George W. Bush, the joke went, promised in 2000 to be a uniter,
not a divider, and he succeeded — he united the Democrats.
And not just the Democrats. All sorts of different people came
together in 2004 to vote Bush out of office. They failed. It
has been interesting this past week to see this coalition come
We worked hard, and we fought hard, and I wish that things had
turned out a little differently. But in an American election,
there are no losers, because whether or not our candidates are
successful, the next morning we all wake up as Americans.
—John Kerry, 03 November
Some did. There's a faction of the Kerry coalition that looked
at the red states on the election map and said that we'll never
win unless we start appealing to these people in here. Who do they
like? God-fearing conservatives who look and sound like them? Fine.
We have some of those. We'll start by naming as our Senate leader a
devout Mormon whose
web page at senate.gov features testimonials from Orrin
Hatch and Trent Lott, but no Democrats. See if we can't tap
Easley and Evan
Bayh for the '08 ticket. Tack right on a bunch of issues
and we'll be fine.
Then there are those who looked at the red states on the election
map and finally realized, "That is not my country."
I always said that Saddam Hussein was a threat. He was a threat because
he had used weapons of mass destruction against his own people.
—George W. Bush,
17 June 2004|
When I went searching online for a specific citation of Bush saying that
Saddam Hussein gassed "his own people," this instance from June 17th was
hardly my only choice. Bush is famous for saying the same thing over and
over and over again and this is no exception. Bush is also famous for
saying things that aren't true, and again, this is no exception.
Saddam Hussein did not gas his own people. Saddam Hussein's people are
Sunni Arabs. The people he gassed in Halabja in 1988 were Kurds.
Members of both of these populations happen to have wound up within the borders
of the artificial nation-state of Iraq. But the British did not, by drawing
lines on a map, magically turn the Arabs and Kurds into countrymen.
I don't hate Bush voters. But they are not my countrymen.
The Kurds have been trying to form their own country for ages, but Turkey
and Iraq won't let them secede. Just as the US refused to let the breakaway
southern states secede in 1861. I didn't live in a southern state until I
was 22, so growing up I was always taught to see the Civil War as the good
guys triumphing over the bad guys. There's a good case for this, of course:
the outcome of the Civil War ended slavery in America. Slavery is evil.
I'd be willing to say the northern states had the moral right to invade the
Confederacy, free the slaves, and offer them asylum and citizenship in the
north. But I am no longer willing to say that the Union had the right to
reannex the Confederate states. They wanted to go. Forcing them to stay
was another form of slavery.
|cartoon by Steve Ditko
Since the election, a lot of distraught progressives have been daydreaming
about moving to Canada or, even better, seceding from the US. But while
the US has a well-established process for adding states, there's no
provision for states leaving — launching the process would assuredly
lead to war. And to think... the culture we'd like to divorce ourselves
from and which would now never let us leave? It was once willing to go
quietly. Pardon me while I slap my forehead.
So, yeah, secession's not going to happen. But there might be some other
things we can do to either, as a longshot, take back control, or more
realistically, win some of the rewards of secession.
American institutions such as the Senate and the electoral college are based
on the idea that the US is a federation of distinct states. That North Dakota
and South Dakota are such very different societies that they need separate
representation in the upper house of the federal legislature, but California
is a unified whole from Alturas to San Francisco to Coto de Caza. This is of
course ridiculous. Most state boundaries are arbitrary. France's borders
are where they are because that's where the French people live; Wyoming's
borders are where they are because some cartographer in DC liked rectangles.
At right is a map I put together out of graphics from
uselectionatlas.org, which uses
the common pre-2000 scheme of blue for Republicans and red for Democrats,
with darker colors indicating stronger support. These are the states of
Indiana and Ohio. What I want to point out is this. These two states
are separated by a vertical line. Draw that line where it is, and you
get 31 electoral votes for Bush. Draw it just a few miles east, however,
and you get 12 electoral votes for Bush in a slightly wider Indiana and
19 electoral votes for Kerry in a slightly narrower Ohio. This would
give Kerry the election.
In fact, by redrawing state lines, you can generate any outcome you want,
from a 521-17 Kerry landslide to a 538-0 Bush shutout. And the lines you
draw would be no more arbitrary than the lines that currently exist.
