Saturday, November 26, 2016

Memories of 2004, Part Two

People all over the world were reeling in 2004.  How the hell did the land of Kennedy and Eisenhower and Lincoln just re-elect a dry-drunk half-wit and his vampire regent?

It helps just a little to know that we've been here before, sort of, and as a study in how much and how little has changed in the intervening 12 years, as well as some sound advice on the nature of politics. some of the late Steve Gilliard's dispatches from after that election are worth the read (typos have bee corrected.)

From Steve's blog, 11/4/04:

To our European friends

The Guardian and European Press are mortified by Bush's win. But they miss what happened. Americans didn't ratify Bush's foreign policy, the war is still unpopular. They voted on values issues, something which is disturbing to Democrats and horrifying to everyone else. Which is to say, they gave vent to their economic frustrations by bashing gay marriage.

That became the symbol of their increasingly frustrating lives. You can't get a raise, you're in debt up to your ass, you never see your kids. So who do you blame? The market, which you had always been told is good? Or the people you pastor says to blame, the homosexual mocking marriage? People take the easy way out until they have to face hard choices. We are not there in Iraq, yet.

Americans are incurably optimistic about economics. They think they're all going to be rich. So they act accordingly. Many think the top one percent of Americans are around $200,000 a year. They strive to be rich, as if that would solve their problems. Frightened people do strange things. Which is ignore a war likely to suck their children in over the abstract of gay marriage. Something which may never touch their lives.

What Europeans have to understand is that campaign and election are a permanent state of affair in the US. We get to have elections in 2 years, and the verdict on Bush may be far harsher than they think is possible today. Also, the American system of government allows for the opposition to have a real voice. Bush has a slight majority to work with in the House, but is five shy of a veto proof majority in the Senate. Which means, the worst ideas can be stopped. However, some of the new Senators are basically the return of the Dixiecrats. Tom Coburn (R-OK) is an especially odious choice, I'll be following his amusing career in the Senate. Now, the Senate has had some real dolts and monsters, but the one who stood out was Theodore Bilbo (D-MS). He was an arch racist, who once wrote a tome Segregation or Mongrelization which compared blacks to apes. Dr. Coburn is our New Bilbo. It took a long time, but the Dixiecrats finally switched parties, and now the GOP has their curse.

For people who despair at the second Bush term, keep in mind that Americans are insular. Most never travel, most live in isolated suburbs and self-selected communities. The car and suburb may make every man a king in his castle, but it fractures community. It is the curse of Levittown, where we replaced small towns with miles of detached houses and communities centered on cars. So they think the world is like their world. Most Americans see the world from inside a blue or green suit as well. We are a place people come, we do not send our people out to explore the world. We are not Australians. Most Americans barely see America.

And in most cases, Americans associate with the people they choose. If they don't like a church or a job or a town, they simply pick a new one. They don't have to suffer contrary opinions. And this is nothing new. Unlike the French, who still had to live with Nazi collaborators or Royalist supporters, Americans took the Loyalists after the Revolution, stole their homes, marched them to the dock and sent them to Canada. It is a national tradition and deeply rooted. We even have dating services based on political party and ideology. I think it's silly, but I've never dated a Republican either.

How bad is it?

People go to our national parks and try to pet the bison.


They have no idea, none that they are not at a zoo, but in a wild place.

They are stunned when the rangers tell them the animals could kill them.

People are often found near death at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, after walking down in regular shoes, with a 16 oz bottle of water.

Americans barely know the America outside their office park and suburb.

Europeans expect them to understand the world. Americans barely understand their country.

Which is why the Guardian's letter writing campaign was such a mistake. They assumed that Americans would care what they thought. That, for the most part, was mistaken to a surprising degree. Americans don't much care what other Americans think, no, what their neighbors think. Evangelicals believe Catholics are doomed. So sending a bunch of letters telling people in Ohio that Bush sucks is going to get their back up, hard. But don't be shocked. If New Yorkers did the same thing, well, they'd react the same way. And if Ohioans sent letters to a swing district in New York to get support for a mayoral candidate, New Yorkers would wipe their asses with the letters.

Americans believe, above all else, in the power of change. Which is why fundamentalism is so powerful here. We believe our virtue can change the world. Americans think if they work hard enough at something, it will change. It is an ideology beyond party and firmly in the American psyche. I think it is reflected in both the good and the bad we have done.

Americans are also idealists. We thought we could change human behavior if we banned alcohol. We got powerful crime syndicates instead. If we tried hard enough, racism would just end magically. It didn't, although this is a much better country. Americans believe that things will eventually turn around in Iraq. And they won't. Hope isn't just a plan in America, it is a goal.

So Europeans should not be so quick to condemn Americans for supporting Bush. They didn't do so because they want unending war, although too many believe in a movie version of the world, where John Wayne makes everything right. They did so for purely domestic reasons, economic fear expressed as social outrage. I think Europeans will be surprised at how quickly Americans turn on Bush's war as soon as they realize we are losing. We are not there yet, and the war is unpopular now. It will not grow more popular, especially after the elections either don't happen or fall apart. And it's not as if Kerry could have avoided disaster in Iraq either. Iraq will be our Algeria, but we are not there yet. Unfortunately, we will get there.

Remember, before you chide Americans for supporting the war, remember, the Paras almost seized the French government to keep their war going. If the 82nd ABN drops on Washington, it won't be for more war in Iraq. All countries have national bouts of madness and mistakes. Nixon was reelected after Watergate.

Earlier I said this was like 1997. I was wrong, this was like the 1992 British elections, except the problem wasn't weak opposition leadership. We've set the stage to realign American politics, if we work at it. We fell short, but just short.

I think some Americans will need a sharp slap in the head to understand how flawed Bush is. I think they will need to see why we must be better citizens of the world. Bush played to our selfish and weak side and won. Now we will find out why that was a mistake. Many Americans feel just as cheated and chagrined as you do, but in the end, it came down to a few districts in rural Ohio and they believed in Bush and embraced their fears.

Now we all have to live with the results.

Part One here.


jim said...

"We believe our virtue can change the world."

Virtue has rather a dodgy line of credit with me, as I can't help but notice its rich heritage of zealously sincere & unanimous championing by every genocidal tyrant in recorded history.

Also too: All beliefs are equal, but some are more equal than others. "I believe in Jesus" versus "I believe I'll make another sandwich" comes to mind.

JerryN said...

Fuck, I miss the big guy. Thanks for posting this!