(I wrote this after the last presidential election, and I decide to revisit it before this one... here's hoping!)
November 3, 2004
Election Day dawned chilly and grey. I walked to my polling place with my umbrella, heart in my throat, as it always is when I go to cast my ballot. It’s exciting and daunting, every time, due to its grave importance and the great responsibility that freedom brings. I nervously ticked off the yard signs and bumper stickers, thinking about Election Day 2002, the loss of Paul Wellstone, and Election Day 2000, the loss of faith. The lines at my polling place were long, even at 7:30 in the morning, but the spirits were high, and people seemed excited to be there. This is America, and it is exhilarating: standing in line to cast my vote with my neighbors, in the gymnasium of a community center.
The following morning, I was forced to ask myself why bad votes happen to good people.
Has it come to this? Is the cloud of rhetoric so thick that it cannot be dispersed? Have voters become so convinced that “moral values” are more important than their own economic self interest, that the trend cannot be reversed? Are moderate Republicans so bound to The Party that they cannot see the damage being created by intrusive, big government policies and fiscal irresponsibility? Do we, as Americans, truly believe that the legislation of morality should be the domain of the government? Should all of this occur at the expense of our public schools, our public health, our civil liberties, our clean air and water, our wild lands, our national security?
What are we supposed to do now? Do we throw our hands up and become part of the new exodus? Do we grace foreign lands with our intelligence and creativity, our activism and our love of social responsibility, thus abandoning America to its seemingly chosen fate of becoming a post-modern Gilead?
I for one thought that there would never be a time when I would consider leaving this country due to frustration or disgust, or a simple mistrust of both the government and the governed. Today, I am not so sure. It is hard to wade through the morass of contempt and acid resentment that I have been feeling these four years and see that the United States still has the chance to fulfill its promise as a democracy. It is hard to retain a relentless and naïve positivism in the face of an overwhelming radical-conservative agenda that threatens the idea of American democracy at every level, reviling the very idea of public life and public service at the same time that it seeks to control them.
Certainly some amount of indignation will need to be expressed as we continue, as more aspects of the public sector arrive on the chopping block, which they inevitably will. We need to be more aware, more involved, and more critical. We need to be demanding of facts and honesty; we need to be in touch with our local, state, and federal officials. We need to craft and hone our arguments so that we are prepared when confronted by those who believe this represents a sea change. We need to have a working and whole understanding of the motives and modus operandi of the Neo-conservative machine so that we can explain it to people without sounding hysterical. The facts are on our side; we simply have to know, understand, and articulate them. We have to appeal to people’s hearts when it comes to moral issues on which we sense that there is ground to give, and refocus the moral arguments that are divisive—refocus that energy onto the real problems: the reality of people’s lives; the reality of the situation. Move their minds, if at all possible, just the slightest degree away from the issues of abortion, or gay marriage, or god, or guns. How does the Left win back the hearts and minds of the very people that used to form its base? Not all that long ago in our history, it was possible to be an evangelical Christian and carry on a crusade for social justice.
We all know the facts: tax breaks to the top one percent of Americans, crippling and alienating foreign policy, massive corporate welfare, deficit spending, a bloody and needless war that could continue for years, and an enormous and intrusive federal bureaucracy. We all know that true national security depends upon a strong infrastructure; state, local, and federal governments with integrity; and citizens with job security, health care, civic pride, a healthy environment, and an adequate safety net in case life should throw them a curve. Distrust of government does not foster a strong nation. And a government that plays cruel politics and uses showy euphemism and down-home talk to cover up disastrous policies will only, in the end, foster distrust.
We cannot continue to posit ourselves as leaders of the free world even as we erode our democracy in America and chip away at the foundations laid in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. How can we "export freedom" even as we diminish it here at home? If he is concerned about the security of this nation, The President should strengthen our domestic job base, extend assistance and hope to those who have been laid off or who are struggling to meet their daily needs, support and fund our public schools, release federal monies for support of state and local law enforcement, develop an energy policy based upon long-term needs, and pursue a foreign policy of cooperation and consistency. A nation with such might and so many resources has overwhelming possibility as a force for good both within its own borders and in the larger international community, instead of conducting itself like the biggest bully on the playground. Our national security lies with our citizens and our strong history of democracy and fairness.
Are we ready to throw that last shovelful of dirt on the grave of the American Democratic Experiment; sing an elegy for our beloved separation of church and state; speak a eulogy for the cherished separation of powers? Because that is what leaving would mean. I want to be a voice for optimism, if only to convince myself that something can be done for the better. We have been manipulated by fear into our present situation; that self-same fear cannot lead to defeatism. Yes, we are exhausted. This campaign was long, arduous, and spiteful. And somewhere in the back of our heads, we know that another one is around the corner. But we are the people who need to take a deep breath and then use it in defense of America; in defense of our liberty, our freedom, our history, and our future.