It is highly unlikely that state lines will ever be redrawn, at least in
my lifetime. But there's another way to game the system that is entirely
During the 2004 campaign, I often encountered Kerry backers saying, "My vote
doesn't count — I live in Massachusetts" or "My vote doesn't count
— I live in Texas." Some toyed with the idea of moving to swing
states, at least in jest. And students were strongly encouraged to
register in swing states if they had a choice: if you're from Florida
but are going to school in New York, they were told, register in
Florida. This would be one way to go, I suppose. Kerry won
California by a million votes. If 15% of those unnecessary Kerry voters
had moved to Ohio over the summer, Kerry would be president. But here's
the thing. We don't even have to swing any states from one column
to another for our guy to win.
Electoral votes are reassigned every ten years on the basis of population.
States get an electoral vote for each member of Congress they have, and
DC gets three. So let's take those two Kerry voters mentioned earlier.
The first one's actual vote doesn't count for much — Kerry winning
Massachusetts was a foregone conclusion. But she helped him simply by
living in Massachusetts at the time of the census and swelling its
electoral vote count. The second one's actual vote also doesn't count
for much — Bush was sure to win Texas. But this guy actually
hurt his candidate, simply by living in Texas and swelling the
electoral vote count for Bush. The moral of the story is simple. If
you're a liberal living in a red state, LEAVE.
You don't have to go to a swing state. Going to a blue state is fine.
Here is what would have happened had all of the Kerry households in red states
moved to blue states before the last census. Not one state changes hands,
and I'll err on the side of keeping votes in the red states. Still, look at
Bush's new electoral vote count:
Kerry wins, 331-207, without a vote changing hands or a line being redrawn.
Of course, Bush won the popular vote, so even if all of Kerry's voters were
to leave the red states, Bush could retake the electoral college simply by
having his voters leave the blue states. We'd then have states with completely
And that would be awesome. They say the US has become polarized. (The
numbers seem to back this up — go to uselectionatlas.org and you'll
find that each state's county-by-county map lets you roll between the 2000
and 2004 returns. Almost invariably, the colors get darker.) Now there's
been talk of healing the divisions in the wake of the election. Enh. I
don't want to "bring our polarized country together." Polarization is good
for me. I'm at one of the poles.
The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into red states and blue
states; red states for Republicans, blue states for Democrats. But I've
got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the blue states [...]
We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes,
all of us defending the United States of America.||
Obama, 27 July 2004|
I am on the Barack Obama bandwagon to the extent that his record is
reasonably progressive, he's not from the south (he's actually from
Hawaii, of all places), and he looks like he actually has a pretty
good shot at being president someday despite this. But, at least
here, he could not be speaking for me less. I don't worship an
awesome god. I don't pledge allegiance to the stars and stripes.
And I don't defend the United States of America.
It's easy to see why Obama took this tack. Every election, the
Republicans try to argue that Democratic candidates represent
a culture far from the American mainstream, that they're unpatriotic,
anti-military, anti-Christianity, anti-gun socialists with snobbish
tastes. The Democrats counter, as Obama did, that no, they're right
there in the mainstream: "I love this country as much as you do! I
actually served in the armed forces myself! I'm as devout a Christian
as anyone — Christianity is at the root of all my ideals! I go
hunting every fall, want to cut your taxes, and I like football and
Nascar and Cheez Whiz!" There's only one America, we're all part of
the same culture, so let's talk minor policy distinctions.
Except, again, the whole point of the federal system is that states
are supposed to have different cultures. Nevada is not supposed
to be like Utah. Massachusetts is not supposed to be like New Hampshire.
I want to see these distinctions grow sharper. Why? Because the more
state cultures diverge, the more likely it is that you'll be able to
find one that suits you — even if, like me, you actually are
the unpatriotic, anti-military, anti-Christianity, anti-gun socialist
with snobbish tastes the Republicans use as a bogeyman.
Because, as noted at the top, not only are the left and right miles
apart, but even the left is not uniform. I randomly came across a
relishing the idea of red and blue America going their separate
ways — but the author's country isn't one I'd want to live
in any more than I want to live in Bush's. He writes, "New York City
is a good model; Berkeley is not." I've lived in both those places.
