Dear World, We're Hopeless

Nov. 3, 2004
Dear World,
Please be on the lookout for more bombs, debts, and global warming. It’s what we in the United States like to call “letting the healing begin.”

I know, I know, you thought there might be hope for us. You thought we might be ready to cross the bridge to the 18th century and stop letting religious bigotry run our lives. Even you British supposed that we might care about having killed 100,000 Muslims. Sorry to disillusion you on that one. We found it more important to rewrite almost a dozen state constitutions in order to ban people of the same sex from getting married.

Some of you, I hear, are not only amazed that Bush would come anywhere close to winning, but are shocked that we would let him quite possibly steal the election through similar abuses to those seen four years ago. The official handling the election in the state of Ohio also handled Bush’s campaign there. The head of the company that produced the voting machines used in Ohio promised to deliver the election to Bush. Many Democrats in Ohio, particularly African Americans, were prevented from registering to vote, tried to vote at polls that opened late or had incredibly long lines, and had their voting status challenged so that they had to vote on “provisional ballots.”

Provisional ballots, if you’re not familiar with them, are the kind of ballots you don’t count until after the media announces the winner, the Republican declares victory, and the Democrat admits defeat.

Republicans are candidates whose policies favor the incredibly rich. They like to buy weapons and start wars, eliminate jobs, run up debts, damage schools, cut health care and other social services, give public dollars to corporations, and shift the tax burden from corporations and the wealthy onto working people. Working people (well, white ones) vote for Republicans because Republicans lie about all of that stuff I just mentioned and talk a lot about how they go to church, love guns, hate drugs, despise abortions, and don’t care much for gays or blacks or immigrants or foreigners or Muslims or atheists. Republicans fight like hell, which we refer to as “sticking up for the little guy.”

Democrats are candidates who more or less agree with Republicans on weapons and wars, trade and health care, and gifts to corporations, but only more-or-less. The Democrats are always a little less sure than the Republicans about their corporate agenda. In fact there are some significant differences, including less destructive policies on labor, the environment, and women’s rights. People vote for Democrats because they’re not as bad as the Republicans, and because they don’t lie as much, have some respect for science, aren’t all gun nuts, and don’t spew forth as much righteous hatred. Democrats tend to apologize for existing and to concede tight races prematurely. They are also generally considered “elitist.”

Seriously, I had someone tell me the day after the election that it would be elitist for the Democrats to demand that all the votes in Ohio be counted. When the Republicans flew a bunch of yuppies to Florida in Enron jets to block vote counting in 2000, that was considered their rightful claim.

Americans don’t vote against labor rights intentionally. Florida, which – if you can believe the count — favored Bush this year, also passed an initiative to raise the minimum wage in the state. The trick was that the Bible hadn’t told anyone to vote against the minimum wage — the way it had told them to vote for W.

Americans, according to various opinion polls, favor by a wide margin such policies as restored value to the minimum wage, single-payer national health care, protecting the environment, increasing investment in education, and getting corporate influence out of government. We aren’t stupid. It’s just that the only candidates willing to touch the military budget, end the wars, eliminate the private insurance companies, or rewrite trade or environmental policies, get trounced by the media and either lose in the Democratic primaries or run in a third party. (Our system makes it very, very hard for anyone outside the two main parties.) So we are left with a choice between someone who goes partway toward modern humane policies but without any particular vision or inspiration and someone who wants to bring back the Dark Ages because Jesus told him to slay the Evildoers. Half of us don’t vote at all.

Why don’t we fight like hell – even for a mediocre candidate who’s dramatically better than Bush? In part, people are tired and drained right now. They put everything into electing Kerry for the past several months. They’re literally asleep now. In part, the media does a powerful job of convincing people it’s over. And, of course, Kerry himself has quit in order to “let the healing begin.” But, in part, we’ve had a massive attack of infantile fear and depression. One of our university professors who writes about public relations calls the Republicans the Daddy party and the Democrats the Mommy party. Right now, we Democrats look more like the Baby party. We always fight among ourselves. Now we’re curled up hiding under the covers.

While I’m a white guy, it’s worth noting that we whites are almost entirely to blame. Blacks vote overwhelmingly for Democrats – I mean, those blacks who bother to vote or find time to vote or don’t have their registrations thrown out. Jews tend to do fairly well too. And – while I have no data on this one – I strongly suspect that atheists (or “brights” as we now like to call ourselves) vote as intelligently as African Americans. Basically, the United States has a white Christian problem.

But millions of Americans don’t vote, many because they don’t see a candidate offering anything they care about. Our media will not tell us when a candidate proposes cutting the military or creating universal health care or free college. There’s a blackout on candidates who suggest pulling out of corporate trade agreements. Ending wars is unmentionable. Just review the news accounts of the Democratic primaries last year and then look up the website of a guy named Dennis Kucinich and see what his platform was. The news accounts won’t tell you.

Kerry made it on the air during the primaries, and he has some good qualities in addition to being rich and tall, but he conceded defeat from the very start. His concession on November 3 was not news and should not have had any impact on activists demanding a fair count in Ohio. Kerry conceded defeat when he supported Bush’s war, when he accepted Bush’s elimination of civil liberties and criminal process rights, when he agreed with Bush’s trade and health care policies. Kerry failed to see that those policies aren’t what win Bush votes. Bush wins votes with religion. Kerry also failed to see that those same policies can lose a Democrat votes. A Democrat needs something other than religion.

The Democrats have been pushing the same Republican-lite strategy for a quarter century and always losing (except with Clinton, who got in because a third party candidate took an amazingly large percentage of the vote away from Bush’s father). The Democrats will continue pushing the same losing strategy again and again, because they are good Americans, and they have understood this fundamental truth: we’re hopeless. And we’re sorry for letting you down.

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