The defeat of John Kerry, combined with the Republican advances in the House and Senate, has unleashed waves of dismay and perplexity within liberal and progressive circles. What happened? Why did so many voters embrace a President whose Iraq policy was paved with lies and deceptions, who has shown contempt for science, the rule of law and many of the principles of the Enlightenment, and whose economic policies favor the rich at the expense of the vast majority of Americans? What lessons do we draw from Kerry’s failure to win over the electorate in spite of the Bush Administration’s conspicuous failures? Are the Democrats crippled, or merely wounded, and is the party really out of touch with “mainstream” values? Finally, what should the priorities of the progressive movement be in this era of Republican dominance, and what is the best formula for future electoral success? The Nation asked some of the country’s leading political activists and intellectuals for their thoughts on one or more of these questions. Their brief essays follow. –The Editors
DEMOCRATS LOST BADLY IN 2004, especially in the Senate, but they should not spend a huge amount of time on recriminations. The presidential race was quite close, and nothing to be ashamed about. Sitting Presidents are hard to unseat in wartime, and President Bush clearly succeeded in using the post-9/11 worries about security to his advantage all across the nation and in many voter segments (especially among women). Ironically, the very fact that Bush has made a mess of Iraq probably helped him, because it kept security and war-related issues at the forefront of public discussion throughout the campaign. Democrats, moreover, never succeeded in offering a clear vision of the future at home or abroad.
Now Democrats are a minority party, with no center of national leadership. They need to get some visible spokespersons in place quickly, and begin a continuing campaign of organization and argument around carefully selected policy battles. The Republicans are going to use their across-the-board government powers very aggressively. There will be too many things to fight, and the Democrats should pick one big battle at a time to use as a vehicle for framing a countervision of national well-being and attacking Republican extremism. I do not think the battles should be over Iraq. That will play out as it will, probably badly, and Bush and the Republicans should be left holding the bag without a lot of Democratic input along the way.
In domestic politics, I worry that the Democrats will wander off into a series of battles over Supreme Court appointments focused on worries about what might happen, some day, with Roe v. Wade and abortion rights. That is not the way to go to inspire and build a national majority. Instead, Democrats should start right now to focus on aggressive defense of the Social Security system. They should not wait for specific policy proposals from Republicans–as we learned in the Medicare prescription drug battle, those specifics will be hidden until the last minute–but should paint a picture of Republican plans and attack it today, tomorrow, the next day, unremittingly. There should be a coordinated campaign among officeholders and Democratic-leaning groups.
Paint Republican privatization plans not as an attack on the elderly alone, but as an attack on all working Americans. “They are going to take the taxes everyone has contributed for years and use them to pay fees for Wall Street brokers.” “They are going to let richer people opt out of paying their fair share into Social Security–and make the system go broke very soon.” “They are going to break the promises long ago made to all of us who contribute to Social Security, take away the benefits we have built for our own retirement, as well as to take care of our parents and grandparents.” “Social Security works as a savings system for all of us together. We save efficiently that way. It leaves each of us free to save more if we can. But no one should have to give up their promised benefits so Republicans can pay off their rich friends.” Etc. Use rhetoric that is both hard-hitting and invokes a countervision of the benefits of social cooperation. Stop worrying about policy details–or engaging in expert policy-speak, or trying to be precisely “fair” to the opposition. Arouse a sense of profound threat based on a picture of what Republicans almost certainly will have to do in any privatization move.
Democrats, in short, need to use the politics of defense to their benefit over the next two years. Seize the opportunity to reframe debate and demonize Republican radicals, especially on issues that have both bread-and-butter and moral implications for ordinary working Americans, as Social Security does. We should worry less about candidates for elections in 2006 or 2008 (stop talking about Hillary!) and choose our battles now to speak in vivid, morally powerful terms to potential majorities of American working people.
Theda Skocpol teaches political science at Harvard University. Her recent books include The Missing Middle: Working Families and the Future of American Social Policy (Norton) and Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life (Oklahoma).
THE DEMOCRATS TODAY ARE LIKE BRIGHT KIDS, failing out of school. They’re smart. They’re studious. But they just can’t figure out how to pass the exams. Now they are furious with those “stupid” red-state graders. But they still can’t graduate without red-state approval. What to do?
Well, the analogy itself holds some answers. On exam day (and election day), one excels when she knows what competence the teacher is actually measuring. Democrats think their IQs are being tested. But voters today are flunking them, in part, based on their low EQs.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the intelligence of the heart. People with high IQs understand data. But people with high EQs understand people. They know how to connect and empathize; how to set people at ease; how to touch their hearts; how to make folks laugh and cry.
