"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. But If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake."
--Thomas Jefferson, June 4, 1798, in a letter to John Taylor after passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.
This article, from the November, 17 1984, issue of The Nation, is a special selection from The Nation Digital Archive. If you want to read everything The Nation has ever published on presidential politics, click here for information on how to acquire individual access to the Archive--an electronic database of every Nation article since 1865.
Democrats who place too much credence in those exit polls that suggest that American politics is being reshaped by voters who are charged up about "Moral Values"--as defined by social conservative opposition to same-sex marriages, the right to choose and out-of-control Super Bowl halftime shows--run the risk of making a mistake that could put them not on the wrong side of one election but, rather, on the wrong side of history.
After every election, the insta-pundits seek to explain the results with a one-size-fits-all analysis that often becomes the accepted wisdom of the political seasons that follow. The flavor of this fall moment is the suggestion that voters are dramatically more interested in "Moral Values" than in the past. This theory is based on the fact that, when exit pollsters asked voters which of seven issues was most important to them, 22 percent chose "Moral Values." And 79 percent of voters who picked "Moral Values" backed President Bush. Hence the theory that a silent tide of "Moral-Values" voters--as opposed to shameless exploitation of the war on terror by the Bush team, vapid media coverage of the campaign and major missteps by the Democrats--tipped the election to the president.
"Moral values... propelled Bush," announced MSNBC. "Contest turned on voters' values, exit polls show," announced the Indianapolis Star. "Values voters seek their reward in policy," read a Knight-Ridder News Service headline. "'God gap' may force Dems to search souls," declared the Arizona Republic.
At least until the draft comes, progressive Americans will not be fleeing en masse to Canada, despite the charming offer of so many compassionate Canadians to sacrifice their singlehood to save us from the "cowboy" Bush. (As the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg says, the CanadiansÂ make us proud to be North Americans.)
After all, who is to say Canada is safe from a preemptive strike? Canada's leaders are a bunch of socialists hostile to our president just like the Baathists were, Canada might have hidden stockpiles of WMD, it possesses a natural resource-- cheap prescription drugs--critical to our people's security, and historically-speaking it would be a really bad idea (see Quebec, Battle of; 1812, War of).
No, alas, we will stay and fight to retake our country from the forces of extremism, corruption, and incompetence that have set up shop in the White House, Capitol Hill, and K Street. Taking our cue from the venerable military strategist Sun-tzu, the first stage of this battle is to understand our opponents, who are as bold as they are devious.
Nowhere is their deception more in need of debunking than in the realm of political discourse, where they have over the last several decades created a veritable Orwellian Code of encrypted language. The key to their linguistic strategy is to use words, which sound moderate to us but mean something completely different to their base. Their tactics range from the childish use of antonyms, i.e., "clean" = "dirty" to the pseudo-academic use of prefixes--"neo" is a favorite--to the pernicious (and very expensive) rebranding of traditional political labels--"liberal"--as an insult.
We need to break the code by building a Republican dictionary. Here's a small list I've put together to get us started. Please feel free to add your own contributions by clicking here. I'll be publishing more examples in the coming weeks.
BI-PARTISANSHIP, n. When conservative Republicans work together with moderate Republicans to pass legislation Democrats hate.
CLARIFY, v. Repeating the same lie over and over again.
CLEAN, adj. The word used to modify any aspect of the environment Republican legislation allows corporations to pollute, poison, or destroy.
FAIRER, adj. Regressive.
FAITH, n. The stubborn belief that God approves of Republican moral values despite the preponderance of textual evidence to the contrary.
FAITH COMMUNITY, n. Evangelicals, because they are saved, and hawkish conservative Jews, because they are useful. Israel is the bait-on-the-hook just waiting for God to take that Rapturous bite.
FISCAL CONSERVATIVE, n. A Republican who is in the minority.
FREEDOM, n. What Arabs want but can't achieve on their own without Western military intervention. It bears a striking resemblance to chaos.
GROWTH, n. The justification for tax cuts for the rich. What happens to the deficits when Republicans cut taxes on the rich.
HONESTY, n. Lies told in simple declarative sentences: "Freedom is on the march."
HUMBLE FOREIGN POLICY, n. The invasion of any sovereign nation whose leadership Republicans don't like.
HUMBLED adj. What a Republican says right after a close election and right before he governs in an arrogant manner.Â
MORAL VALUES, n. Hatred of homosexuals dressed up in Biblical language.
MANDATE, n. What a Republican claims to possess when only 49 percent of the voting public loathes him instead of 51 percent.
THE MEDIA, n. Immoral elitist liberally-biased traitors who should leave Republicans alone so they can complete God's work on Earth in peace and quiet, behind closed doors.
PHILOSOPHY, n. Religion.
SIMPLIFY, tr. v. To cut the taxes of Republican donors.
SLAVE, n. A person without legal rights, e,g. a fetus.
BONUS DEFINITION: NEOCONSERVATIVES, n. Nerds with Napoleonic complexes.
I admit that it's hard in these post-election days to maintain a sense of hope in the face of the grief, anger and outrage over the prospect of a second Bush term.
But millions of us spent these last months agitating, organizing, educating and mobilizing with an intensity, cooperation and discipline rarely seen. We're not going away. I don't know about you, but everyone I've spoken with understands that this isn't the time to retreat, that their commitment is needed now more than ever and that we need to build on the energy unleashed and the structures put in place.
Part of building to win means understanding what we lost and why; but it also requires understanding, patience and the ability to celebrate the small but sweet victories in this election year. Here are a few worth celebrating:
A day after the 2004 presidential voting was done, when it was finally possible to declare victory, Vice President Dick Cheney introduced a reelected President George W. Bush to the United States. But Cheney did not merely claim the win. He announced that, "President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation's future, and the nation responded by giving him a mandate."
Even by the accepted standards of vice presidential hyperbole â€“ which have been dramatically expanded during the Cheney interregnum â€“ that's a stretch. But it is a stretch that right-wing talk radio and cable television have been quick to make, with The Weekly Standard's invariably over-the-top Bill Kristol declaring Bush's win to be "an even larger and clearer mandate than those won in the landslide reelection campaigns of Nixon in 1972, Reagan in 1984, and Clinton in 1996."
The CEO now wants a drink--
And something stronger than a spritzer.
His worry's not a storm or flood;
The dread calamity is Spitzer.
"Why Is He Losing?" was the title I initially gave my last column here two weeks ago, and my Nation editor, Roane Carey, worried that this was maybe too pessimistic, amid supposed portents