Election 2004: Short Takes
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As I write this, Karl Rove is somewhere declaring victory. Though the results of the election are still up in the air, Rove has good reason to celebrate. He devised a strategy to capitalize on the mood of evangelicals who believe they're in a crush between marriage-hungry homosexuals from below and liberal "activist judges" from above – and it carried Bush to inches from the finish line, if not to victory.
The notion that the institution of marriage is somehow under attack by a gay menace has been cultivated behind the walls of evangelical Southern Baptist and pentecostal charismatic churches for decades. Rove merely adapted it into Bush's campaign platform and watched as anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives followed in nearly a dozen states. Ohio's anti-gay marriage initiative is so extreme, its Republican governor, Bob Taft, cautiously opposes it, fearing an exodus of white-collar workers to gay-friendly states. But there and elsewhere, gay marriage brought evangelicals out in record numbers and nullified the human wave Democrats counted on to retake the Senate and White House.
In many ways, the evangelical crusade against gay marriage is the latest outgrowth of the ideas of evangelical theologian Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer is the intellectual godfather of the evangelical movement; in the 1970's Schaeffer penned "A Christian Manifesto" and "How Should We Then Live," bestsellers still unknown outside of Christian circles which articulated the evils of relativistic secular humanism through the lens of cultural and intellectual history. Secular humanism had resulted in a daily genocide of unborn babies in America's hospitals, Schaeffer argued, and evangelicals should vent their outrage by making politics their focus. His analysis resonated with a new, highly educated evangelical class which had rejected the premillenialist doomsday theology of preachers like Oral Roberts in favor of an aescetic lifestyle and a hyper-politicized agenda which stressed putting the country under the control of biblical law.
By the early 1990's, Schaeffer's teachings had spawned the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue and provided an ideological structure for influential evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell and Rev. Rob Schenck, who is John Ashcroft's former pastor. Today, with Operation Rescue and Moral Majority leaders in congressional offices and the White House, gay marriage has replaced abortion as the issue propelling the next wave of the evangelical grassroots.
This wave rolls from places like Colorado Springs, a wealthy town populated by countless California exiles living in McMansions in gated communities who sway to gospel music in 5,000-plus member mega-churches. And with aggressive proselytizing, the wave crashes upon Latino barrios, rural black towns in Dixie and even maximum security prisons. If Democrats are wondering what happened to their landslide or why the massive turnout they generated has nevertheless wound the country up in another grinding, protracted election, perhaps they should take a look at the grassroots right-wing evangelical movement.
Only one U.S. Senator had the courage and the commitment to civil liberties to vote against the Patriot Act in the weeks after the terror attacks of 9/11. Pop quiz, quick, name that Senator! If you said the late Sen. Paul Wellstone, you'd be wrong. Even the feisty progressive from Minnesota failed to oppose John Ashcroft's attack on civil liberties sold as essential to fight Bush's war on terror.
The lone opponent of the Patriot Act was Sen. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Wellstone's colleague across the Mississippi River.
Fast forward to the fall of 2002 and the run-up to Bush's war on Iraq. Democratic senators, including Hillary Clinton, Tom Daschle, John Edwards and John Kerry all voted to give President Bush the authority to attack Saddam Hussein. Russ Feingold voted against the war. I spoke at the time with a Feingold staff member who worried that these two votes would doom Feingold in his 2004 race for re-election. "We'll be bashed viciously as weak on terror and anti-war, they'll trash us mercilessly and it will cost Russ his race."
Probably just what advisors to Kerry and Edwards were thinking. Indeed, Feingold's 2004 opponent Republican Tim Michels, a millionaire construction company owner and a former US Army Ranger, beat three Republicans to win his party's nomination. Michels dumped over a million dollars of his own money into an aggressive advertising campaign skewering Feingold as weak on terror and not supportive of the troops. However, when the polls closed at 8 PM on November 2nd, with no votes even counted yet, all the major media declared the race over and predicted Feingold's victory based on the exit polls alone.
John Kerry voted for the Patriot Act and the war, and was barely beating George Bush in Wisconsin. The lesson is this: Russ Feingold proves that an anti-war, populist Democrat, a maverick campaigning to get big money out of politics, can win and win big. But given a choice between a real Republican and a Democrat such as John Kerry who acts like a Republican, many voters will choose the Republican. Progressives looking for a viable candidate for the presidency in the future should not overlook the man from Middleton, Wisconsin, Russ Feingold.
Silja Talvi (in Washington state):
No one, it seems, wanted to stay at home tonight.
Seattle has entered its 'dark season,' when the gray skies and relentless rain challenge even the most jovial and outgoing amongst us.
But Election Night 2004 was something else. In all of my years reporting in Washington State, I've never seen anything like this before.
My first stop was Victrola, a legendary independent cafe in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. Folks assembled there as early as 4 p.m. had already set up rows of chairs in front of a large projection screen. Espresso shots, cappuccinos, and up-to-the-minute reports were keeping folks going. As the results from the East Coast started rolling in, 25-35-year-old intellectual and politicized pro-Kerry supporters were still hopeful and speaking openly about the victory that they expected.
Down the street, leading Democratic politicians in Washington State were pressing flesh at Maguire's Irish Bistro. Outside, two eight-year-old boys, Max and Nathan, had taken it upon themselves to handwrite "Vote for Kerry" signs on school notebook paper. "Did you vote today"," they asked each passer-by. "And who did you vote for?" Their unofficial poll? Kerry: 17, Bush: 0. Margin of error? Unknown, but adorable.
