Election 2004

The Day After

A one-way ticket to Canada? Seceding from the Bible Belt? The outcome of the 2004 elections contain happier and more likely possibilities for the future.
It's Wednesday morning and liberals around the nation are contemplating the awful implications of another four years in Bush country. Some New Yorkers have already applied for Canadian immigration papers in fear of a Bush win.

The electoral map, however, offers another option – one that may be more sensible and more durable than leaving the country. How about a new Confederacy that combines the West Coast North Eastern states and Canada, all joined together in a new Union of Provinces and States based on rational and democratic principles? This would leave the cowboy heartland and the South to the creationist fate they deserve – not to mention the series of hurricanes that either the global warming they don’t believe in – or the God they do – is sending as a message to them.

The result of the American election reveals a country deeply split, geographically and ideologically – or rather theologically . It reveals a Bush constituency so deeply conflicted internally that they ended up casting their ballots for a president who supports a number of policies that they actually disagree with.

This disconnect can be seen in the victory of the referendum in Florida to raise the minimum wage – a centerpiece of the Kerry campaign. Bush has resolutely opposed an increase in Washington, but was totally evasive on the issue during the campaign. Over 72 percent of Floridians voted for the raise, which means that at least 60 percent of Bush voters supported a measure that is socially and economically the antithesis of what their candidate stands for.

There even seems to be some evidence that even some black religious voters, long a traditional vote-bank for the Democrats may have succumbed on the “gay marriage/evangelical” issues and voted for a party that in some localities is the direct descendant of the Dixiecrats and the Klan. It was a triumph of the Bush campaign to secure a chunk of the black vote while still successfully evoking the coded racism that has worked so well for the GOP across the country.

Recent polls from the University of Maryland showed that the Bush campaign had concealed much of its real political and economic agenda from its supporters – who are out to the left of Kerry on many issues. But the key issue for Bush voters was security and terrorism. Many still believe in he Iraq War and the "war on terror" with a conviction that is as faith based as so much of their voting. As that poll showed, over 70 percent of Bush supporters believed that weapons of mass destruction had been found, and that Saddam Hussein was behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

So what are the consequences for the nation, apart from renewed scrutiny of the Constitution’s creakily democratic processes? Slightly more likely than the union with Canada is that the Republican Party, under the renewed control of the deeply conservative ideologues marches down the dead-end charted by the British Conservative Party. In other words, it will ultimately reduce itself to an unelectable rump by shedding the saner and more tolerant Republicans, like George Pataki in New York and Arnold Schwarzenegger in California whose politics are not as right wing as the Bible Belt would wish.

On the brighter side still – despite the appalling levels of voter ignorance in the most expensive election in history – the election marked unprecedented levels of popular participation. Set rolling by Howard Dean’s grassroots campaign, volunteers went to work on the Democratic campaign on a scale not seen in decades past. In safer states like New York and Massachusetts, thousands took weeks off work to get out the vote in swing states like Pennsylvania, where, incidentally, a core of British Labor and Union volunteers defied Tony Blair to canvass for Kerry.

The flood of volunteers, voter registrations, and, by American standards, high turnout led to great Democratic optimism. However, Democrats failed to notice that the evangelical voters too were turning out in large numbers. They were motivated, in part, by state referenda seeking to ban gay marriages, and by the abortion issue – one of those peculiarly American touchstone issues that trumps all rational considerations of war and peace, prosperity and social justice.

However, while most Kerry supporters were clear what they were voting against, the Kerry campaign was much less clear in showing voters what they would be voting for. The Bush campaign was able to successfully attack Kerry on positions that he then failed to articulate convincingly. But it must be recognized that any such effort to define himself was indeed an uphill struggle against the constant intellectual erosion of overtly partisan news and talk shows.

The final piece of good news: the unprecedented mobilization on behalf of the Kerry-Edwards ticket may help the Democratic Party escape from being a bran-tub of special interests and minorities. It may lay the groundwork for broader agenda that will bring the various factions together. At present, so many blue collar workers whose wages are frozen, who face export of their jobs abroad, and whose unemployment benefits are about to disappear, continue to abhor the Democrats as the party of abortion and gay marriage. If the Democrats cannot frame a platform that appeals to those voters, then there is little hope for the Democratic Party – or for the United States for that matter.

As for the rest of the world, they'll just have to work out a way to carry on together without the constructive input of the world’s strongest military power.
Ian Williams writes on the United Nations for AlterNet. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy in Focus, the Nation, and Salon.
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