I mostly wrote that “morning after” piece of yesterday because I was surfing around the morning after, going to all my usual sites and blogs, and nobody had written anything. So I forced myself to write something, because I thought of all the people like me who would be depressed and wondering if radicals had anything to say.
The morning after the morning after, there was a lot more material. I was on the top page of Counterpunch for a while, set up as the exemplar of the Anybody But Bush position by the Socialist Worker’s Sharon Smith, which I found odd. In a later email exchange with her, she suggested that I had implicitly given Kerry way too much credit. I replied that it wasn’t about Kerry. I completely agree that the democratic party leaders did their best not to distinguish themselves from Bush and that is a strategy designed to convince nobody.
The only thing Kerry had going for him was that he wasn’t Bush.
That ought to have been enough.
But it wasn’t, and that’s the reality, so now that we’ve wallowed a little, it’s time to think through what that means. The pieces that disagreed with me, including Michael Albert’s own piece, argued that the election said little about the US population that wasn’t already known. Roughly 30% went to Bush, 30% to Kerry, and 40% didn’t vote. How would that 40% have voted? Well, they were disproportionately low income, and low income voters disproportionately voted for Kerry, so Bush would have lost. I’m not so sure. I suspect it would have broke down as much by region as by income. I’ll be looking into this more.
A good piece by Haider argues convincingly that the liberal strategy of not taking a strong antiwar or anti-occupation stance was not just morally bankrupt but also ineffective. Justin Felux pokes fun at the liberals and anyone else who was surprised at the outcome, again attacking the democrats. Doug Ireland and Paul Street also talk about Why Kerry Lost.
But I still can’t convince myself that Kerry lost. I think Bush won.
Kerry is what he is, and the democrats are what they are. This defeat and a dozen more wouldn’t be enough for them to take on class issues or anti-imperialism in a serious way. If they had, would they have won? In America today (or two days ago) I don’t think so.
Which brings us back to the question for radicals of what now? I think Jessica Azulay and Brian Dominick have some good advice, as they tend to do. My favourite part of their piece is:
We dared hope that the American people would hold the Bush administration accountable for launching an illegal war abroad and plundering the poor in favor of the rich at home.
So our short-term hopes have been handily dashed.
Bush has been rewarded for lies, theft and aggression. Telling ourselves that most Americans are unaware of Bush’s real agenda amounts to condescension the majority no longer deserves, and a benefit of the doubt we cannot afford to give them.
They offer the following strategic advice for radicals: first, wage a genuine battle for public opinion. That’s fair enough, though I think there might be a tension between developing and strengthening our own base and reaching out, and I think we might have to do a bit more of the former before we are really ready to do the latter. They also pick some short-term battles that need to be fought and that can be fought and won with intelligent coalition-building politics. Small victories, in other words, are what popular movements need right now, badly, for morale as much as anything else. Abandoning any hope in the Democratic Party is also advocated, and pretty hard to argue with at this point, but so are their ideas about ballot initiatives and electoral reform. Last, they discuss the building of alternative institutions, which I think is key.
The grassroots right wing movement that has been sending me hate mails and helped Bush win has such power because of alternative institutions. The churches, the talk radio stations, the Cable TV, the local newspapers and newsletters, Christian Rock music, Christian fantasy thriller novels, all create a world in which a person can live in almost a parallel universe. In a culture where alienation and loneliness are so pervasive, that sense of community is incredibly powerful, and has enabled them to create a base of people, a substantial chunk of the population, that is fanatically loyal, disciplined and motivated politically. They had resources and power to do it: radicals trying to do it have neither. Or rather, we will have to find some somehow.
A consolation prize: even if you didn’t believe Gabriel Kolko’s argument that Bush was the lesser evil because he would increase the international isolation and break down the alliances on which US power ultimately depends, well it’s too late, so we might as well make the best of it, even if, as Tom Engelhardt said, there’s no pleasure in predicting bad things.
Last thought: let’s not reject polarization, please. Let’s not ‘heal the wounds of the nation’, please. Remember Stan Goff’s piece in Counterpunch after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke (Abu Ghraib, remember that?)
We are reaching a point of polarization with respect to this war, where these oxygen thieves with suits and stars feel they can get away with the MAM argument, justifying the murder of anyone who is male, military-aged and brown. We have reached some kind of social baseline of racially-stupefied consensus, where all that PC posturing is no longer necessary, where another half-wit in Congress can say he is “outraged at the outrage,” and there is 35% of the US population that will sit perfectly still for it, many even cheering it on. For that polarization to be complete, we need 35% of the population that sets aside their maddening liberal squeamishness and dithering and demands that these suits and stars be strung up by their testicles.
We need a good, in-your-face, knock-down, drag-out fight in this place.
This place hasn’t had a good old fashioned DEEP-DOWN change since Reconstruction. It’s time.