Where Do We Go From Here?

Ken AshfordElection 2004Leave a Comment

First Draft of the Next Four Years for Lefties

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – Phew! Now what?

Let’s look at why we lost. Can’t put blame on the Supreme Court (this year). Can’t put any blame on Nader (this year) either. Can’t really blame the media either. Can’t really blame our candidate either (does anyone out there think one of the others could have done better?) Can’t blame the 527’s — I think the Swiftees hurt, but we gave as good as we got. Can’t blame an October surprise, or even Rove’s supposed genius. VP choice? Not likely. And take off yer tinfoil hats — we can’t blame Diebold either.

So what happened? Bush’s approval rating wasn’t that strong. Fiscally, he’s the most UN-conservative president ever, and nobody seriously bothers to dispute this. Most can see that the war in Iraq is not going well — certainly not as well as hoped or hyped. Most can see that most of Bush’s tax cuts don’t go to them. So what gives? What have we learned? Why did we lose?

The answer is quite simply this: We lost because the Republican base showed up. They may call themselves independents, libertarians, or whatever — but they showed up and voted.

Well, who ARE these people? The vast majority of them are the people described in "What’s the Matter With Kansas?". To get a flavor, check out this Amazon review:

The largely blue collar citizens of Kansas can be counted upon to be a "red" state in any election, voting solidly Republican and possessing a deep animosity toward the left. This, according to author Thomas Frank, is a pretty self-defeating phenomenon, given that the policies of the Republican Party benefit the wealthy and powerful at the great expense of the average worker. According to Frank, the conservative establishment has tricked Kansans, playing up the emotional touchstones of conservatism and perpetuating a sense of a vast liberal empire out to crush traditional values while barely ever discussing the Republicans’ actual economic policies and what they mean to the working class. Thus the pro-life Kansas factory worker who listens to Rush Limbaugh will repeatedly vote for the party that is less likely to protect his safety, less likely to protect his job, and less likely to benefit him economically. To much of America, Kansas is an abstract, "where Dorothy wants to return. Where Superman grew up."

The world to them is that simple. We on the left may be correct in our world vision of a world that is nuanced, where words have specific meaning, where ideas and events have more than two sides and shades are gray. No — forget "may be correct". We ARE correct. But you don’t win votes by being correct, by being nuanced, or by being . . . well . . . smart.

You win votes by projecting a positive image. By portraying yourself as being, for example, a "strong leader" (whether or not you actually are). People like the solid image better than the (nuanced) reality. Don’t bother worrying about what "strong leader" actually means. If you have to try to translate that phrase into a program or a policy, then you’ve lost. Red State Republicans don’t care about your policies and programs either. They just need to be convinced that you are a "strong leader" or a "this" or a "that".

So that’s one reason why Kerry lost. He too readily accepted the image of being smart, thus unwittingly embracing the idea of being weak.

But if I had to choose the one single "X factor" which made a difference in this election, it would be "values". I think we will learn more and more as the days continue, that DESPITE economic news, and even the WOT, Bush won because conservatives came out to vote because of conservative values. I am surprised, for example, at how much the gay marriage issue played not only in the campaign, but in the actual election. Conservatives ACTAULLY BELIEVE that the institution of marriage, which lives in THEIR HOME, is actually being attacked by what some lesbian women are doing in an ANOTHER HOME. (UPDATE: Kevin Drum apparently agrees, saying with 20/20 hindsight that the most important event of the campaign season was the Masschusetts Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage.)

Now, I have yet to flesh this out, but I think I may hear a clarian cry. I remember the first time I heard a homophobe say that there shoudn’t be gay teachers because they will just "promote the gay agenda". I thought that was awfully funny at the time, because the only gay agenda I was aware of was the American agenda — freedom, equality, etc. But now, I have come to see the emergence of a "conservative agenda" which, under the guise of American values, is at its core very anti-American as any social agenda can get.

And I now understand why conservatives have bemoaned things like judges legislating morality from the bench. It has little to do with separation of powers. It is because conservatives want to legislate THEIR morality from whereever they can. And it’s not just gays. It’s privacy. It’s the Patriot Act. It’s immigration and profiling.

All morning, I have been thinking about Pat Buchanan and his references four years ago to the "coming culture war." It scared the shit out of me then. But don’t look now — I think we are in one. And I think the left not only has to fight it, but win it.

That’s where the left needs to hit next — the cultural conservatives. We can’t make them understand the hypocrisy of fighting for freedom abroad, while curbing it here. Kerry’s solution was to treat social conservatives with kit gloves. I say no. I say we fight the culture war at home. BRING. IT. ON.

Update: I don’t mean to suggest by anything in this post that the Left, having lost this election, is in disarray. There are tens of millions of us, and we are all united and more organized than ever before. We just need to focus again, and make this country a better place — from the outside if need be.