Our Blue Heaven
Progressives must refuse to buy into destructive theories about last Tuesday’s defeat.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
The re-election of George W. Bush has inspired a week of soul-searching and finger-pointing among progressive voters trying to comprehend what went wrong. While this process of self-criticism is inevitable and potentially healthy, it is threatening to turn into an orgy of self-flagellation.
Prior to last Tuesday, Democrats and their allies on the left billed the contest as the most important election in a lifetime. They were correct. Now they face four more years of Bush Administration rule with fear and anger. Almost as bad, many seem to feel a confusion, bordering on shame, that they misjudged the national mood. They are close to buying into the notion, put forward by the Bush camp, that they are “out of step with mainstream American values.”
This symbolic loss is almost as bad as the real one. But succumbing to pathetic defeatism is a dangerous move, and it’s unnecessary.
The only way to accept the idea that last Tuesday’s vote is a true reflection of what Americans think, feel, want, etc., is to forget some hard, sad truths. And we should not do that.
Let’s not forget that most Americans get their information mediated through corporate-owned news sources with a deep proclivity to perpetuate the status quo. Let’s not forget that money has skewed the democratic process so hard that even some prominent Republicans are calling for deep electoral reform.
Let’s not forgive the Republicans for their cynical ploy of driving a wedge into the electorate with divisive issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage. Or for the cynical ploy of flat-out lying, or for portraying John Kerry (who, whatever his faults, probably really is some kind of hero) as an anti-American wimp.
Let’s not let Karl Rove and his clients in the White House off the hook for turning terrorism into a bogey, and using fear as a campaign tool.
And let’s not ignore the fact that, for all of last week’s blather about the fabulous turnout, almost four out of ten Americans refused to even vote. Or that, for all of the blather about the awesome Rock the Vote effort, a whopping 55 percent of young adults voted this time around—only a few percentage points more than in 2000.
It’s worthwhile to pause for a moment to consider these non-voters, who are not represented on any electoral map I’ve seen. There is no reason for mystified hand-wringing about these non-voters. In 1988, the sociologists Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward published a difinitive text on the topic. The findings of the book, Why Americans Don’t Vote, are as blunt and simple as its title:
Voters are better off and better educated, and nonvoters are poorer and less well educated. Modest variations notwithstanding, this has been true for most of the twentieth century, and has actually worsened in the last two decades. In sum, the active American electorate overrepresents those who have more, and underrepresents those who have less.
Fox Piven and Cloward recommend numerous reforms in their book—many of which have been put forward, almost always by Democrats. They have been defeated simply because the system as it is favors the rich and powerful—the people and institutions George W. Bush calls his “base.”
So let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that this election is the whole problem, or even the tip of the problem—it’s more like the shadow of the problem.
Last Tuesday’s election does not prove that American moral values are more concerned with guns, gays and abortion than they are with poverty, peace and health care. If last Tuesday’s vote proves anything, it proves that our system is broken.
We know it’s broken because Americans who mostly oppose the war in Iraq, and mostly support a woman’s right to choose, and mostly favor safeguards for the environment, and are mostly fair-minded and liberal when it comes to virtually every economic issue, elected a tax-cutting, war-mongering, small-minded, patriarchal cowboy to be their president.
Finally, let’s not forget that voting is only one piece of democracy.
Democracy is working when and only when individuals are able to control their destiny. Voting is only one method for citizens to achieve that power over their lives, their community and their nation.
Instead of buying into a myth, progressive Americans must dare to be bitter. Grief must give way to anger or it will turn into a weakening communal depression. That would be good for the bad guys.
And if there is something distasteful about these sour grapes, so be it.