Saturday, September 11, 2004

Election Malaise

One of the items in my plus column as I anticipated the life-changing move from Hamilton to Los Angeles was the opportunity to be immersed in the political culture of the United States as the bizarre spectacle of the 2004 presidential election unfolded. Admittedly, this was more a question of morbid fascination or a perverse kind of voyeurism ("How could they do that?") than a serious expectation that meaningful learning would occur, but even considering that I have been somewhat disappointed so far.

For one thing, campaigns at this level are mostly media-driven these days, and the availability of the relevant media and my consumption choices with respect to media are much the same now as they would have been in Canada. As well, both parties have decided that California is a wrap for the Democrats, so neither are wasting much time or money on it. I've seen a handful of signs about congressional races, but little more than that. However, I have had some contact with lifelong denizens of this particular political culture, so being in LA has offered some opportunity to understand things differently (if not exactly better).

Unfortunately, I'm not sure I have much to say about the whole affair. The mechanics of it seem to be both inane and insane, but that observation is itself fairly obvious and trivial. I am puzzled and put off by the visciousness of the Anybody But Bush versus Cobb versus Nader camps raging among people (who seem to be mainly white progressives) over a rather trivial percentage of the vote. I am amazed at how incompetent John Kerry's campaign seems to be, despite the resources at his disposal. I am flabbergasted at how Iraq is a non-issue but Vietnam is being constantly refought (in a weird way that manages to avoid any actual substantive discussion about that horrific murder of millions of people in South East Asia by U.S. imperialism.)

I have some quibbles about details, but the analysis of long-time activist Eric Mann with respect to the elections sounds reasonable, if a bit too drenched in the language of the Old Left. The movement that he has helped found, Progressive and Independents to Defeat Bush, also seems to make a certain kind of sense.

I have a few questions and nits to pick, of course. I'm not sure why he disagrees with the analysis that California is a "safe state." I also don't think that the left really has much to contribute to supporting the effort to oust Bush, nor do I think the Democrats would benefit much from our support. I suppose that given the lack of resources allocated by the national Democrats in many areas where they are guaranteed to carry the presidential vote -- areas where progressives are likely to be stronger -- the left's contribution to such a united front might be more with respect to local races, but I don't know if electing slightly more progressive Democrats in local races is really worth the effort Mann is proposing. I suppose it is more the fact that the visceral hatred of the Bush agenda among the constituencies Mann proposes to target is too good a springboard to miss as a way to boost left organizing -- why should the Democrats be the only ones to capitalize from the disaster that is the Bush presidency? Not that they seem to be trying very hard to do so.

Even so, for an exercise that will have a far from trivial (if still very limited, in many ways) impact on the world, the Kerry versus Bush contest is hard to get very interested in, because it is just so dumb in so many ways. I agree with the predictions that forsee a low voter turnout, even for this country. Regardless of who wins, I hope delusional optimism over what Kerry might (won't) do or deserved despair at "four more years" of Dubya don't suck the wind out of the sails of social movements, because they are going to be more desperately needed than ever.

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