Moving back to Berkeley is pretty much my primary goal in life; New
York City made me want to kill myself. But hey! That's why we have
multiple blue states! So that this guy and I don't have to live with
the fundies or with each other!
The blog entry I just mentioned bounces off a map that's popped up all over
the net. I have a couple of observations about it:
#1: The reason this works is the remarkable geographical contiguity of the
states in each camp (at least when you throw Canada into the mix). This
year we didn't have islands like 2000's red New Hampshire and blue New
Mexico. The split within America is not just demographic; it's truly
regional. Which makes secession much easier to imagine. This graphic
wouldn't work as a checkerboard map.
#2: In 1999, Firaxis Games released Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, a
Civilization variant in which seven factions battle for domination
of a colony world. Naturally, I always played as the ecology-minded Gaia's
Stepdaughters. This meant that I frequently crossed swords with the faction
known as The Lord's Believers, led by Miriam Godwinson. In 1999, Godwinson's
bio listed her place of birth as "Athens, Georgia, Christian States of
America." It was left unclear whether this was a nation that had broken
away from the US or whether the fundamentalists had taken over. Curiously,
while you will still find references to the Christian States of America all
over, Firaxis's own site now lists Godwinson's country of origin as simply
"United States". Did the original touch a nerve? Or did the Firaxis team
decide that no alternative history was required to bring Miriam about?
The armies of the Believers faction in Alpha Centauri get a +25%
bonus on their attacks due to their religious fervor. They also get a
-2 penalty on research. Miriam's faction doesn't want to learn things.
Neither does Bush's.
And neither does Bush. It's not just that he proudly proclaims that
he doesn't read newspapers, trumpets his bad grades at Yale to prove
he wasn't tainted by higher education, mocks people for speaking
foreign languages or using words outside his active vocabulary, and
is regularly described even by his most ardent supporters as
It's his sheer hostility to unsolicited input. Even questions from
reporters are invariably greeted by Bush with defensive whining; while
John Kerry's town hall meetings during the campaign were come one come
all, Bush's audiences had to sign loyalty oaths to get in. And then
there's his approach to foreign affairs, in which the US says, "This
is what we're doing; you can help if you want," and if other countries
try to chime in with an opinion, the response is effectively, "Shut
up — fuck you — we don't care what you think."
This attitude was vividly on display in the response from the
"American heartland" to a British newspaper's initiative to send
letters arguing in favor of John Kerry. Some of the
Have you not noticed that Americans don't give two shits what Europeans
think of us? [...] I don't give a rat's ass if our election is going to
have an effect on your worthless little life. I really don't.
KEEP YOUR FUCKIN' LIMEY HANDS OFF OUR ELECTION. HEY, SHITHEADS, REMEMBER
THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR? REMEMBER THE WAR OF 1812? WE DIDN'T WANT YOU, OR
YOUR POLITICS HERE, THAT'S WHY WE KICKED YOUR ASSES OUT. FOR THE 47% OF
YOU WHO DON'T WANT PRESIDENT BUSH, I SAY THIS ... TOUGH SHIT!
Real Americans aren't interested in your pansy-ass, tea-sipping opinions.
YOU ARE NOT WANTED!! Whether you want to support either party. BUTT OUT!!!
Who in the hell do you think you are??? Well, I'll tell you, you're a bunch
of meddling socialist pricks! Stay the hell out of our country and politics.
Keep your noses out of our business. As I recall we kicked your asses out
of our country back in 1776. We do not require input from losers and idiots
on who we vote for in our own country. Fuck off and die asshole!!!!!
In short: "Shut up! Fuck you! We don't care what you think!" And
note that these responses were not to the actual letters, but to the
very idea of considering someone else's opinions.
Part of this hostility seems to stem from a massive inferiority
complex. Time and time again I've heard southern and midwestern
voters say that the number one thing they're looking for in a
candidate is someone who doesn't "condescend" to them —
and, it seems, all attempts to communicate by anyone who isn't
one of them will be interpreted as condescension. Howard Dean
encountered this in one of those big nine-way debates back in
2003. He'd said, "I want to go down to the south and talk to
people who don't make any more than anybody else up north but
keep voting Republican against their own economic interests,"
and John Edwards replied, "Let me tell you, the last thing we
need in the South is somebody like you coming down and telling
us what we need to do." Shut up! Fuck you! We don't care what
you think! Now, I don't think for a minute that this is what
John Edwards actually thought. But he knew this response would
win big points for him in the south, where people could be
counted on to object, not to Howard Dean's ideas, but to his
audacity in even opening his mouth.
