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Monday, November 25, 2002

Yes, I’m still angry. Not inanimate-object-throwing angry, or splitting-headache angry, but angry nonetheless.

Is it better to make strategic capitulations to the point where you’ve compromised nearly everything you stand for to win power? Or is better to go in, with guns blazing, standing firm, and getting wiped out? I couldn’t tell you, but I can certainly tell you that either one is preferable to rolling over and playing dead, and then getting killed anyway.

In the bleak winter of 2001, there was a line all of us Dems bought about the 2000 elections, to whatever extent we thought we were robbed of the White House.

The line went something like this…
The American public was hoodwinked by a bait-and-switch Republican campaign that did everything it could to blur the differences between the candidates, albeit aided and abetted and an incompetent Democratic campaign. Or at least enough voters were fooled into thinking there was no real difference between the candidates to make Ralph Nader and all the Florida shenanigans the difference. The polls showed most of the issues were on our side. Surely at the next opportunity, things would change.

As we all know now, things instead – from our perspective – have just gotten worse.

Now, it’s easy to exaggerate the meaning of this month’s elections, and many pundits have already done so – it was only a few races in a few states, each with its own pet issue.
It’s easy to talk about how the September 11 attacks changed things, but enough electrons have been manipulated on that topic already, and besides, it’s not as if there were no issues (lax corporate management, the recession, the environment) for Democrats to campaign on.

However, when the game ended this time around, our side lost.

So the second-guessing begins, and hopefully will subside as the sobering task of developing some sort of blueprint for rebuilding a majority can commence. Were the Democrats’ tactics poor? Obviously, although their whole emphasis on “tactics” was itself problematic. Did the GOP run an adept campaign? Yes. Did Democrats like myself underestimate the administration and its popularity? Certainly.

If this were an RPG, I’d just leave it there and say something like “Well, my character got killed, time to roll a new one and start back at Level One, though I’m going to miss Bill Clinton’s 16 dexterity.” If this were my favorite team losing a playoff game, maybe I’d mutter a few curse words under my breath, ruminate about it in one short blog, and get on with my life. No one likes a sore loser.

Except that this is no game. The press treats it like a horse race, idle cocktail party conversations in this town treat it like a well-publicized chess match, but it’s not a damn game. There are real consequences to these results.

Now I know that it’s very dangerous for a politico to blame the voters, even in part, for an election result. (Especially if you consider how small a percentage of registered or eligible voters actually bothered turning out to the polls.) It’s hard to curry favor with the electorate if you’re standing there calling them idiots for not supporting your candidates of choice. So Democrat-types found themselves in a quandary, having to be careful about how to spin the results.

You can say you were outplayed, outfoxed, and such, babbling on and on about fundraising methods, campaign tactics, and such. You can, either publically or secretly, credit Karl Rove and his minions for masterminding this history-defying victory. You can’t say that Americans prefer the conservative policies of the other party, since that’s kind of embarrassing. And you especially can’t say that voters were hoodwinked.

I, on the other hand, do not need to bear such a burden.

So here goes…the electorate, frankly, showed themselves to be idiots. Now whether that’s because they believe in the Bush crowd’s bad ideas, because they were sold on those ideas, because they couldn’t recognize a clear alternative, or because they were baited and switched into voting Republican anyway is, for the moment, immaterial.

Americans like to think they don’t like nasty campaigns, but as long as they reward their perpetrators with high office, they’re just going to get more dirty tricks. (The voters of Georgia deserve special scorn for rewarding the dirty, chicken hawk, chicken**** campaign of Senator-elect Saxby Chambliss.) Voters like to think they don’t like vapid campaigns, but as long as they reward worthless campaign rhetoric, they’re going to get ever more vapid campaigns, by Democrats and Republicans alike.

The bottom line? Well, maybe we now have the government we deserve.

Maybe we deserve to have a small class of well-heeled, clever, enterprising plutocrats rob us blind while the people in charge of watching them are ordered to look the other way. Maybe we deserve to have to shell out more in income or payroll taxes or to pay for all the giveaways to the super wealthy the Republicans are about to inflict on the nation. Maybe we deserve to have out national government adrift in a sea of red ink. Maybe we deserve to have our lives pored over by shady characters like John Poindexter of Iran-Contra fame. Maybe we deserve to have drug companies continue to gouge us in a way they don’t dare do anywhere else on the planet. Maybe we deserve to breathe dirtier air, to drink more polluted water, to eat more hazardous food. Maybe we deserve to be surrounded by ever more desperate people, both at home and abroad, fueling a desire for bigger and better fences and gates and walls, more guns, and ever more security precautions. In a general way, maybe we deserve the scorn of the rest of the world for our arrogance and recklessness and don’t really have a right to be shocked at how popular anti-Americanism is becoming around the globe. Oh, yeah, and more stuff named after Reagan. How on earth could I forget about that?

I hope we’re happy with what we’ve done.

There will be some “Hate to say ‘I told you so’” coming due down the line. (Except that no one truly hates to say “I told you so,” and that “Hate to say I told you so” is indeed one of the few things people enjoy saying even more than saying “I told you so.”)

And of course, much of the rest of the world doesn’t really deserve to suffer for the consequences of what we’re doing. Nor do our children or grandchildren. But oh, well. Our nation’s wholly conservative leadership has plenty of rope with which to hang themselves. I feel bad for some, if not all, of the people that are going to hang with them.

The best thing I can say about this is that every two years, the deck gets reshuffled.
A lot can change in two years nowadays.

There, that felt better. More constructive observations may follow.


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