Left-wing intellectuals often look down on those whose intelligence is in the emotional domain. We cherish careful analysis–not down-home yarns and “charisma.” We sniff at the “charmers.” We fear the “demagogues.” We want our politics to be above all that.
But the verdict’s in: EQ trumps IQ in big elections–hands down. Think Gray Davis versus Arnold Schwarzenegger. Or Alan Keyes versus Barack Obama. All the candidates had IQ smarts (yes, including Arnold). But the winners were titans of EQ. And the losers were EQ midgets.
In 2004 Kerry had more policy smarts. But Bush had more people smarts. He ran the more emotionally resonant campaign–speaking clearly, simply and passionately. And he won.
Republicans have mastered this art–but only recently. EQ genius Bill Clinton beat Bob Dole and outlasted Newt Gingrich. It was almost no contest, since both of Clinton’s GOP foes were emotionally tone-deaf. Clinton’s EQ-based spanking forced the Republicans to speak in the more EQ-savvy language of “compassionate conservatism.” The rest is history.
The bottom line: Emotional intelligence matters–a lot. Voters don’t trust pure brainiacs. Their brainiest bosses, teachers and HMO doctors were often their worst. They want to feel comfortable with the human being they are placing in power. Even among Democrats, Kerry failed to connect at a human level. That cost him–and all of us.
Progressives certainly need more infrastructure. But voters don’t vote for think tanks, networks or websites. They vote for individual candidates. And we need to invest in those who can lead with their hearts, as well as their heads.
Van Jones is executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, California.
RARELY HAS A PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION produced such widespread despair on the left. By any objective standard, George W. Bush has been among the worst Presidents in American history. One of the main purposes of elections in a democracy is to act as a check on those in power by confronting them with the possibility of being removed from office. If Bush can be re-elected after having alienated virtually the entire world, brought the country into war on false pretenses and mortgaged the nation’s future to provide economic benefits to the rich, what incentive will other Presidents have to act more reasonably?
Nonetheless, the vote was not a mandate for a conservative agenda. A majority of 51 percent and a margin of three points in the popular vote do not constitute a landslide, no matter what Karl Rove and the spin doctors insist. Indeed, the most striking thing about the result is how it resembled that of 2000. All but three states voted the same way they did the last time around. The nation remains closely divided.
Progressives must not succumb to hopelessness. The left must do what it has always done in American history–what Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony and Eugene Debs did: stake out a clear position in favor of social and economic justice, at home and abroad, and articulate it as clearly and forcefully as possible. We must also work to strengthen institutions that provide the social basis for progressive politics. The right has its evangelical churches, often the only remaining centers of civil society in a decentered world of shopping malls and galloping subdivisions. The left traditionally had unions, and their decline is intimately related to Democratic defeat. Even without strong unions, Kerry did best among voters with lower incomes. Nothing would revive progressive politics more effectively than a reinvigoration of American unions. This may not be the road to immediate electoral success. But when Democrats return to power, as they surely will one day, it is essential that there be a progressive agenda in place to help shape public policies.
We must not join the bandwagon proclaiming that “moral values” were the key to this election. In exit polls, the “moral values” category was a grab-bag indicating everything from hostility to abortion rights to the desire for a leader who says what he means and apparently means what he says. Denigrating religious conviction per se is hardly the path to follow. But progressives must not seek victory by appealing to intolerance and unreason and rejecting the traditions of the Enlightenment that we alone seem to embrace today. We should take comfort from the fact that our values–social justice, respect for international law, religious and moral tolerance–are shared by the rest of the industrialized world. One of these days, the United States will catch up.
I suspect that the attacks of September 11 and the sense of being engaged in a worldwide “war on terror” contributed substantially to Bush’s victory. Generally speaking, Americans have not changed Presidents in the midst of a war. The Bush campaign consistently and successfully appealed to fear, with continuous warnings of imminent and future attacks. Land of the free? Perhaps. Home of the brave? Not anymore.
Eric Foner is DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University.
DEMOCRATS ARE BEING ADVISED to respond to their election losses by enhancing their rhetoric of religion. What we need to do instead is revive the prophetic tradition, especially its critique of religion.
Major movements of social advancement in this country have spoken in the name of the prophets, not in the name of churches or religion. Martin Luther King Jr., for example, spoke as a prophet, not a priest or theologian, and in fact was regarded with suspicion by many religious leaders, including in the black church. “Let justice roll down like water, and righteouness as a mighty stream,” the anthem of the civil rights movement, were the words of Amos (5:24). Central to the prophetic tradition is its critique of religious rituals, beliefs and those who enforce them. In words applicable to today, Jeremiah declares, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?” (Jeremiah 5:30-31)
Rather than debate theological interpretations, the prophets denounce hypocrisy and insist on justice as the tool of God and the manifestation of God. Neither religious ritual nor belief holds meaning for the prophets as ends in themselves; what God wants, Amos insists, is not worship but an end to war crimes and exploitation in the marketplace. For the prophets, justice is the means of redemption, including our redemption of God from the constraints of religion, human mendacity and complacency in the face of evil. They also are adamant that evil is never the climax of history.
