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Rationally Speaking
a monthly e-column by
Dr. Massimo Pigliucci

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# 56 December 2004 Dude, this is your country! Join Discussion

Well, the US presidential elections are now behind us, and a lot has been written and said about them. Nonetheless, I couldn’t resist adding my own little commentary on what happened and, more importantly, what we (unabashed liberal progressives) need to do in the near and long-term future. Bear with me, I promise not to return to Bush in this column for at least a few months...




First, let us understand what happened: barring the real possibility of local electoral fraud, this time George W. was in fact elected by a majority of the American public. While it is true that this was a narrow majority (which doesn’t give him any “mandate” at all), it is also true that Bush would have lost by a landslide in every other Western country (except Poland, apparently). Moreover, since the Republicans gained seats in both the House and the Senate, it is clear that we are witnessing yet another shift of the national political mood toward the right. Even had Kerry won, he would have been paralyzed by a Republican-controlled Congress. So, this was no fluke, but the continuation of a worrisome trend that we need to recognize.

Second, and more importantly, why did this happen, despite worldwide protests against the war in Iraq, the lies of the Bush administration about weapons of mass destruction, and the less obvious but nonetheless clear enough failure of accomplishing in Iraq whatever the US was officially poised to accomplish (see the still deteriorating security situation, for example, together with the increasingly mounting number of American casualties)? Many reasons can be brought to bear, but the overarching conclusion must be that, at the moment -- and contrary to what implied by the title of Michael Moore’s latest book -- dude, this in fact is our country! Or, as many commentators have not tired of pointing out, two countries: the blue and the red. We need to be careful, however, because as much as it is fun (and largely justified) to poke fun at the bigotry, racism, and lack of cultural development of the red states, it is also true that there is a large number of liberals living there, not to mention the even larger number of conservatives living in the blue states. America is a more complex quilt than simplistic national maps may lead us to believe, and this is a factor that may play in favor of either side over the next few years, depending on how the cards of the game are going to be played by the two major parties.

The reds won for a variety of reasons, of course, which include (but are certainly not limited to) the fervent patriotism of most Americans (my country, right or wrong), the fear of terrorism that the Bush administration has played so well, the blatant lies that the Republican campaign has piled up through the use of external groups (see the “swift boat veterans” debacle) or by cunningly crafting their own camping messages (he is a flip-flopper, my changes of position are the result of leadership), and of course Karl Rove’s brilliant use of the “gay marriage” issue in the battleground states. The latter is particularly enlightening, considering that the two candidates did not, in fact, differ on that issue: both Bush and Kerry were against gay marriages, and both favored (grudgingly, in the case of Bush) some sort of legal recognition of gay couples. Americans were simply not paying attention.

The other cluster of reasons why the Republicans carried the day, of course, is the sheer stupidity of the Democrats. How many more lost elections do we have to go through before we understand that -- at the moment -- there is no way that a charmless Senator from the northeast is going to be elected? We need somebody like Bill Clinton: from the south, with no record of “flip-flopping,” and capable of faking a true understanding of bigots and cultural morons at least as well as Bush does. Sorry, it ain’t pretty, but the stakes are simply too high to take yet another chance (which means, I’m sorry to say, no Hillary Clinton to run in 2008!).

Third, what are we going to do about it? Well, liberals have to understand that we need both a viable short-term tactic and a winning long-term strategy. For the short-term, as I just mentioned, Democrats need to play up whatever winning personalities they may have among their ranks. We need people like Clinton and Cuomo to bring back some sanity into the White House (and to the rest of the world). The Democratic party also needs to realize that Republicans usually don’t play fair: they will strike below the belt whenever possible. The best way to deal with this is to aggressively go to the American public and point that out. Most Americans don’t like viciousness, and they’ll see it when it is brought right up to their nose.

But more importantly we need a long-term strategy to damp some blue in the south and midwest. This is going to take decades, not months. The Christian right is correct: we are in the middle of a cultural war (worldwide, not just in the US), and the stakes are as high as civilization as we know it (would you like to live in a theocracy? No? Then get your butt off the couch, because it will happen to you!). Democrats need to do their part by pushing public education, battling every judicial nomination, getting young and poor people to realize that voting is a duty, not just a privilege. Perhaps most importantly, liberals need to have the guts to explain to the American public that the Christian right’s world view is fundamentally oppressive and unfair, and that going with Pat Robertson isn’t the only way to be religious (or endorsing George W. the only way to be patriotic). Unjust wars, poverty, lack of education and health care are moral issues, and they are much more important than what people do in the privacy of their bedrooms. Brace yourself, it’s going to be a long trench war, with plenty of casualties and harsh times ahead, and -- unlike what happens in Hollywood movies -- a happy ending isn’t assured at all. It’s up to us to make it happen.

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