With some time to cool down and reflect, here are my humble thoughts on the events of this election. First off, I take some solace that we are not the first Americans to deal with the red state-blue state divide. From John Updike’s introduction to this collection:
The [American literature of the] 1920s…are a decade with a distinct personality…the urban minority of Americans that produced most of the writing felt superior, if not hostile, to what H.L. Hencken called the “booboisie”, whose votes had brought on Prohibition, puritanical censorship, the Scopes Trial, and Calvin Coolidge.
How little has changed! Here we are, 80 years later, watching counties with cities go blue and the rural/exurbs go red, trying to convince people that we shouldn't be teaching Creationism in a science classroom!
It’s also important to remember that this isn't the second time this trick was pulled. The only campaign platform I can think of that is more outright cynical in it's manipulating people's values, fears and concerns was Nixon's "Law and Order" platform. "Law and Order'! Like "moral values", it's a nice way to convince white people that their way of life is under seige and only the Republican party can save them.
As Kerry was a prosecutor and Bush was elected in Texas on a platform of capital punishment and throwing teenagers in prison, I was surprised during the debates to not see any of the normal bullshit posturing of who is the most tough on crime. Little did I know that it was probably because the Bush team found a new urban minority population to terrorize suburban and rural (and sadly, increasing numbers of blacks and latinos) with.
Now do the numbers bear this out? We’ve had some time to crunch number and find new data, and by far Kerry’s biggest hit was among working class white people (where they are defined by white adults who do not have a four year degree from college). Clinton carried this group during his terms; Gore lost ground in 2000, the Democrats lost even more in 2002, and it looks like they all went rushing to the right in 2004.
The thing that really carried this group for Bush, I believe, is that the term ‘moral issues’ was not only gay marriage and abortion. These issues were major parts of energizing the base, but for Bush everything is a moral issue. Why reduce capital gains taxes? Because it is wrong to tax income twice. That simple. Is it good for the economy? Bad? It doesn’t matter – it’s a wrong thing to do.
Kerry is a legislator. I thought he ran a good campaign and was right on many issues, but at the end of the day he proposed what he did because he thought that they were good policy. His ideas weren't values as much as they were tools to create good policy (How un-French is that!) – Why did he want to roll back the capital gain taxes? To fund dock searches. In other words: to enact policy. The idea that it is Right or Wrong in and of itself, a notion crucial to the working-class vote, is never conveyed.
Question: Who was the only person to say that we should roll back the capital gains tax cut because it was the right thing to do? Bill Clinton, during the DNC convention.
From now on, no more Senators running for office. Democrats need people who will talk about their beliefs in social justice as the most important personal thing they feel, and not just a series of good policy measures. This may not help, but it's the best hope we have. No matter what we will continue to watch the burden of funding our country falling upon work instead of wealth. Americans who depend on wages to survive (ie most of us) are getting screwed, and this is one of the most moral of issues we face. Here’s hoping that the Democrats can find someone to explain that to the people.