They call it "lecturing." They accused Kerry of doing it
during the debates: Bush talked, Kerry "lectured." Now, me,
I like lectures. One thing I loved about UC Berkeley
was that classes were taught lecture-style, with an informed
speaker holding forth on a subject in an organized manner to
a packed auditorium instead of the chit-chat-style classes
I was used to in high school. But that's me. I went to those
lectures because I wanted to learn things. But as Missouri-reared
Jane Smiley has pointed out, Red America actively values ignorance:
The election results reflect the decision of the right wing to cultivate
and exploit ignorance in the citizenry. [...] Here is how ignorance works:
First, they put the fear of God into you — if you don't believe in
the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal
word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate
all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief
that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make
sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex
thought and so it is best not try it. [...] The history of the last four
years shows that red state types, above all, do not want to be told what
to do — they prefer to be ignorant. As a result, they are virtually
—Jane Smiley, 04 November 2004|
After the debates were over and it was clear that not even the
"Bush communicated, Kerry lectured" mantra was taking hold, the
Republican spin machine took a different angle: "We're not
a debater!" they cried. That is to say, they came out and
admitted that, yeah, if you actually want to argue over
the direction the country should take, then sure, Kerry's going
to come out ahead. But Real Americans don't vote based on "arguments."
I mean, what are you supposed to do if you're proven wrong in an
"argument"? Change your mind?
One of the key contrasts in the 2004 election was that between a
guy who changes his mind and a guy who doesn't. Democrats were
frustrated because their guy seemed to be on the losing end of
this comparison. Kerry, they complained, actually examined the
facts of an issue and changed his mind when the facts changed,
and for this he was tagged a "flip-flopper"; Bush stubbornly
stuck to wrong decisions even as things got worse and worse, and
for this he was heralded as having "conviction." How could
Democrats reframe this issue?
In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that
the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director,
Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed
the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the
time I didn't fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to
the very heart of the Bush presidency. The aide said that guys like me
were "in what we call the reality-based community," which he defined as
people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of
discernible reality." I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment
principles and empiricism. He cut me off. "That's not the way the world
really works anymore," he continued.||
Suskind, 17 October 2004|
When this quote appeared in the New York Times Magazine, left-wing
bloggers seized upon it as a crucial slip from the Bush camp. They've
handed us the key to finally explaining to the general public in simple
terms what Bush's problem is! He's out of touch with reality!
That's the winning angle! I mean, who's anti-reality? So, tacking
slogans like "Proud Member of the Reality-Based Community" to their
mastheads, they did their best to spread the meme... ignoring the
fact that this guy had coined the phrase as a pejorative.
Bush's people were betting that in fact the majority of voters were
the sort who'd take "reality-based" as a smear. And they
Conservative Christians are taught all our lives that we are constantly
engaged in spiritual warfare. [...] Demons? Real. Angelic warfare? Real.
That passage in Ephesians about putting on the full armor of God? We
take that seriously. [...] Paul has this way of delineating Christianity
as a practice so that you can live it out very easily. He basically
teaches Christians that they are to live every day as though they are
battling persecution. Paul is the classic propagator of the Us/Them
mentality. Them is the World. The World is evil and sinful and wants
to persecute Us. It is Our job as Conservative Christians to don our
armor and wage war against the World.||
03 November 2004|
So there you have it. The World that exists outside one's mythology
— reality — is, explicity, the enemy. It explains so much.
All the pundits were so sure that Kerry was finally on the right track
when he started accusing Bush of living in a fantasy world. Little did
they know that Bush had 59 million voters in there with him.
