Wrestling with a Gorilla
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It's a little like wrestling a gorilla. You don't quit when you're tired. You quit when the gorilla is tired." – Robert Strauss
I've been working on digesting the results of the election. Mark Moford of the San Francisco Chronicle gave perhaps the best description of how I am feeling: "It simply boggles the mind: we've already had four years of some of the most appalling and abusive foreign and domestic policy in American history, some of the most well-documented atrocities ever wrought on the American populace and it's all combined with the biggest and most violently botched and grossly mismanaged war since Vietnam, and much of the nation still insists in living in a giant vat of utter blind faith, still insists on believing the man in the White House couldn't possibly be treating them like a dog treats a fire hydrant."
But I wound up getting some help on perspective from an unexpected quarter. I stood in the wind and the rain outside the Boston Public Library in Copley Square for eight hours on Tuesday night with tens of thousands of Kerry supporters, watching the election returns come in on giant screens, listening to speakers whip up the crowd, listening to girls scream while Jon Bon Jovi worked his way through 'Living on a Prayer.' That last bit was one of the low points. There were others.
As the night wore on and the wind got colder, the returns took a turn for the Bush. When Tom Brokaw came on the big screen and declared that NBC was putting Ohio in the Bush column, you could hear the air go out of the crowd. When the gospel singers came out and started singing 'God Bless America' for the fourth time that night, I decided enough was enough. I walked down to my favorite bar and fired down a pint of Mojo IPA, feeling the outer edges of a truly epic hate-frenzy beginning to work its way into my bones. I shrugged my coat back on, gave the disconsolate bartender a hug, and headed home. On the way, I stopped at the 7/11 and bought a can of Chef Boy-Are-Dee Beef Ravioli.
That's when the unexpected help showed up. As I was sliding my key into the back door of my apartment building, a young man emerged silently from the bushes behind me. I turned the key, and suddenly it felt like my head had exploded. The man from the bushes had thrown what was later revealed to be a large, 20 lb. cobblestone at me. It bounced off my shoulder, blasted into my jaw, and dropped heavily at my feet.
I reeled into the door but didn't fall. The fellow, assuming that anyone struck with a 20 lb. rock was ripe for the picking, started to come at me. I turned, and in a moment of truly dumb Braveheart macho testosterone rage, charged the guy. He stepped back in surprise, and then turned to flee. I pursued him down the street, brandishing the can of ravioli over my head while screaming unkind comments about his inappropriate sexual relationship with his mother, until my jaw reminded me that it might be broken.
After the cops and the EMTs and the x-rays were finished with me, the diagnosis was that nothing was broken or loose. My face is pretty torn up, but I should be able to chew solid food in a couple of days with the help of the Ibuprofen/Percocet cocktail the folks in the emergency room were kind enough to give me. As for the guy who threw the rock, I have no idea where he came from or what he was about. There are a few junkies wandering my neighborhood, so I assume this was an attempted mugging... possibly the first mugging in American history to be thwarted by a thick skull and a can of Chef Boy-Are-Dee.
Beyond the pain and the big scare, I am actually grateful for what happened. This may seem strange, but getting belted with a boulder did wonders for my perspective. If his aim had been a little better, just a couple of inches to the left, I'd probably be dead right now. I have the rock sitting on my desk in front of me, with an inscription written on it in indelible ink: 'There Are Worse Things Than Losing An Election.' A narrow perspective, to be sure, but a hard one to avoid while living inside my own bruised head.
Without a doubt, a second term for George W. Bush promises to be a debacle of generational proportions. The courts will be stacked with ideological brothers of Antonin Scalia. Roe v. Wade will be cast down. The full frontal assault on the Federal budget, on Social Security, on Medicare, on anything resembling government-subsidized assistance for people who did not get the lion's share of Bush's tax cuts, will continue unabated. The war in Iraq will grind on, and likely be expanded to include Iran and Syria. If those military adventures fare as poorly as what has happened in Iraq, a military draft will not be far off.
Sidney Blumenthal described it this way: "Now, without constraints, Bush can pursue the dreams he campaigned for – the use of U.S. military might to bring God's gift of freedom to the world, with no more 'global tests,' and at home the enactment of the imperatives of 'the right God.' The international system of collective security forged in World War II and tempered in the Cold War is a thing of the past. The Democratic Party, despite its best efforts, has failed to rein in the radicalism sweeping the country. The world is in a state of emergency but also irrelevant. The New World, with all its power and might, stepping forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old? Goodbye to all that."
Perhaps the best indicator of what a now-unfettered Bush is going to be like over the next four years came during his Thursday press conference. Associated Press reporter Terence Hunt opened the questioning with a three-part query. Bush responded to his questions by saying, "Now that I've got the will of the people at my back, I'm going to start enforcing the one-question rule. That was three." When another reporter dared to ask a multi-pronged question, Bush's response was, "Again, he violated the one-question rule right off the bat. Obviously you didn't listen to the will of the people." In other words, journalists, sit down and shut up.
