Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Pre-Election Pronouncement

To be honest, I'm mostly doing this out of a sense of obligation. Most of what I'm going to say has been said already and better by others, but I felt the need to say something on the eve of this momentous election.

An email today asked if I expected to have to change the title of my blog. I'm not really sure. Obviously I hope Kerry wins (not because of any enthusiasm for him, but as a tactical necessity) but I don't know what value any prediction from me would have. It's a statistical dead heat, according to the latest polls. The significant efforts by the Democrats and progressive organizations to mount efforts to "get out the vote" in key swing states feels like it should be enough to win it for them. But the depth of Republican dirty trickery to supress the vote already reported in the media is also significant, and their efforts to mobilize their base by things like state-level referenda to enshrine anti-queer bigotry in state laws and constitutions will bring the Born Againers to the polls in huge numbers.

My overriding sensation as I contemplate the five months I've lived in this country and been immersed in its political culture in the lead-up to this election, and as I contemplate the event horizon that is tomorrow, is surreality. And it's not the kind of surrealism you see when you look at, say, a Salvador Dali painting head-on. It's more like being a character in an MC Escher drawing who can tell there is something not quite right about the way all these staircases connect together, but can't exactly pinpoint what.

This feeling of surrealism comes from lots of things, big and little. I probably can't capture it in words, at least not when I'm this tired, but I can list a few things.

I can't find the link any more, but a couple of weeks ago there were several article talking about a survey which showed how profoundly ignorant likely Republican voters were on basic facts -- I can't remember the exact numbers, but something like two-thirds or three-quarters believed completely incorrect things like WMD had been found in Iraq and Saddam was behind 9/11.

This springs from and gives substance to this oft-quoted revelation from journalist Ron Suskind, in which he talks about his interview with an un-named "senior White House advisor":

" . . . 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. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality ­ judiciously, as you will ­ we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'"

Another contribution to my surreal feelings is getting to appreciate how deeply conservative the white electorate in this country is. The last time the majority of votes cast by white voters in this country went to the Democratic candidate for president was 1964. It was around then, of course, that the Democrats were pushed by the civil rights movement into supporting some legislation and executive action to advance the cause of civil rights -- the African American community largely left the party of Lincoln to become Democrats, and the GOP soon mobilized the famous "southern strategy" to use subtle and not-so-subtle racism to capture, ever since, the majority of white votes.

No less surreal than the passionate neocons are those few people I've met who are actually enthusiastic about Kerry -- at least the neocons are passionate about a vision for the world, however horrid it might be, whereas Kerry is a cipher standing in for the smooth and soulless governance of things by creeping neoliberalism. Yes, I hope he wins, but how can you get excited by what he stands for?

Of course, it is also creepy to see those who are holding their noses as they vote for Kerry get suckered in to a certain kind of enthusiasm. They still know intellectually what they are getting into and why, but the campaign hype pumps excitement into their bodies even as their cynicism remains intact.

And there is the isolation of the middle-class and elite white liberals in this country. You can't really appreciate it if you haven't felt it. And I live in a liberal enclave, here in West LA/Santa Monica, so I'm sure it feels much more intense in much of the country. They are disconnected from communities of colour, whom they fear and have betrayed and are generally clueless about, in the fine tradition of liberal racism. They are actively despised by much of the white working class, because they are seen as pandering only to people of colour (not true) and have abandoned most class issues (true). And of course the more conservative segment of the elite hates them too.

But it's not all Nevernever Land. The liberals, despite their disconnection, remain powerful and well-funded, and appear to have rediscovered the idea that politics happens on the ground and not just through the media. In this week's LA Weekly Harold Myerson gushes

I have spent the past week observing the official Democratic Party and unofficial 527 field operations in the battleground states of Ohio and Florida. And I have found something I've never before seen in my 36 years as a progressive activist and later as a journalist: an effective, fully functioning American left.

He is way too effusive and optimistic, and repeats the frequent error of mistaking the embattled liberals for a largely absent left. This movement-like activity is not nearly so deeply rooted as the neocon/religious right populist movement it seeks to oppose, nor as powerful, nor as ready to play for keeps, but it is still encouraging. It remains to be seen whether this new concerted activity by liberal organizations falls apart on November 3 or does take on some sustained existence independent of electoral politics.

And certainly what does exist of the left in this country has been stirred to action around the election, though I'm not sure where that will go either. In terms of the fight between the Dimesworth of Difference crowd (i.e. vote for Nader) and the Anybody But Bush crowd (i.e. vote Dem in swing states, and your conscience elsewhere), I am firmly in the more movement-oriented and tactically-focused wing of the ABB crowd, with the likes of Progressives and Independents to Defeat Bush and Paul Street (whose demolishing of the DD arguments in numerous posts are well worth reading). I hope this election can be used as a mechanism to build left capacity so that the nightmare of having to support a John Kerry to defeat a George Bush can be overcome in a politically and morally responsible way.

Anyway, I think my words have petered to a stop.

Vote if you can, send wishes for the less evil outcome if you can't.


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