Some did, though. One person who warned about the evangelical vote ahead
of time was one of my favorite writers, who also happens to be a minister
affiliated with a black church in Colorado Springs. A few days before the
election, he noted:
Most black religious voters know almost nothing about John Kerry but know
the president is against abortion and gay marriage, the only two issues
the religious right seem to care anything about. It's an unexpected bonus
for the Republicans: black votes by default. Black votes that come their
way simply because the Democrats have taken blacks in general — and
black conservative Christians in specific — for granted. It is a
mistake from which the DNC may not recover. [...] By not speaking to moral
issues, or perhaps by not speaking loud enough to moral issues, they have
left many blacks out in the cold, stuck between a political decision and
a moral one.||
J. Priest, 30 October 2004|
My immediate reply was, "If you're on the other side of an issue from a
particular group, how much sense does it make to talk about that issue more
loudly?" Others chimed in to say, yeah, if they actually are religious
conservatives, why should they vote for the Democrats? Don't they
fall squarely in the middle of the Republicans' natural constituency?
The answer, as Al Sharpton pointed out at the convention in reply to Bush
asking the same question the previous week, is that in addition to being
religious conservatives, blacks also tend to be (a) poor and (b) discriminated
against, and the Democratic Party is the one that fights for those two
groups. This argument jibes with the conventional wisdom that, as Howard
Dean recommended, the Democrats should reach out to poor social conservatives
of all races and show them that the Republicans have been using "God, guns
and gays" to trick them into voting against their own economic interests.
Because economically, as books like What's the Matter with Kansas?
have pointed out, things have turned upside-down recently.
Here's one side of the equation:
Laura B. has found a job working in the kitchen at a local faith based
Christian College. She makes $6/hour. She drives a dying Ford Escort wagon
[and] pays $2.15/gallon for gas. Her latest crisis is [that] her insurance
expired on Oct. 9 (her ex-partner cancelled [the] policy). She needs to come
up with $211 to get insurance for one month or face a $1,000 fine if she gets
caught driving with no insurance. We have some public transportation,
Dial-a[-]Ride, [whose] minibus runs between 7 am and 6 p.m., M-F $1.50 one-way.
She has to be at work at 6am. She has been walking to work lately but it is
about 2 miles [and] she is 5 months pregnant, it is dark at 5 am, and winter
is coming. [...] She voted for Bush because of his "family values."
Markos Moulitsas, published 04 November 2004|
And on the flip side we have this:
[T]he past four years demonstrated conclusively that electing a
narrow-minded, regressive, war-mongering nincompoop into the country's
highest office doesn't affect me much at all. I am a heterosexual white
male, age 36 — too old to be drafted, too young to be seriously worried
about Social Security, deficits or health care, except in the abstract. I
will not be seeking a legal abortion. I have no desire to marry another man.
Jobwise, I am in a position of extraordinary privilege, earning more money
for writing a single 1500-word column (which takes one day) than somebody
mopping floors will make in a month and a half. The horrible things that
are going to happen to many Americans (and other citizens of the world)
over the next four years, and for who knows how long thereafter, are not
going to be happening to me, in all likelihood. [...] But that's not the
heartening part. The heartening part is that it's now after 5:30pm and I
have yet to eat a single bite of food today. The pit of nausea in my
stomach suggests that I'd only chuck it right back up. Maybe I'm not as
selfish and solipsistic as I sometimes fear I am.
D'Angelo, 03 November 2004|
This is the new debate, it seems: "What's wrong with you? We're just
trying to help you!" "We don't want your help! All we need
is JESUS!" And a lot of people are fed up. So the red staters want to
dismantle the welfare state? Fine. We tried, but no skin off our noses
— they're the ones who are benefiting from it:
One of the best proposals I've heard over the past week is this: so
the Republicans are vehemently opposed to redistribution of wealth?
The income tax, the inheritance tax, the welfare system? Great! Then
let's end this interstate welfare. From now on states only get back
from the federal government what they put in. We'll still take care
of the poor — in Massachusetts, and Vermont, and California.
The poor in Alabama and West Virginia and Idaho will be screwed, but
they won't mind — they'll still have Jesus.
Of course, my instinctive reply to this is to make excuses. These
people didn't ask to be brought up as terrified fundamentalists;
they didn't ask to go to crappy schools that didn't teach them how
to think through the issues; they can't be held responsible for
having become who they are. But I guess that's more of that
"liberal condescension," right? All right, then.
Because, y'know what? So cultural issues are more important to
the red-staters than economic issues or foreign policy matters?