Democrats have to challenge the legitimacy of the Christian right in the name of the prophets. We have to unmask the unholy passions that inspire the apocalyptic zeal of so many Christians, Muslims and Jews: the ressentiment that has been fostered by the right wing since the days of Governor George Wallace, and the loneliness that makes apocalyptic fantasies so appealing. Today, the prophets would once again see truth and justice shackled with chains, enslaved by selfishness and the lust for power and empire.
We need a new civil rights movement, a mobilization against the Bush regime, against its nascent totalitarianism, with marches on Washington that will stir the dormant American conscience. A movement can become powerful in America if it speaks in the voice of the prophets, insisting on our duty as citizens to resist a government that is subverting justice with its deadly policies.
In the Bible God asks, “Who will speak for me, who will remember the covenant of peace and compassion?” We must abandon despair and find the inner resources to respond with the prophet Isaiah: “Here I am, send me” (6:8).
Susannah Heschel is professor of Jewish studies at Dartmouth College and co-chair of the Tikkun Community.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT WE CAN DO to regain our lost ground, but I think the key is fear. Fear of the other, broadly defined. I sometimes think the entire species is suffering post-traumatic shock; as a species, we have had to absorb an enormous amount of change in a very short time. Perhaps the most dramatic change in the past thirty years is the mainstreaming of the idea–even only as an idea, I wouldn’t suggest it’s come to practice–that men and women are equal. This is quite radical, and rather new in the history of the species.
What all fundamentalists share is a determination to repress the freedoms and rights of women. When this is coupled with a sexual anxiety about homosexuals–who after all take the place of women in the imagination, or assert that the definition of the female is more malleable than had formerly been thought–you get a potent substance that feeds the toxin of anxiety. This is what we mean by culture wars.
On top of that: The notion that people we once thought of as our inferiors have us by the throat–because we are dependent upon them for oil and because they can drive planes into our buildings–has shaken many people to their roots. This fear freezes their minds from flexible and imaginative thinking and freezes religious postures into crippling and perverse versions of what they might be.
We should remember that the chances of unseating a President in wartime were small and that we did much better than we might have predicted. What upsets me more: a Democratic Senate minority leader who is antichoice.
Mary Gordon will be publishing a novel, Pearl (Pantheon), in January. She teaches at Barnard College in New York.
I SPEND A GOOD DEAL OF MY WORKING LIFE talking with ordinary working people in various parts of this country. Well before election day, I heard from factory workers, office workers, truckers, social workers, nurses, doctors and lawyers about their dilemmas on voting–most of them, like me, registered Democrats, yet not sure they wanted to vote the Kerry-Edwards ticket.
Let this remark by a woman, a nurse who works in a North Carolina hospital emergency ward (her husband is a truck driver), be an answer to the question of “what just happened,” and maybe to some other questions posed:
I went to vote and I wasn’t sure I’d end up deciding–that’s unusual for me; usually I know in advance. I wanted to vote for the Democratic side, but it was hard for me to go along with it. Kerry, he’s stiff, and he puts you off (me anyway). I don’t like some of the things his wife said–I couldn’t imagine her being our nation’s First Lady without a shudder. Edwards–he’s a ham–lawyer, feeding off the trouble people get themselves into.
The Democrat Party is different than it used to be; it’s become highfalutin, my daddy says. (Truman was his favorite President–“no airs about him.”) President Bush, you could sit in a regular place and have a beer with him, and like the time spent–you’d like him and like his wife a whole lot. (You talk about having a drink–with the Kerrys, they’d be ordering some fancy stuff I’ve never heard of, in some ritzy place.) The Bush family, they’re high up, but they’re our kind of people. The Democrats, they’re “cross-towners”–I just don’t get them, what they believe and want, other than to win.
Sure, Bush and Cheney want to win, too [I had observed]; but somehow you get more connected to them, what they believe, who they really are (what they’d go to bat for, win or lose, heart, mind and soul). I guess that was my opinion–all these thoughts running across my head, until I stopped them and did my voting!
Robert Coles is the James Agee Professor of Social Ethics at Harvard University.
THERE WERE TWO CAMPAIGNS that supported John Kerry in 2004, the official campaign and a cluster of unofficial progressive campaigns.
