It was a week ago, just about now, when everything changed.
I’ve come to accept the election now, and think to the future. But at the time, I remember feeling a profound sense of grief and loss:
Let’s be honest: We are aghast at the success of a campaign based on vicious personal attacks, the exploitation of strong religious feelings and an effort to create the appearance of strong leadership that would do Hollywood proud. We are alarmed that so many of our fellow citizens could look the other way and not hold Bush accountable for utter incompetence in Iraq and for untruths spoken in defense of the war. We are amazed that a majority was not concerned about heaping a huge debt burden on our children just to give large tax breaks to the rich.
And we are disgusted that an effort consciously designed to divide the country did exactly that — and won. With all his failures, Bush could not count on a whole lot more than 51 percent. Karl Rove and company calculated perfectly, organized painstakingly, greatly increased conservative turnout and produced a country divided just their way.
Last Tuesday, I couldn’t talk about the election, couldn’t blog a response, couldn’t respond to all the IMs from friends asking what it all meant. My mind reeled too much to form the words needed to convey what I felt. Today, I can only describe it by saying I didn’t feel like an American anymore. Estranged.
Sure, I thought, we could change candidates, tinker with slogans and refine “Get Out The Vote” efforts. But what can you do when much of your country rejects what goes to the very core of your beliefs? When can you do when so many Americans would rather see their children go without quality health care and better public schools, just so long as they can stop two men or women from getting married?
It used to be that we could just ignore the huge swaths of religious fundamentalists in this country. The idea, right up through this election, was just to contain them — let them impose their creationism-teaching, Ten Commandments-posting, regressive-taxing way of life on the people of Alabama, Mississippi and the like. But the reason containment hasn’t worked is because these people aren’t limited to a region. They’re a demographic, exerting a rightward influence all through Appalachia in the east and along the Mississippi River in the rural midwest, always threatening (and sometimes succeeding) to tip blue states into the Republican column.
That’s why 2004 is worse than 1994. Not because the Democrats were routed — they weren’t. It’s worse because, in changing their campaign strategy based on each day’s headlines, and placing bald-faced pandering over principle, the Democrats ceded the moral high ground to the Republicans, of all people, and allowed them to creep like a cancer and take hold of the very places where ordinary people need Democrats the most.
In the days since the election, as shock has turned into incredulity, and despair into resignation, I’ve begun to look around and assess what was lost. The truth is, America had been slipping away for a while. Last Tuesday, I think, it finally fell out of the grasp of reasonable people in both parties.
We are now entering an era of one-party government. Republicans continue to hold the executive branch. They have majorities in the congress and the senate, the state governorships and legislatures, and soon, the Supreme Court. From where I stand, the future looks bleak.
Where do we go from here? I don’t know yet, but like you, I’m thinking about it. In the meantime, aside from the occasional joke about moving to Canada, I’ll be keeping this in mind:
“Liberals, stop threatening to move because Bush won. Real liberals should be pledging to stay because Bush won.”