly misinformed right-bloggers you were sure would be tearfully eating their own shit? Back up in your ass with the resurrection.

Indeed, the heartland bellicosity to which Bush has given purpose is apparently the most disturbing thing for most of us. Most of us outgrew calling people fags when we were, I dunno, 15, or at least when we hit our 20s and started actually meeting some gay people and learning that they didn't all dress like Rocky Horror fans or constantly try to "convert" us. In fact, we realized they held down jobs and carried on relationships and were as reliable in all relevant areas as we ourselves strive to be, in addition to being hilarious raconteurs with impeccable taste.

But a lot of Americans think they don't know any gay people, believing they would recognize them by their rampaging promiscuity and the prominent horn sticking out of their foreheads. Having categorized gays and lesbians as foreign and malign, it is easy for otherwise generous citizens to abrogate the rights of these Americans--especially when irresponsible politicians pander to their psychological unease with all sexuality and employ homophobia as a wedge issue in a closely contested election.

Such political irresponsibility also allows otherwise good and decent Americans to overlook the death toll being suffered in nations to which we are endeavoring to bring "democracy" by force of arms. One thousand Americans have died in Iraq, compared with one hundred thousand Iraqis, and I don't know how many Afghanis. Pious hawks declare that we have brought our war to Iraqis for their benefit, and I don't deny that Saddam was bad or that progess has costs, but when civilian death tolls exponentially exceed that of the terrorist attack that began this martial paroxysm, then one has to ask whether our methods will provide, let alone be justified by, our stated goal of defeating terrorism. (I know--I don't think Iraq has anything to do with the WOT, but just for argument's sake.) It is hard to say what to call our blithe disregard for those deaths, but the conclusion that we think their lives matter less than ours is inescapable.

Many who supported Kerry against Bush are aghast, then, at who they are apparently sharing the country with. Are they racists? Homophobes? Theocrats? Trepanned dupes of George the Idiot King? Well...maybe. We can say that we don't understand why Bush's personality is so magnetic for so many people, but we know those people, we even love some of them, and we know how well Bush speaks their language. We just don't like to think about it, because in a couple weeks we may have to eat Thanksgiving dinner with some of them.

It's disgusting and discouraging that Bush ran the campaign he ran and profited by it, but we can't fight the prejudice and superstition that motivated many of his supporters, and we don't have to. If segregation could be ended in the face of a racism that went to the bone in this country, then what we face today is minor. The American middle is more moderate than it looks today, and history is on our side. Whether he's a genius or an idiot, Bush and the circumstances that produced his success are a rare combination, and the radical right will have a hard time finding as appealing a spokesperson for bigotry and repression, and that stuff will go back under the table where it belongs.

More important than faint hopes for an end to demagoguery from the right is finding the narrative and the language that will make it irrelevant as a political strategy. Because it is. You don't have to be a policy wonk to have a rough idea of the problems this country faces and their solutions. These are the moral issues, and we need politicians who don't cede the concept of morality to Baptist ministers. Morality, as far as the government should be concerned with it, is about fairness in business, equality of opportunity, and protecting the environment.

Power and wealth accrues to the powerful and wealthy, and regulating the powerful requires massive, unignorable grass-roots mobilization. It also means developing support and platforms and candidates from the ground up, not waiting for them to be handed down from the Party.

I'm not preaching, here. I run my mouth a lot, but I've never invested myself personally in politics to that extent, and I wouldn't be thinking about it now if it weren't so obvious that we simply don't have a choice. It's either that, or wait around for the revolution. If we all run off to Canada, then the terrorists have already won.



Posted by: Cristina at November 5, 2004 11:51 AM