Tuesday, 23 November 2004
Post mortem. I said my peace about the election results in another forum — and, indeed, a lot of the time and energy I would have spent blogging these past few months was given over to Democrats Abroad instead. The election was a disappointment, to say the least, and perhaps more so because it was so close: Not as close as 2000, but close enough that you could point to almost any one thing and say that it could have changed the outcome. Should Kerry have spent more money in Missouri and Arkansas, and kept less in reserve for post-election legal battles? Should he have hit back harder and faster against the Swift Boat liars? Should he have done more to keep Bush on the defensive?
Well, yes, yes and yes. But Monday- (or Wednesday-) morning quarterbacking is always easier than playing the game, and John Kerry certainly gave Bush a run for his $200 million. I think history will look back on Bush's term in office, and perhaps the decade, as an era of lost opportunities — a time when a greater, more visionary President could have united America as never before, when we could have really struck a blow for freedom and democracy in the Mideast, and when we could have avoided a financial meltdown which any economist worth his salt can see coming… but didn't.
I've read a few analyses of the poll results, and the one that had me nodding my head the most was about the difference between pathos (an appeal to emotion) and logos (an appeal to the mind). John Kerry, and Al Gore before him, were candidates who appealed on an intellectual level: They appealed to voters who made a rational decision, based on logic and issues and results. George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton before him, made a stronger appeal to emotion — to people who voted their gut instincts and chose the more "likeable" candidate, although both Clinton and Bush inspired irrational hatreds. And the pattern for the past thirty years (at least) has been in favor of charisma over competence.
I liked Howard Dean in the primaries in part because he was a budget-balancing centrist, in part because he was clearly going to put Bush on the defensive, and in part because I genuinely liked Dean. He was bold. He took risks. He wasn't a typical politician. Kerry was a typical politician, albeit one with an interesting backstory, and like many I warmed to him over time more than I was fired up by him initially. I think the Democratic grassroots nearly forced Kerry to take John Edwards as a running mate, if only to give him a boost in the charisma department; I can only imagine a Kerry-Gephardt or Kerry-Vilsack ticket doing worse, even if that choice brought Missouri or Iowa into the fold. The enthusiasm wouldn't have been there.
But I do think this election was a watershed in other ways. The Republicans never stopped campaigning after the 1992 election — they just switched from attacking the Democratic candidates to attacking the Democratic incumbents — and I think this year the Democrats will finally start catching up. Planning for 2006 starts in 2004, and hundreds of thousands of Democrats now have experience with organizing, speaking, campaigning and other skills that will come into play two years from now. In two years we'll have a strategy for countering the GOP's attacks on our values and our religion, and for pointing out their hypocrisy. We're gradually getting better at making our voices heard over the noise of the right-wing hate machine, and at learning how the GOP frames its message to deceive the audience. We're not going to adopt the tools of the enemy, but we're going to learn how to defeat them.
I'm not optimistic about four more years of the Bush administration, especially with Powell leaving, Rice taking his place (ye gods, was the captain of the Exxon Valdez not available?), with the father of Abu Ghraib moving over to the Attorney General's office, and don't even get me started about Rumsfeld — but if the nation survived six years of Richard Nixon, it can survive until 2006 with George W. Bush in charge.
I do have to admit I'm feeling good about earning my salary in a foreign currency, though. Four more years of Bush's borrow-and-spend policies will leave a smoking crater where the Treasury used to be.