Yesterday , I suggested that Democrats needed to get in touch with "red America" and its values if they want to win elections. But judging from some of the press accounts on Democratic reactions to Kerry's defeat, the lesson bears repeating. I keep seeing things like this, from the Boston Globe:
''He could have made a great president," Johnson said. ''Many Americans have nothing between their ears. Americans are fat, lazy, and stupid. I don't like this country anymore."
Likewise, there's this, from The New York Times:
Striking a characteristic New York pose near Lincoln Center yesterday, Beverly Camhe clutched three morning newspapers to her chest while balancing a large latte and talked about how disconsolate she was to realize that not only had her candidate, John Kerry, lost but that she and her city were so out of step with the rest of the country.
"Do you know how I described New York to my European friends?" she said. "New York is an island off the coast of Europe."
If you think that much of America is like a foreign country, you're not likely to win many elections -- because it's hard to get foreigners to vote for you. Calling the voters dumb probably doesn't do much to win people over, either. It always strikes me that so many people who are quick to note the importance of understanding the differences in perception between nations, or races, or sexual preferences, and to try to bridge those gaps, are so unwilling to do the same thing where people from elsewhere in their own country are concerned. But Democrats must do better, or become a regional party. Because contempt doesn't win a lot of votes.
Despite my MSNBC colleague Eric Alterman's , it wasn't a "Kerry landslide." In fact, it was a pretty solid victory for George W. Bush. He won a solid majority of the popular vote -- making him the first President since his father in 1988 to do so -- and, in fact, won a larger share of the vote than Carter in 1976 or Nixon in 1968. And, of course, Bill Clinton, whose victory margin was never in doubt, never obtained a majority.
Unfortunately, Alterman's take on the reasons for this outcome is :
The problem is just this: Slightly more than half of the citizens of this country simply do not care about what those of us in the 'reality-based community' say or believe about anything.
Here's a hint. If you're trying to win elections, and you set yourself apart from a majority of the electorate, you're not part of the "reality-based community." You're living in a fantasy world.
Some people are facing reality, though:
I can't tell you how optimistic I was going into this election, though, looking back, there doesn't seem to have been a reason for quite such a sunny view. But I, like most of us, fell for the echo chamber. Daily Kos, MyDD, Steve Soto, Pandagon, and all the other blogs are run by good people with positive intentions, but if they're you're primary source for information, you're outlook is perverted by an overwhelming amount of good news and a general disdain for the factual accuracy of bad news. It perverts your perspective and, because the sample group is so totally different than most of America, it begins to twist your political predictions and assumptions of what works.
Indeed. There's also this comment:
In short, most educated Americans have little sense of the texture and the complexity of working-class life, of its richness and satisfactions as well as its problems and discontents. And without an intimate and personal understanding of these things, it will always be profoundly difficult for liberals and progressives to convince working Americans that they should be trusted to represent workers' needs and interests in the political system.
During the 1930s, union organizers were taught never to blame the workers if an organizing campaign failed. 'It's not their fault for not understanding,' the organizers were instructed. 'It's your fault for not explaining it clearly enough.' It is a motto today's liberals and progressives would do well to hang on the walls of the political campaign war rooms in the elections of the coming years.
And perhaps on the walls of some leftist bloggers too.
America's left today is dominated by Hollywood and academia, and their values don't resonate with actual, American voters. What's more, if the Democratic Party did represent the views of actual American voters, it's values wouldn't mesh very well with those of Hollywood and academia. That's reality.
Taking the pledge
As I write this, it's 7:29 and nobody knows who's going to win. Like the "veil of ignorance" posited by philosopher John Rawls, this has inspired some people on both the left and right to take pledges to support the new President, whoever he or she is.
Not everyone agrees, though. One blogger writes:
"I PLEDGE TO BITCH ABOUT WHOMEVER IS ELECTED PRESIDENT."
Always make promises you know you can keep!
We'll all do that, no doubt. And appropriately, as the President works for us, not the other way around. But perhaps a more moderate tone will set in after the election. That's what I hope for below.
I also hope that whoever wins does so by a big enough margin to spare us too much wrangling. My sense of the perversity of life makes me think that maybe this time Bush will win the popular vote, while Kerry wins the electoral vote. If that happens, I promise to treat Kerry's election as legitimate.
Once it's over, it's over
Eric Olsen looks at our elections and writes that it all makes him proud to be an American.
That might be an odd thought, as the fashionable thing to do is to decry the partisanship and mudslinging that we've seen, and to strike a high-minded pose. But I think Olsen has a point.
Politics ain't beanbag, as the old saying has it. But it's not so clear that this election has been especially nasty, by historical standards. Walter Shapiro doesn't think it has, and Megan McArdle agrees, writing:
I live on the Upper West Side, three blocks from the house I grew up in, and honestly, this election feels to me very much the same as the elections of 1984, 1988 and 1992.
. . .
Mom agrees: everyone on the Upper West Side was just as mad then as they are now. I suspect the only reason the media can detect this unprecedented bitterness on the part of the electorate is that, living as they do in Democratic strongholds, the Clinton years lulled them into forgetting the rank hatred that prevailed during Republican administrations (and which, I presume, prevailed in Georgia and Alabama when Clinton was in office).
I think that's probably right. We survived those elections -- and even prospered in their aftermath -- and I suspect we'll do the same thing again. When you compare our situation with the bravery of the Afghan women who lined up to vote despite death threats from the Taliban, it's obvious that we've got it pretty good. As Olsen notes:
We don't kill people who simply disagree with us, we vote against them and we thank them for their effort - this is the essence of "freedom" in practice.
It's so familiar to us that we don't appreciate it enough, but a look at the places where things are -- or until recently, were -- done differently should remind us of why we're fortunate.
At the moment, I have no idea who will win. Partisans on both sides are confidently proclaiming that their guy has it in the bag, but the polls seem to be all over the place. For reasons I've set out here at some length, I hope that Bush wins. But if Kerry wins, I'll hope that he does a good job, and I'll be happy to give him credit for it if he does. I've been wrong about candidates before -- if you'd asked me in 2000 who would be better-suited to deal with terrorists and war I'd probably have said Al Gore, and who knows, I might have been right, as his subsequent unimpressive behavior was that of a disappointed man who lost, not that of a sitting President -- but if Kerry's elected I'll give him a chance, and not engage in what Andrew Sullivan once accused Bush's critics of: "relentless negativism without any constructive alternative."
Likewise, I hope that if Bush is re-elected, his critics will try to be more constructive, and will give up on that relentless negativism, and the ritual invocations of "Halliburton," "Chimpy," and "selected not elected." Tensions run high in a campaign, and I've certainly seen people I respect lose their heads and say things that they probably will -- and probably should -- regret later. But once it's over, it's over. Traditionally, winners and losers have made their peace and at least tried to govern constructively. I hope we'll see that this time, as we've seen it in the past.
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