Same here. Let's go back to Priest's article. The first time
I read it, I thought he was suggesting, as many pundits are doing
now, that the Democrats punt on social issues: give up on Roe, tell
gay people to go back into the closet for another thirty years or so,
and spend the next while explaining how their economic and foreign
policy positions are actually all of a piece with the Christian values
we all cherish. Then I had a closer look and decided that, nah, he
just meant that, as other columnists argue, the Democratic Party can
keep its positions on social issues, but it has to couch its
discussion of those issues in Biblical terms. Clinton was great at
This kind of talk makes my skin crawl. These people are basically pushing
for some moderate clerics to go up against the Republicans' hardline ones.
They want me to vote for Mohammed Khatami to keep Ali Khamenei from ruling
without restraint. But I would rather not live in an American version of
Iran at all. It's hard for me to get fired up about the idea of using
Christianity to achieve my goals when one of my main goals is averting
I say "one of" because I hate both wings of the Republican Party —
the born-again wing and the corporate wing. The America of today,
as described here by a former professor of mine, is scarcely better
than the Christian Iran I'm afraid of:
If we have an electorate incapable of thinking rationally about its own
interests, who confuse politicians with old movie heroes, don't know much
about history, and lap up the administration's lies about Iraq even after
they've been repeatedly exposed as lies by the media, this might have
something to do with never having been educated in the fundamental
skills of critical thinking. (Note that Bush's much touted No Child Left
Behind initiative, favoring rote learning and standardized testing, is the
formula for an even more intellectually pacified and credulous electorate.)
But corporate America doesn't require an educated or critical citizenry.
Quite the contrary. What it requires is a passive work force narrowly
trained to perform specific occupations for decreasing wages, who will
then overconsume lavishly in their leisure hours. It all works out rather
well: Job dissatisfaction is placated by an endless succession of consumer
crap (creating new jobs — though probably overseas — making
more crap); intellectual boredom is assuaged by a steady diet of media
crap (thanks to media deregulation); and any remaining critical stirrings
are mollified by supersize portions of tasteless crappy food (thanks to
an unregulated food industry). The result: a stupefied, overstuffed
citizenry glued to pricey entertainment centers, whose national hobby
is ridiculing Europeans for wanting shorter work weeks [...]
08 November 2004|
Compared to this, it is easy to see why there's a faction of the
left that wants to start framing things along these lines:
"We all have the same ideal for America: a land of simple people united
by hard work and faith in God. We believe God loves all His children
equally and wants us to protect His green earth..." I mean, can't you
hear that speech being delivered at the 2008 Democratic convention
already? But that too could hardly be farther from my ideal America.
Nor am I looking for a hedonistic party state. I want to live in a land
of great natural and architectural beauty, among enlightened, highly
educated people without sexual hangups, who work as little as possible
while still meeting society's needs, and spend the rest of the time
enjoying and creating art and music and literature and stuff. I want
"Ares is a complete asshole. His personal aides are Fear and Terror and
sometimes Strife. He is constantly at odds with Athena even though
— maybe because — they are nominally the god and
goddess of the same thing — war. [...] The pattern of human
behavior that caused the internal mental representation known as Ares
to appear in the minds of the ancient Greeks is very much with us today,
in the form of terrorists, serial killers, riots, pogroms, and aggressive
tinhorn dictators who turn out to be military incompetents. And yet for
all their stupidity and incompetence, people like that can conquer and
control large chunks of the world if they are not resisted. [...] Who is
going to fight them off, Randy? [...] Sometimes it might be other
Ares-worshippers, as when Iran and Iraq went to war and no one cared
who won. But if Ares-worshippers aren't going to end up running the
whole world, someone needs to do violence to them. This isn't very
nice, but it's a fact: civilization requires an Aegis. And the only
way to fight the bastards off in the end is through intelligence."
Christopher Hitchens has been arguing for a couple of years now that
the left is way off base in opposing Bush's wars. Bush hasn't been
targeting people like Salvador Allende, the way Kissinger did; he's been
taking on regimes that leftists in particular should despise. The Taliban's
"Department of Vice and Virtue" is the sort of thing that haunts liberals'
nightmares but which the Bush faithful in Provo and Greenville were
probably sorry to see go. He has a point. I despise the Taliban.
