Changing the Electorate
Blaming a “stupid electorate” for giving a small electoral majority to BushCheney does not seem to me to be a very good way to reach out to any of these voters. If for no other reason, challenging their intelligence will not make them more likely to listen to what progressives have to say. How anyone can choose the reckless chaos of BushCheney is beyond my comprehension but more voters did that rather than vote for John Kerry. The margin was close–Kerry’s effort was clearly better than “dreadful” as some critics contend–but the fact that BushCheney’s radicalism merits more than a fringe vote is disturbing.
That success is based on money, marketing, organization, discipline and fear. Over the years Republican’s have used the ample resources of the large corporations and super-wealthy individuals to fund think tanks, promote policies and positions, and win elections. Republicans have been blessed with good timing–the collapse of the Soviet Union and the 9-11 attacks–and gild their policies with the aura of success and patriotism. Terrorism provides a convenient way to terrorize the electorate into suspending their reasoning. They have also been blessed with a compliant, sometimes subservient, media, large portions of which are concentrated in the hands of friends and supporters. Bombarded with focused images and ideas from this disinformation machine, voters can easily conclude that the BushCheney radicalism is what America needs.
Many voters who believe BushCheney’s distortions and lies are victims of cognitive dissonance, where reality clashes with their deeply held belief in America and its leaders. BushCheney failed to prevent the 9-11 attacks, America into an unnecessary war that they were not prepared to win, abandoned any pretense of fiscal responsibility in order to give tax breaks to their wealthy supporters, and attacked cherished civil liberties–all actions that have been clearly harmful to this nation. Yet voters cannot reconcile these disasters with their faith in America; they choose to believe that somehow BushCheney are acting in the national interest. That is the only explanation for their choice. They’re not stupid. They are blinded by their faith. I lost that faith in America long ago, in Vietnam and in years since. I guess it will take more war for this generation (and many in my own generation who weren’t paying attention during Vietnam) to learn how our leaders can prostitute American ideals and the terrible consequences that result.
Reducing that cognitive dissonance would have been easier if Kerry had articulated a clear alternative to BushCheney on Iraq and on protecting America. His logic on the war was plausible and reasonable but incomprehensible to the average voter and an easy target for deadly parody. Howard Dean offered a much better choice on the war. Too many voters thought Kerry was a fake. I know from his record that he is not a fake–his Vietnam service and anti-war activity were very real and his commitment to this nation is genuine–but that passion and commitment were rarely evident during the campaign. Instead, I often found myself wincing at what I saw. When he addressed an NAACP dinner last summer, Kerry looked and sounded like a parody of someone running for office. The hunting outfit and praise for NASCAR seemed like hollow pandering. Constantly vowing to “kill” Bin Laden sounded like fake macho.
Kerry was an easy target for ridicule and parody. BushCheney came close to “Dukakising” him, that is, ridiculing his accomplishments, denigrating his competence and making him a laughingstock. All that was missing was the tank photograph. To his credit, Kerry fought his way out of that pigeon hole. He did superbly in the three debates (although his constant refrain,”I have a plan.” began to sound trite by round three) but it was insufficient to overcome BushCheney’s media blitz and their better organized get out the vote efforts.
So I don’t think the 59 million who voted for BushCheney are stupid or ignorant. Not all of them anyway. They looked at the information (often erroneous and distorted) and the two flawed men offering themselves for the office and made a logical, however misguided it seems to me. The Democratic Party and progressive community need to sharpen our differences with BushCheney, to articulate a coherent program of social and economic justice and demonstrate to voters how it provides greater security–national, economic and social–for America in the 21st Century.
If the electorate is really as stupid as some of us claim, we don’t have a chance. They will never listen or understand what we are saying. I guess I still have enough faith in Americans (if not our government) to believe we have a chance. I worked hard to do that in 2004. I’m ready to continue.