The Democrats have once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Losing to a candidate as terrible as George W. Bush for two elections in a row is a truly remarkable accomplishment. In 2000, the Democrats were blessed with relative peace and prosperity, as well as incumbency. The Republicans, on the other hand, were burdened by a candidate with nearly no experience and marginal intelligence. Rather than examine their own obvious shortcomings, the Democrats placed all the blame for their loss on Ralph Nader. This year, the Democrats seemed to have everything running in their favor yet again. The economy is in the toilet, Iraq is a horrific mess, and Bush's approval rating is below 50 percent, but they somehow managed to lose even worse than last time. With Nader a non-factor, the Democrats must place the blame with those who deserve it: themselves.
The reaction from Democrats thus far has not been promising. Many blamed black people for not turning out in great enough numbers. Others suggested that we should give up on issues such as abortion rights, affirmative action, and gay marriage -- abandon our most vulnerable allies, in other words. Some of the greatest venom was reserved for young voters for not turning out in greater numbers than we did in 2000. Many angry Democrats posted rants to blogs and forums suggesting that any young folks who didn't vote for John Kerry should be "sent to Iraq," where we would presumably be killed and would deserve it. Maybe if Kerry gave us a reason to vote for him other than the fact that he isn't Bush, we would have done it. For example, why didn't Kerry come out with an ambitious plan to lower college tuition? If half of Bush's tax cut were diverted to lowering college tuition, college could be practically free.
Unfortunately, Kerry was too busy trying to convince his corporate donors that he isn't a "redistribution Democrat" to propose anything that might actually make people like him. Once again, the Democratic candidate shunned what is supposed to be his "base" and reached out to the right. Bush, on the other hand, has spent the past four years pandering to his base. He has gone so far as to propose an amendment to the Constitution banning gay marriage -- an outlandish idea whose sole purpose is to motivate right-wing Christian voters. His strategy clearly won, as exit polls indicated that "moral values" was the highest priority for voters, trumping even the economy and terrorism. Bush stuck to his principles and his base rewarded him for it. He easily defined Kerry as an unprincipled flip-flopper who will say anything to get elected because Kerry is, in fact, an unprincipled flip-flopper who will say anything to get elected.
To paraphrase Thomas Frank, the Democrats need to match the fake cultural populism of the Republicans with a real populism of their own. If Kerry wants black people to wait in line for four hours to vote for him, he needs to promise them more than additional cops to harass their neighborhoods. Why not take a page from Jesse Jackson and support an amendment to the Constitution giving people the right to vote? Why not propose a more progressive tax system? No taxes for anyone making less than $100,000; make up the rest by increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy. The prospect of not paying any income taxes must sound good to many low-to-middle income Republicans. But alas, it is too late for Kerry to come up with good ideas. The world will have to endure four more years of Bush.
The news isn't all bad. For one, Tom Daschle is finally gone. Hopefully, the Democrats will replace him with a Senator who is less inclined to bend over and lick Bush's boots. Tom Daschle is a poster-boy for everything that is wrong with the Democratic Party today. He is a wimp who compromises at every turn. He has no principles and no spine. There seems to be a movement afoot to replace him with Senator Dick Durbin from Illinois, which would be a marked improvement. Also in the good news column is the victory of Cynthia McKinney, the progressive Democrat from Georgia who managed to win back her seat despite being ostracized by her own party establishment. The election of Barack Obama to the Senate in Illinois may also turn out to be good news, although the Senator has been making some rather conservative noises as of late. Let's hope it's an act.
In the meantime, the "left" should listen to the wisdom of Mickey Z, who recently wrote, "Never again should we endure 'radical' support for anything that even looks like a Democrat ... and that goes double for when Hillary runs against Rudy." The 2004 election will probably go down as the most colossal waste of money, time, and energy in the history of the American left. We should never allow ourselves to become so engulfed in a cult of personality such as the one that surrounds Bush. Bush is not the end of the world. His victory should change absolutely nothing, just as Kerry's wouldn't had he won. We need to stop fetishizing the ballot box and put our resources and creative energies into more productive activities. Imagine if all the money we wasted on this election had gone instead to living wage campaigns or to progressive ballot initiatives in the states. Maybe then we might actually have something concrete to show for our efforts (and fewer bloggers on suicide watch).
Justin Felux is a writer and activist based in San Antonio, Texas. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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