Wednesday, November 7 2012
What a great day to wake up as a liberal in America! I got up kind of early to consume and contribute to all the gloating and schadenfreude that was choking the internets. Given how history has unspooled, it's been hard to be a liberal member of Generation X. I'm used to elections turning out profoundly badly (1980, 1984, 1988, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2010) and even when they've gone well (1992, 1996, 2006 and 2008), there has always been something a bit off. Clinton never won a majority, and he ran as Blue Dog Democrat. Obama was elected the first black president in 2008, but that was only after a smirking incompetent wrecked the good will and economy of the country. But there was no asterisk next to yesterday's victory. Obama had run as a liberal (even if he hadn't actually governed as much of one) and had won reelection despite a mediocre economy and his continuing blackness. Equally impressive was how effective the Democrats had been at defending the Senate despite their long roster of vulnerable candidates. Credit there goes to the loose lips of mysogynist tea party challengers. Evidently their crazy fundamentalist Christian views about rape as are uncontainable as whatever was in my large intestine the day Gretchen and I caught the train from Tuscany to Rome.
The most amusing thing coming out of the election analysis was how utterly surprised conservatives had been by the result. Trapped in a bubble telling them the feel-good news they wanted to hear, they'd been led to believe that Romney would win in a Reaganesque landslide against a widely-reviled European-style socialist. They claimed the predictions of the Nate Silvers of the world were laughably wrong; they could feel the Mittmentum in their guts, which they saw as more reliable than brains when it comes to sensing voting trends. Particularly delicious were the clips of Fox News having to suddenly synchronize the false reality in their viewers' minds with the real reality of reality. The alternative would have been to have spent the next four years telling their viewership the various things a fictional Romney administration was up to (and there would have been a fragment of their viewership that would have swallowed it, believing that a second Obama administration was a fiction being perpetuated by the mainstream media).
Ultimately, such insularity is counterproductive; it's impossible to change to accommodate new circumstances if news of those circumstances are filtered from your news sources. It's a lesson liberals learned in 2004, when our own insularized media told us that John Kerry would most assuredly win against George W. Bush; there was no way a president that terrible could ever be re-elected in a democracy. When he was re-elected, I fell into a month-long funk and completely changed my news consumption behavior. I stopped listening to Air America (which died out shortly thereafter) and quit reading Salon.com as well. Indeed, I avoided all news sources for awhile and became more interested in podcasts such as This American Life. I think it took Hurricane Katrina to get me following the news again.
Another line of post-election analysis focused on the demographic tide against which Republicans are trying to swim. Mitt Romney's campaign focused on capturing the votes of white people, and there just aren't enough white people in this country to win a national election by appealing only to them. Such a strategy will capture a majority of the white vote, but there are now enough minorities that if they join together with white liberals, the conservative white majority will lose. This has been playing out in certain states for years; indeed, Christine "I am not a witch" O'Donnell, a sanctimonious fundamentalist lunatic, won the majority of Delaware's white vote when she ran against an unremarkable Democrat, but that Democrat easily won due to the support of African Americans. (This does beg the question how America managed to elect any competent politicians back before women and African Americans could vote.)
I remember reading somewhere that 2012 was probably the last election where it might still be possible to win a national election by appealing only to whites, and that after that Republicans will have to work on minority outreach. Now it's looking like they should have started that back in 2004.
In any case, it's hard to see how minority outreach can even work for Republicans. Everything they stand for springs in one way or another from racism. The reason we don't have a good nationalized system of health care in America is that back when Harry Truman tried to create such a system, white people objected out of concern that they might end up having black people in their hospitals. The reason our safety net and infrastructure sucks is that, on some level, white people don't want to put money into government if black people might benefit. Ideally they'd live in gated communities, but short of that they'd prefer their own detached houses surrounded by expansive yards that nobody is allowed to walk on except for them. Racism lies at or near the root of all conservative critiques of the government. The reason they've been able to set up cradle-to-grave socialism in Scandinavia is because of the relative homogeneity of their countries' populations. When people there see a poor person they don't think "Get a job, you fucking moocher!" Instead they feel empathy for someone who could, but for the grace of God, be them. Except they don't actually believe in God.
This is all to say that a more diverse country will be a more liberal one. Once the "us against them" dynamic has been removed or diminished, most arguments for right wing economic policy collapse. Similarly, once there is more diversity of religion and ethnicity, moral scolds won't have large demographic blocks with which to inflict their ideas of piety upon the populace. This will play a role not just in drug policy and the rights of gays (where liberals won big last night) but also in issues such as abortion and contraceptive rights, the separation of church and state, the sustenance of public education, and the teaching of scientifically-based science. This is not to say there won't be plenty of setbacks and corrections along the way, but at least for now I have hope. (Though when I look at those Obama HOPE posters from 2008, my brain substitutes a D in the place of the O and I read the initials for High-Density Polyethylene.)
By some point in the early afternoon, I felt like I'd devoured, processed, and regurgitated enough schadenfreude for the time being, so I took Eleanor for a walk down the farm road. It was a cloudy, unseasonably-cold day, a condition that seemed to aggravate my hangover, which had (up until this point) only been nascent. At some point along the farm road, I felt an incredible pressure developing in my head and it was so distracting and disorienting that I felt I might have to sit down. It actually occurred to me that if I was dying it wouldn't be a bad day to go out on. In some sense, you see, Obama's re-election felt like a personal accomplishment even if my only contributions had been a few trollish Facebook pages, a photoshopped picture that went viral a few days ago, and a vote in a safe Obama state.
Later this evening as I lay in Ramona's corral trying to fall asleep with her on the futon, my hangover was producing dimly-lit but graphically-intense hallucinations projected on the dark screen of my eyelids. I found myself having those unsettling cognitive effects that hangovers sometimes give me. I was, for example, able to hold two contradictory facts in my mind at the same time, but doing so felt somehow dangerous, as if it might kill me to do so. Then my brain would pursue some line of thinking only discover that one of its axioms had been removed, at which point the whole thought would vanish from my brain and I'd have total amnesia about what I'd just been thinking.
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