I have a lot of thoughts on this just past election (most of them virulently against the type of things said on Slate and new J Continuum blog-friend HopefulCynic), but I will save it for another time.
I just want to say, in a bit of a serious, somber, but also snide way, What did we gain in supporting Kerry????
By "We" of course I mean the Progressive Left, those of us off the Democratic Leadership Council's scale, those 60% of "Democrats" (I no longer count myself as a Democrat) who opposed the Iraq War all along and had no voice in our country's leadership (let's see, Dennis Kucinich was starkly against the war, and he's the politician given the most deference by the media and the people, right?). We supported a 'compromise" candidate to win the battle, hoping to have a stop-loss on the way to a real war strategy.
In all of my arguments against Kerry, I completely forget an important one: An "Anybody-But-Bush" approach has little or *no* value in the case of a Kerry *loss*. We lost even more than we lost from 2000, where Gore wasn't so strongly backed by even those "Democrats" strong-willed and intellectually honest enough to call themselves Socialists, Liberals, Communists, Anarachists, or other "Bad Names" in the US (like "Reader of Chomsky").
What would we have gained had the True Left (or Far Left or Real Liberals or Progressives or Greens) went all out for Nader (or pushed Kerry left or gone for Kucinich or Sharpton)? Can you IMAGINE the heartening feeling we wouldn've gotten for having a real liberal at even 30%? What if Nader got 20%? Or Kerry, running on a stringently anti-imperialism platform still got 49%? GREAT! "Our" views would've been heard, and we would've seen we shouldn't be so DAMNED afraid of them! (Tim Noah of Slate dismisses the idea of the Democrats moving farther to the left -- as well as farther to the right -- because it's clear that the US is moving to the right and left ideas won't win -- maybe yes, maybe no, but hey, no one big's made a big argument for them, remember? Not to mention the 1000s or perhaps MILLIONS of poor, minority, and/or women voters who just DIDN'T TURN OUT -- apparently Anyone But Bush didn't seem to reassure them the Demopublican Elite wouldn't continue to FUCK THEM OVER. Hey Tim, maybe we SHOULD ACTUALLY move left, or at least figure out why those in our society WORST OFF tend to VOTE THE LEAST. Could it be 100% of campaign rhetoric aimed at the "middle class" and approximately 0% at the "lower" class, the poor, the disenfranchised, the inner city, the farmer being squeezed out by Big Government (Republicrat) Policies of subsidizing agrobusiness???? For cripe's sake, Noah.)
One definite gain of this election was the apparatus of groups like MoveOn (though the Republican tarring of them as radical groups makes my head throb -- they're as radical as the Democratic Leadership Council for cripe's sake... which is to say, NOT radical; CERTAINLY not socialist as Rush Limbaugh and Hannity and similar talking heads tarred them; you realize how doubly bad that is? FIRST, it's already granting "socialist" as an evil thing, which I don't believe I am, conflating it with the State Capitalism of the USSR which had oh so little to do with the actual diversity of thought in socialist philosophy, and SECOND, MoveOn is NOT socialist, even if *I* think it *should* be...) Michael Moore, MoveOn, and others mobilized thousands of voters. This is good. I can only hope and assume they also moved voters to not just vote for Kerry out of reactionism, but to Get Involved and Do Their (Electoral) Homework.
So good things there. (Though as Tom Tomorrow on Slate points out, we REALLY have to stop letting conservatives set the terms of the debate -- read this with me again -- MOVEON IS NOT RADICAL, IT IS CENTRIST. And while we're at it -- this is a dangling thread for HopefulCynic and others -- MICHAEL MOORE AND F 9/11 WERE NEVER SHOWN TO HAVE MORE THAN ONE FACTUAL ERROR -- that is, Richard Clarke said afterwards that he *did* clear the Saudis for flight personally after 9/11, though it is my understanding he said differently in his book, making this a dubious factual error -- THAT IS, YOU CAN DISAGREE WITH HIS INTERPRETATION AND IMPLICATIONS, BUT STOP CALLING IT LYING DEMAGOGIC PROPAGANDA, especially without any kind of proof or nuanced analysis. Just cuz you hate it doesn't mean it's wrong, just like just cuz we hate W's policies doesn't make his backers stupid. (I may believe they are horribly incorrect, but that is different and far less condescending, neh? After all, they believe the same of me.)
All this is to say, a defeat with a candidate we believed in would've shown us there is strength in our views, we just need to work even more on convincing people. (Though of course the DLC and it's ilk probably would've and probably will always view any loss, or any win for that matter, as reason to move right -- an idea that, as Tim Noah points out, only even works on paper if you assume there is a limit to how far right the Republicans can move in response, a dubious prospect.)
Ignore, for god's sake, ignore all of those who say this proves that the Left's Agenda is Not America anymore. It is not 59 million US citizens, but hey, you know what, it IS 55 million of us. Hey, if you believe the studies, it's FAR MORE THAN THAT, in that the poor, minorities, non-voting women, and young voters have been repeatedly shown to skew Left; so it's LIKELY that culturally, we're STILL in the majority (though of course highly debateable), it's just that the majority of that, er, majority, doesn't vote because they haven't seen any real help for their conditions since, oh, maybe Nixon (who actually had some of the best policies on Race Relations of our presidents, and perhaps good policies on poverty as well; it was he who hired Maya Angelou as his advisor on race relations, not Kennedy, for example). This is NOT a GOOD THING.
I don't know if we can "win", I don't know if we can convince others that our agenda is superior and more in the spirit of the values we profess to believe in (religious freedom should include atheism, neh? How many atheist politicians do we have? Democracy would imply we wouldn't have invaded, or at least not stayed, in a country where 75% of the populace wants us gone; it would imply we wouldn't have had ProConsul Bremer dictating that partial elections were in fact democracy in progress and not anathema to democracy; we wouldn't have 1000s of dead foreign nationals on our hands, from the Sandinistas to Iranians during the Coup to the Kurds Hussein gassed while acting under our aegis with "weapons of mass destruction" supplied by US... and on and on....) I don't know if we can convince them that we can't kill every terrorist, for good, such that no terrorists ever arise again, such that we don't further inflame rage against us, such that we don't worsen the very conditions in the world that do not necessarily GENERATE extremism, Islamic or otherwise, but AIDE and ABET them in finding recruits, in taking root and prospering. I don't know if we can convince them that, logically, John Kerry was RIGHT in arguing to reduce terrorism to a NUISANCE, for the simple fact that you can't kill a method, you can't kill an IDEA -- terrorism is a tactic, and winning it completely as Bush wants to do means not only killing all terrorists, but killing all people who would THINK to use terrorism, or detaining them, or spreading "democracy" in a way FAR better and FAR DIFFERENT than in Iraq and Afghanistan, two countries sagging under the weight of our ineptitude, if you believe Bush's theory, which is of coruse bunk because DEMOCRACY PER SE doesn't seem to make people better off or happier, and certainly not FREE MARKETS or CAPITALISM, but substantive EQUALITY -- which is no more common in democracies than in autocracies it seems to me.
But I do know -- at the conclusion of all of that rambling -- that we can't hope to win ground for our ideals if we fight instead on the idea of averaging our ideals with "theirs" -- we may not be right, we may only be partially right, we may be all right or all wrong, but the only way to determine reality is not to fence off along partisan lines, nor is it to become the party whose ideals we oppose, but to have a genuine debate on our differences. To debate best tactics in "the war on terrorism", to debate the SANITY of the war on terrorism. And we may lose -- as good ideas often do -- but losing in and of itself is not a refutation of what we believe, and we must start to realize that. If we don't, all is lost and we have learned nothing.