I was duped.
Up until yesterday, I thought the 2004 Presidential election was about the important things. The war. Terrorism. The Economy. Jobs. Healthcare.
I was wrong.
The 2004 election was about values (as expertly described by Terry in the discussion about morality yesterday). What’s more, this election has always been about values. This election wasn’t lost by the left on Tuesday, or in October, or even this year. It was lost four years ago, when the Bush Administration’s strategy for re-election was set. This strategy has been brilliantly executed since then, and I’m horrified in the realization that we were part of the tactics.
Karl Rove’s re-election strategy for Bush was, from the outset, to mobilize the “base” of fundamental conservatives who (somewhat suprisingly) did not turn out in droves in the 2000 election — perhaps dissuaded by eleventh-hour revelations about Bush’s drunk-driving conviction. Although we knew about this strategy, I think we missed some of the tactics, which in retrospect seem perfectly clear. To mobilize the base, values have to be the primary issue, which means that there can be no sacrifices from the electorate to the war in Iraq or the war on Terror before the election — meaning that the bill gets added to the ballooning deficit rather than paid by a war tax. Government involvement in faith-based initiatives is necessary, so that the campaign can use church lists to drive evangelicals to the polls. Policies of opposing stem cell research, the elimination of funding for pregnancy-prevention programs overseas, and the widespread attack on science all served to fire up the base. And the masterstroke was the support for the Federal Marriage Amendment (which Bush was against before he supported it — almost certainly at Rove’s behest). The FMA had no chance of succeeding as legislation, of course, but it sure did serve to fire up the base. With hindsight, it almost seems likely that the failure of the FMA was the objective, not a setback to the Bush campaign. With the failure of the FMA came successful state-level constitutional amendments in 11 states, all either traditional Red states or swing states like Ohio. These amendments attracted fundamentalists to the polls in droves, with devastating effect for Kerry in Ohio.
Think about that for a moment. An entire swathe of policy, from social issues, to the war, to taxation, to the deficit, may have been adopted not because they were best choices for Americans, but because they were cynical tactics in a ploy for re-election. Cheney recently claimed that Kerry would say anything to get elected. But as President, it seems that Bush would do anything to get re-elected. And as President, with the power to set policy in alignment with the strategy to mobilize the base, Bush had a powerful advantage that Kerry was unable to overcome.
The absolute cynicism of this incenses me, but worst of all, I feel used. Activists on the left were part of the Rove strategy, and we played along exactly as we were meant to do. It horrifies me that VirginisIsForHaters.org was part of Rove’s strategy. Its effect was probably small in comparison to Gavin Newsom marrying gay couples in San Francisco, or Andrew Sullivan’s blog, or 30 minutes of Fox News at any hour of the day, but the possibility that we could have contributed to Bush’s re-election in any way horrifies me to the core.
But most of all, I’m afraid. I’m afraid because this strategy succeeded. Despite massive turnout drives on the left, we still lost. And that means there are more of them than there are of us. I couldn’t really understand the emotions I felt yesterday — the closest thing I could compare it to was grief. But then I realised it was shock — shock that fully 50% of the people in this country hate me and hate who I am. Suddenly, I felt like I no longer belonged.
That’s what I’m afraid of: them. Today’s Op-Ed piece in the NYT today, The Day The Enlightenment Went Out, captures it perfectly: there are more people in this country that believe in the Virgin Birth than believe in Darwinian evolution. (Thanks, Rachel, for pointing that article out.) And I have a real fear that things can only get worse in that regard. As the article points out, “it is often observed that enemies come to resemble each other”. I am truly afraid that with the rise of fundamentalism over the next 4 years that this country is going to become more like Iran than like any country I would want to live in.
In his victory speech yesterday, Bush said this:
So today I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us. And when we come together and work together, there is no limit to the greatness of America.
But the promise rings hollow. By invoking the Constitution, in which Bush sought to enshrine bigotry and hatred with the FMA, he belies his true intentions. After the 2000 election, Bush promised to be a uniter while embarking on a specific strategy to divide the nation for the purpose of his own re-election, so why should I believe him now? The only hope I have is the very fact that this time around, he’s not seeking re-election. Perhaps the best strategy for the Republicans is to move back to the centre to broaden support. It’s certainly the only strategy that offers any hope to the other half of us.
Yesterday, I was terrified that I was going have to leave this country with Jay and lose almost everything else I loved: my home, my urban family, the city and the mountains I love so much. I didn’t know whether I had a choice — not because Jay would insist (he wouldn’t, and he hasn’t), but because I wasn’t sure if I could live in a country that doesn’t want me. Last night I told Jay that I don’t want to leave, and he asked me what it would take, how much worse it could get, before I would go. I said I didn’t know. But now I think I can answer in the negative at least — I know what would keep me here. I’ve decided to hold onto that small sliver of hope that the second Bush term will see a move back to the centre for the Republican party. That the next Supreme Court appointment will not be a fundamentalist determined to overturn Roe v Wade. That foreign policy will more towards cooperation and conciliation, not hostility. That environmental, health and educational policies will again follow science and not doctrine. It’s a small hope I know — as I mentioned on election night, divisiveness is the convergent strategy in modern politics — but I’m going to hold on to it for now.
But if it doesn’t pan out, and Bush moves even further to the right, I just don’t know what I’ll do.