This election worried those of us who voted for Kerry because it looks
like the US is turning into A Mind Forever Voyaging circa 2041
— but the Taliban were running a country out of 2071. My first
glimpse of the Taliban came in 1996: they were in construction
vehicles gleefully smashing statues they'd gathered depicting women.
Things got worse from there. And this was hardly an anomaly in the
region. Saudi Arabia and Iran are little better. I agree with
Hitchens that those who let their opposition to American imperialism
morph into support for fundamentalist Islam have lost all perspective.
I disagree with Hitchens's contention that the Bush Administration's
wars are a heroic defense of civilization. The war between the Christian
States of America and fundamentalist Islam is a clash of Ares-worshippers.
Jesusland isn't fighting for Enlightenment principles — it's in
a contest to see, as Lt. Gen. William Boykin put it, whose god is bigger.
(I think just typing those last four words has made me stupider. Gyah.
Never thought I'd be nostalgic for the Cold War. At least that was
about something sensible.)
This past election was like 2002 redux. It wasn't
just Bush vs. Kerry — what really set off my "aw, shit" trigger
on Election Day was the news that Tom Coburn — Coburn who
advocated the death penalty for abortionists (despite being one
himself), Coburn who attacked Schindler's List for its
depiction of "irresponsible sexual activity," Coburn who warned of
a wave of teenage lesbianism in public schools — had won a
Senate seat, and by a wide margin. Republicans have gone from narrowly
holding all three branches of government to dominating all three. The
left seems to have as much chance of retaking the government as the
Kurds had in Iraq.
But following the Gulf War of 1991, the Kurdish enclave in Iraq won a
measure of autonomy, thanks to the no-fly zone that protected the Kurds
from reprisals on the part of Saddam Hussein's government. So if we
can't take back power in DC, whatever — it's fine, so long as we
can at least get an enclave of civilization free from interference from
Jesusland. And if the day does in fact come that the Christian States
of America decides that the heathens in Paris and Vancouver and San
Francisco must be "saved," civilization must be defended. I still
loathe militarism, but if the alternative is civilization being
overwhelmed by religious extremism...?
I was looking at a site about
Athena earlier, and one page of the site is devoted to paintings of
Athena in various attitudes. Part of the list goes like this: "Athena,
patron of cultural war; Athena victorious over ignorance; Athena
protecting peace; Athena protecting art and science." And I thought,
y'know, yeah — that's what it's all about. If that's Athena,
then Athena represents me. And by a happy coincidence, Athena is not
just the goddess of civilization, but the adopted goddess of my homeland.
She's right there on the state seal, looking out over the San Francisco
Bay — and ready to defend it with shield and spear.
So. What is to be done?
I've read all sorts of suggestions, all sorts of plans. I've hinted at
some of my own. But even if someone were to come up with a perfect
strategy for wresting power from the corporate and religious right,
how could we get the message out?
As Tom Tomorrow points out:
[...] the most important advantage Republicans have may be their base of
support among Christian evangelicals. The task of getting out the vote is
made much easier when you have local institutions in place through which
to actually reach the vote. [...] Democrats used to have a similar base
— it was called organized labor, and the community-based institutional
structure it provided gave them a far more effective way to reach their
own voters than, say, parachuting in from out of town for a weekend of
—Tom Tomorrow, 04 November
I had similar thoughts on election night. It seems to me that there are
basically six places to reach people to get the progressive message out:
- Friends and family
Let's take these one at a time.
Home: Nothing affects who you'll become more than the way you're
brought up. One of the disadvantages progressives face is that there's
no better birth control than being rich and well-educated, unless it's
actually being concerned about overpopulation in a world full of creeds
that demand their followers multiply as fast as they can. In short, we're
being outbred. (I can't wait to see what happens in Jesusland when the
Mormons and the born-agains have equal shares of the population. The
CSA may just eat itself.)
School: This is one area where the left has done quite well
establishing itself. Unfortunately, we've done so mainly at the university
level. And while it's great to be able to send eighteen-year-old undergrads
back home for Thanksgiving as new and better people, there are still all
too many second-graders serving as a captive audience to teachers as
ignorant as a New York Post columnist. As Laura Kipnis points out above,
there is an active effort underway to make schools into factories cranking
out unquestioning subjects — even moreso than they already are. If
we're going to start fighting back, the presidential level may be less
important than at the level of the classroom and the school board.