There are a few bright spots to point to in the aftermath. John Ashcroft will reportedly resign his position before the inauguration. While it is certain that Bush will nominate another far-right lunatic to replace him, unless that nominee is Atilla the Hun, any new Attorney General will be an improvement. There is also the brewing fight between the conservatives and the neo-conservatives within the Republican Party. A number of old-style conservatives were secretly hoping for a Kerry victory, because it would give them an opening to purge the GOP of the neo-cons and the far-right religious fundamentalists from the party. Now that Bush has a second term, this fight will probably break wide open.
Finally, the long fight to bring the glaring problems associated with the new electronic voting machines may finally break fully into the mainstream. There are some ominous discrepancies between the pre-election polls, the exit polls, and the final results out of counties in Florida and Ohio that used the machines. While eating an electoral defeat seems an incredible price to pay for initiating this dialog and investigation, consider the long term. If an investigation into the use of these machines in this election winds up requiring voters be given a paper confirmation of their vote, this democracy will look back on Tuesday November 2, 2004 as a necessary and beneficial trauma.
Despite these bright spots, the inscription on my memorial rock – 'There Are Worse Things Than Losing An Election' - seems absurd in the face of all this. Maybe it's the concussion talking, but I honestly believe the rock is right. For one thing, worse than losing the election would be a collective acceptance of the reasons we are being given for why the election was lost. We hear from every mainstream media quarter that the election was lost because more people lined up with Bush on the question of 'Values.' There is a degree of truth to this. Eleven states had referendums on the ballot about gay marriage, for one example. The Republican base flooded to the polls to vote against it. This helped Bush, surely, along with some other 'Values'-oriented issues, but this does not account for the final result. He was going to get that vote anyway. There is an elephant in the room here, and ignoring it would be worse than the electoral defeat.
The result of this election is nothing more or less than the culmination of a three-year terror campaign waged by the Bush administration and his campaign crew. Every day for three years, the American people were bombarded with messages of fear from the administration. Day after day, the Bush administration used September 11 to cow any and all dissent, to bend popular will, to frighten people into thinking that voting against Bush was a vote for death and destruction.
It worked. Millions of Americans, after three years of state-sponsored fear roaring out of their televisions 24/7/365, went to the polls and solemnly voted against their best interests. Buying into the idea that 'Values' alone determined the election outcome would be a disaster, as would buying into the idea that America is now a center-right nation, as would buying into the argument that Bush now has a mandate. It isn't true. The election turned on Bush's willingness to terrify the people he is supposed to be leading, and any refusal to acknowledge this will compound the wretched result of this election by orders of magnitude.
It is amazing that this election was as close as it was. Kerry should never have come as close as he did to victory, given the campaign of fear that was waged against the American people by this administration. Worse than losing the election, therefore, would be an acceptance of the idea that all the work, all the shoeleather spent in the movement to vote Bush out was a complete failure. It wasn't. The movement did better than it had any right to, and it still has work to do. Worse than losing the election would be an abandonment of that movement. It isn't over, but has only just begun.
Howard Dean recently wrote, "There is more to politics than elections. Thousands of young people have discovered, as generations have before them, their efforts matter. Their actions matter because by getting in the game instead of staying on the sidelines, they are empowered, whether or not their candidate wins. Historically, whether through the campaign of Gene McCarthy in 1968 or John McCain in 2000, the enthusiasm and hard work waned after the election. This time we cannot let that happen. Democracy is the most highly evolved system of government ever created by human beings. And like everything else we create, it will wither and die unless we nurture it."
Now more than ever, the movement that began on December 12, 2000 must continue. Billions of people around the world woke up on Wednesday afraid, fully convinced that the United States of America has finally and completely lost its collective mind. The movement must assure them that we have their back. The soldier and civilian death toll in Iraq continues to climb unabated, and those still alive in that cauldron of violence need to be assured that we have their back. The millions of Americans who do not fit in to Bush's grand evangelical plan for the country need to know that we have their back.
If despair and despondency still color your world after the election, remember this: Every second-term President since Eisenhower has met with a blizzard of shame and disgrace before they left office. Nixon didn't get to finish his term and needed Ford to keep him out of prison, Reagan needed Bush Sr. to pardon a whole mob of cretins to kill the Iran/Contra scandal, and Clinton was impeached for lying about consensual sex.
If the first four years of this administration are any indication of what is to come, and if the movement continues to hammer him for the next four years as it has for the last four years, the name of George W. Bush will wind up echoing down the hallways of history as the single worst President the nation has ever known. The name of George W. Bush will stand as a grave warning and a strident reminder of how badly and how quickly things can go wrong in our democracy.
I'm going to stick around to see that happen. It will take more than a rock, or a lost election, to blow out my pilot light. I'll see you on the battlements.