Seattle's most well-known alternative paper is the iconoclastic and uber-cynical weekly, The Stranger. At a free party thrown for the community, The Stranger's editor Dan Savage hosted an all-night drinkin' and smoking' celebration attended by many hundreds of people, with a long line snaking around the block. Nary a Bush supporter was to be seen anywhere. The Daily Show had the otherwise rowdy group of 20-something post-grunge, thick-rimmed, beer-swilling Seattleites hushed while they listened to Stewart's barbs and jabs.
"Fuck you Tucker Carlson, you're a dick!" yelled woman with middle finger raised to screen when the coverage switched to MSNBC.
"There's something really wrong with that bow tie," growled a man next to her. But it was an Neumo's, Seattle's premiere underground hip-hop spot that most of the simmering outrage that has come to represent Seattle's attitude toward President Bush was most evident. Headlined by spoken word and Slam star Saul Williams, the event had attracted legions of 18-30-year-old voters. Mixed-race, dreadlocked, politically savvy, and desperately hoping for an end to the Bush regime, many in this truly diverse crowd had voted for the first time in their lives.
"I'm a little pessimistic," said Hannah Chung, 24, who is a breakdancer and sculptor studying to be a child psychiatrist. "I'm going to cry no matter what, whether in grief or in joy."
Naturalized Ethiopian immigrant and music event promoter Yonnas Tesfai, 24, is angry with the way that the Bush administration is leading the nation, and voted for Kerry. But Iraq, he admits, is a more complicated matter: his brother is in the Marines and currently stationed in Iraq. "I don't see an easy answer," he says, "but I know we need Bush out."
Meanwhile, lifelong Democrat Afi Howell, 29, was glad to see the turnout of African American voters – and young voters in general. Performer Ayinde Howell, Afi's brother and co-owner of the popular Black-owned Hillside Quickies Vegan Sandwich Shop in the University District, was all about recognizing that no matter what the outcome, these newly mobilized voters needed to stay involved. "No matter what the outcome, you need to realize that voting for Kerry is not your most revolutionary act," he shouted from the stage.
The crowd roared in agreement.
David Cross and co-conspirator Patton Oswalt:
Well it's finally here. Like an attractive, worldly, yet diseased and brutish second cousin arriving just at dinnertime, Nov. 2, 2004 is today. When I woke up this morning it was the first thing on my mind. It's like when you're a kid and when you went to sleep it started snowing and there was talk of a storm and now there may or may not be a snow day – in other words, powerless over the forces of nature (i.e. Fox TV and talk radio). I felt and still feel like this is all a story being acted out. Something that will seem terrible or wonderful but won't really affect me once it's been read. I feel very small. Not insignificant but small. I am also nervous. I feel like I am waiting to find out if I have cancer, and if so, is it benign or inoperable. I have a bit of hedged optimism for a Kerry victory but dwindling hope for a unified, civil and mutually respectful America post-Nov. 2 no matter who wins. I keep vacillating wildly in its importance as to what a Bush win might mean. I suppose part of that is a defense mechanism that is designed to temper the blow of a Bush re-election and the dual horrors that would await us. Horror number one being a policy implementation of someone who not only believes that God talks through his charmingly ill-equipped mouth, but also believes that America has spoken and given him its blessings to do whatever it is he feels like doing without the past burden of having to even pretend to appear interested in anyone but his base.
And horror number two being the smug, satisfied puffery of the bullies of the right and their collective mouthpieces as they implore us all to "put away our differences and engage in civil discourse now that the elections over so that our country may come together in celebration of this steadfast and noble president." That is all we will hear all over our rapidly increasing, newly conglomoratized accesses to the loud and wrong information that has been a thorn in our side since the mid 90's. I don't' believe for a second that they would act in kind if Kerry wins and I use everything they have said, done and written since their professional inceptions as my reason. I do feel a bit of relief though that it will be over shortly. I am getting ready to go over to a friend's house (the awesome and very well-informed Patton Oswalt) here in Hollywood to watch the returns with a small group of limousine liberals (although none of us ride in limousines). I am cynically awaiting the over-the-top, completely unessecary technological nightmare of whatever network's Decision 2004 broadcast we watch. Patton has a big screen HDTV though so at least the "Election Show" will be even more dazzling and distracting.
[Patton interjects] Okay, couple of things. It's 8:42 while I type this, from the wireless internet connection in the back of the limousine parked in front of my modest Burbank bungalow. I rented this land yacht from Liber-Al's Limousine's. Mike Farrel is driving. Soy scotch in the mini-bar. James Taylor pumping on the stereo. Fire and rain indeed, chrome dome.
Did you sense the weak, guttering candle-flame of hope David tried to ignite in the last two paragraphs? Yeah? Well, I'm here to blow it out.
If Bush wins, then we all surf a turd, Slim Pickens-style, into the maelstrom of history's dustbin. Blue and red. And purple, whatever the fuck that was. Right on top of Ancient Rome, Prussia, Spain and Great Britain in the 1880's. Not that it'll matter to me. I'll be headlining McCaddy's Scotch 'n' Chuckle Tavern of Expat Leg-Pullers in Laphroaig, Scotland.
If Kerry wins, then the Tucker Carlsons and Robert Novaks and Sean Hannities and Micheal Medveds of the world will make sure ...
Fuck! Cross just came in and told me Bush got Florida. It's 8:58 now. Goddammit!
[Cross jumps back in] Sorry Patton, but Florida leads America in its bold new vision quest for the world. As I see the results trickling, pre-litigationally, I am emboldened by the scotch you have been serving me. You're right though, as a rich white man with no kids and stock in Saudi Arabian humanitarian rights violations, I'ma gonna be RICH!!!!!
See ya later suckers!
Bush forever and ever!!!!!
This is David Cross and Patton Oswalt signing off until we take our sweet, bitter sarcasm out on the road to a Republican run comedy town near you. Buy your eggs early!