Work: This was the chief battleground back in the industrial age,
but now we live in a society in which labor no longer thinks of itself as
labor. This is the insidious part of Bush's "ownership society" —
the goal is to make workers think of themselves as capitalists waiting
to happen and support policies which screw them now but will help them
once they're fabulously wealthy. Truck drivers making less than $20,000
a year call in to right-wing talk shows and complain about a "death tax"
whose abolition benefits the Paris Hiltons of the world. Back in the
day they called this "false consciousness." It's been one of the biggest
blows to the progressive movement in America.
Friends and family: I've read quite a few testimonials over the
past few days from people saying things like, "I was a diehard social
conservative myself for years... but then my best friends came out,
and I couldn't summon the hate anymore..." and "I was a libertarian
once, thought the government should absolutely keep its nose out of
business... then my mom lost her entire savings in the Enron collapse..."
I will concede that one drawback of polarization is that it makes it
less likely that bigots will question their attitudes after being
exposed to people who aren't like them. But all the apartheid in the
world can't keep some doors from being thrown open. Ask Dick Cheney.
Church: One moment that gave me a sinking feeling shortly before
the election results started to trickle in came when I was listening to
NPR and heard someone from the Christian Coalition or some such group
mention that his people had distributed THIRTY MILLION voter guides to
parishoners. THIRTY MILLION! It put in perspective all the pats on
the back bloggers were giving themselves for the virtual communities
they'd constructed. How can you beat church? When the institution
that serves as the primary source of self-definition for millions is
also an effective vehicle for communicating messages, whoever's at
the microphone wields enormous power. They say that in the red
states there's a church on every corner, and that the blue states are
the same, only with Thai restaurants. If we could only get tens of
millions of people to go to a Thai restaurant on a weekly basis
and carefully consider what the waiter has to say about the issues of
the day, we might be able to achieve parity.
Media: Jon Stewart recently theorized that the election results
were the red states' revenge for blue state dominance of the airwaves:
"We don't really care for this Will & Grace thing, and here's
what we're going to do about it." There might be something to this.
There's a Mark Twain story called "The Esquimau Maiden's Romance" in
which the maiden of the title imagines that the wealthy industrialists
of the east coast live in fabulous igloos with vaults full of fishhooks
and two slop-tubs in the parlor. It's easy to fall into the
trap of assuming that what you don't see is similar to what you do. So
before the advent of television, maybe it was easier for people in
Muskogee and Arkadelphia to imagine that their lives weren't much different
from those of people in New York City. But now they can see that none of
these sitcom people seem to go to church or care about Jesus or value
chastity and it just seems like they're from a different country and
it's one that I don't like and they're looking down on me and shut up!
Fuck them! I don't care what they think!
So you can make that case. But you can also make the opposite case and
reach the same result: that thanks to the manifold expansion of the
media, you can find a whole range of news and entertainment on the
radio and TV and the various internets Bush talked about in the debates,
and select the stuff targeted to your political and cultural persuasion.
Watching "The Daily Show," listening to NPR, and reading the big liberal
blogs, I'm living in Massachusetts in mind as well as in body —
and getting a much different sense of the world from someone living in
Amarillo, watching Fox News, listening to Rush Limbaugh and reading
Freerepublic. Thanks to the fragmentation of the media, we each get a
radically different sense of what's "mainstream." We're all standing
in different streams, thinking it's the main one.
If this is true, and the "mass media" is a thing of the past, if any
given voice within it is now only reaching a sliver of the population
instead of the fat slices of the mid-/late 20th century, then the
media becomes just another bottom-up institution like the ones
above. This can be frustrating. Over the past week I've been poking
around the net and encountering observations about the election and
recommendations about where to go from here that have made me think,
"Everyone needs to see this!" — while knowing full well that
only a handful of people ever will. Turning our online natterings
into an actual movement seems like a hopeless task. But on the other
hand... even this article here on my obscure corner of the web will
reach more people than fit into an average church. Reaching people
in small clusters doesn't seem to have worked out so badly for the
(Of course, it probably didn't take them a fricking week and a half
to get their thoughts together, either...)
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