Friday, November 05, 2004

I've tried to not be too vocal about the elections. I'm a Republican, and I'm happy with the result, though of course not entirely - who is? When you lose, you want to win. When you win close, you want to win big. And when you win big, you want the losers to learn the right lessons.

I like the two-party system we have in this country. But that depends on two legitimate parties, and I fear that the Democratic party is becoming something less than that. Not just because they've been out of power in the House for the last six elections - after all, the GOP was the minority party in the House for forty years, and that didn't make them irrelevant.

And it's not being out of power in the presidency - I considered the 1990s dark years for the country because Bill Clinton was in the White House. In that sense, I understand how many on the other side feel about Bush. All was wrong with the world as long as THAT MAN was sitting in the big chair. Not ALL, obviously. But the Clinton Presidency was a distorted lens through which I viewed the world, and until the moment Bush was sworn in, I was convinced Clinton would find a way to leave a lot more than just his leftover DNA in the Oval Office.

I get it. Believe me, I do. The Michael Moore, George Soros, Al Franken, et al. conspiracy theories, worst case scenarios and apocalyptic forecasts I hear about Bush, are pretty much cribbed from my own years of exhaustive Clinton-based Tourette's.

Why could people not see what an evil, unprincipled, lying SoS antichrist Clinton was? I broke the world into three categories: those who Got It, those who were too complacent in their own little worlds to care, and the EVIL VAST COCONSPIRATORS, consisting of the usual suspects: the lamestream media, the Hollywood idiotocracy, the corrupt powermongers and so on.

Sound familiar? You have George Soros; we have Richard Mellon Scaife. You berate Rush Limbaugh and Fox News; we declare war on Brokaw, Jennings, Rather, Pinch Sulzberger, etc. You have nightmares about John Ashcroft; we quaked in fear at the thought of Janet Reno torching our homes and stealing our children - and we had a lot more documented evidence for OUR fears than you have of the dreaded Patriot Act.

Unless, that is, you ARE a terrorist. In which case, enjoy your stay at Guantanamo.

Notice the difference; we disarm bad people and send them to Cuba. You go in armed to deport defenseless children whose mothers died trying to escape Castro's Communist Utopia.

But that's a rant for another day.

The problem, as I see it, is that we who CARE SO MUCH are too darned wrapped up in our respective fits of demonization that we've stopped looking for common ground. We're so convinced the other side is STUPID or CORRUPT or EVIL or BRAINWASHED or #%$!!s that they can't possibly have a sensible or well-intentioned motive for anything they do.

Witness, for example, this gem from Jane Smiley, subtitled "the unteachable ignorance of the red states." Her argument is that Republicans are a combination of the corrupt and the stupid, a vast right-wing conspiracy of cultivated ignorance among the electorate.

In short, if you voted for Kerry, you're enlightened, and believe "humans are essentially good." If you voted for Bush, you're either filled with ignorance, bloodlust, greed, or religious and thus "must abdicate all critical thinking."

Yeah, that Jane Smiley is a real humanitarian.

She compares Jimmy Carter, who "asked Americans to take responsibility for their profligate ways," to Ronald Reagan, who "told them once again that they could do anything they wanted." If you're old enough to remember both presidencies, ask yourself if that's how you remember things. Jimmy Carter, who never met a dictator he wouldn't let teach his Sunday School class, who won a Nobel Peace Price for criticizing George W. Bush's efforts to end the tyranny in Afghanistan and Iraq, who gave away the Panama Canal and practically handed the free world to the Soviet Union, was just trying to get Americans to "be more responsible." Ronald Reagan, who did spend American fortune and ran up deficits, also created a new sense of hope among the electorate--and did more than any other human being to end the cold war and some not-so-cold proxy wars worldwide by daring to think it could be WON without global annihilation.

In retrospect, whose presidency is more widely considered a success, and whose a failure? Who truly failed to take responsibility? Your answer will undoubtedly answer a raft of other questions. As for me, I'll take Reagan's Shining City on a Hill over Carter's "the country sucks and it's all your fault" every single time.

There is no question that Jimmy Carter is an intelligent man, and that Reagan wouldn't beat him in an IQ test. But what makes a President? Intelligence is only part of the mix, and I'd argue that too much intelligence can in fact hinder a man from being an effective leader. Bill Clinton's undeniable intelligence was often squandered by the smallness of his vision and the vastness of his appetites. He was an indecent man and a decent president who could have been exceptional.

Another thing about Clinton, for you Bush-haters to swallow. When Clinton swept into office in 1992, he had Democratic control of both houses of Congress, and a majority-Democrat presence in state houses and state legislatures throughout the country. When he left in 2000, he left a party much diminished in statewide and national governing power. Although he did enact some elements of his agenda, on the whole he governed as a centrist with more Republican than Democratic support. Before the Lewinski mess, I considered him "a better Republican president than George HW Bush," though I didn't think much of him as a man.

Bill Clinton can raise money like gangbusters. But who in the Democratic Party, truly, benefited from the Clinton years more than Bill and Hillary Clinton themselves? How many of Clinton's cabinet members, advisors and staff have managed to win elective office in the years since? I can think only of Rahm Emmanuel and Bill Richardson. What has Clinton's man, Terry McAuliffe managed to do for the DNC aside from raise oodles of cash and make entertainingly vicious sound bites about the Right? The idea behind raising vast sums of money is to WIN ELECTIONS WITH IT. By that standard, McAuliffe is an abject failure.

Anyway. The bottom line is, I can understand Jane Smiley's frustration. But after reading her column, all I could think was, she's exhibiting, practically screaming, the very qualities of which she accuses the GOP voters. The word 'projection' comes to mind. There was no lack of knuckle-dragging Neanderthals, pissed-off insane billionaires, unscrupulous media hacks, manipulative evil geniuses, self-absorbed morons, IQ-reducing echo chambers, soul-selling powermongers, unsanitary True Believers and legions of the 'ignorant and unteachable' on the Left as on the Right.

Just as there were just as many sincere, heartfelt, well-informed, passionate and honorable people on the Left as on the Right.

We each have our share of heroes, demons, and Just Plain Folk of every kind. Jane Smiley, Michael Moore and others may convince themselves that George W. Bush won because the deluded godboys got suckered by the Halliburton death squads and joined in an unholy alliance with the Selfish Rich and the WWE Smackdown! moms.

Let them believe that. Those of us who chose to vote for Bush because he "says what he means and means what he says," and whose actions and words have added up to an America and a world that - while filled with problems and work yet to do - still holds promise of a better day.

Jane Smiley sees a "threat to democracy" in the 2004 results. I see a republic still slogging along after 215 years, weathering its ups and downs. Where Smiley sees 'hubris and hatred,' so do I - but only as long as I left her essay on screen.

To the GOP - smile, take a deep breath, and get to work. To the Democrats - grieve, take a deep breath, and go back to the drawing board. There's nothing wrong with spirited debate. You have many good ideas, and many honorable motives. Your error is in not giving your adversaries any credit for the same.