The official campaign gave us a candidate who said he would still have voted for the war resolution, who posed for photographers as a windsurfer and a goose hunter. It made TV spots less memorable than Bush’s. Although Kerry would have made a fine President, he was unable to convey who he was. When Time magazine asked voters which candidate was good at “sticking to his positions,” 84 percent said “yes” about Bush and only 37 percent said “yes” about Kerry.
The unofficial campaigns, while loyal to Kerry, were driven by passion on issues, the war, civil liberties, the environment, and economic justice. They focused particularly on younger voters. The best description of the result is posted on the Music for America website (www.musicforamerica.org/node/view/67061), where you can see what the electoral map would look like if people under 30 had determined the election. Kerry would have won 375 electoral votes. The newly blue states would have included not only Florida and Ohio but also Virginia, West Virginia, Nevada, Missouri, Arkansas, North Carolina and Mississippi!
Kerry himself was no Goldwater, either in the magnitude of his loss or in the passion he inspired. But the unofficial campaigns gave America, for the first time in a quarter-century, an organized, impassioned progressive voice. The Nation finally has institutional allies like MoveOn.org, Air America, numerous new think tanks and organizations large and small. Finally there is a pulse. It is now our job to build on what was accomplished, first by protecting it against inane negativity by official Democratic political losers, and more importantly by doing the painstaking work of building a political future, as conservatives have done since the 1960s.
The most effective line from George Bush’s stump speech was, “Even when you disagree with me, at least you know what I believe and where I stand.” As George Lakoff has written, we need a progressive philosophy expressed in relationship to core moral beliefs. We also need candidates who understand that part of the job description for political leadership is fluency in mass American cultural language, a language in which, for example, the word “cowboy” is a compliment, not an insult.
Danny Goldberg is the author of Dispatches From the Culture Wars: How the Left Lost Teen Spirit (Miramax Books, paperback to be published in the spring by Akashic Books).
IN AN ERA IN WHICH MOST US POPULATION GROWTH is occurring in the South, West and heartland, American liberalism is defined by people in the Northeast. At a time when rising tuitions are pricing many working-class Americans out of a college education, the upscale campus is becoming the base of American progressivism. In a country in which most working-class Americans drive cars and own homes in the suburbs, the left fetishizes urban apartments and mass transit and sneers at “sprawl.” In an economy in which most workers are in the service sector, much of the left is obsessed with manufacturing jobs. In a society in which Latinos have surpassed blacks as the largest minority and in which racial intermixture is increasing, the left continues to treat race as a matter of zero-sum multiculturalism and white-bashing. In a culture in which the media industry makes money by pushing sex and violence, the left treats the normalization of profanity and obscenity as though it were somehow progressive, making culture heroes of Lenny Bruce and Larry Flynt. At a time when the religious right wants to shut down whole areas of scientific research, many on the left share a Luddite opposition to biotech. In an age in which billions would starve if not for the use of artificial fertilizers in capital-intensive agriculture, the left blathers on about small-scale organic farming. In a century in which the dire need for energy for poor people in the global South can only be realistically met by coal, oil and perhaps nuclear energy, liberals fantasize about wind farms and solar panels. And in a world in which the greatest threat to civilization is the religious right of the Muslim countries, much of the left persists in treating the United States as an evil empire and American patriotism as a variant of fascism.
American progressivism, in its present form, is as obsolete in the twenty-first century as the agrarian populists were in the twentieth. If you can’t adapt to the times, good intentions will get you nowhere. Ask the shade of William Jennings Bryan.
Michael Lind, the Whitehead Senior Fellow at the New America Foundation, is the author of Made in Texas: George W. Bush and the Southern Takeover of American Politics (Basic).
MOST AMERICANS FIND IT INTOLERABLE to think that our soldiers were sent abroad to die for no sufficient reason. They are still unwilling to admit that those who fell in Vietnam lost their lives in vain. So half the electorate managed to keep on believing both that Saddam Hussein was preparing to use weapons of mass destruction and that he was somehow linked to 9/11. They did so because, in their minds, to abandon those beliefs would be to withdraw support from our troops. So Senator Kerry did himself little good with the voters by demonstrating that President Bush had deceived the nation in order to invade Iraq. But he was boxed in. He could not ignore the issue without alienating his own base, and could not speak frankly about it without further alienating his opponent’s.
The sort of people who make up Bush’s base cannot be won over by insisting that Christianity mandates concern for the poor, and that Bush has shown none. For most fundamentalist evangelicals think that poverty is a punishment either for insufficient gumption or for failure to establish the sort of personal relationship to Jesus that insures worldly success. So it would be a mistake for Democrats to start sounding more pious. They cannot give up on abortion rights and gay rights without alienating many blue voters, but if they do not do so they cannot hope to win over any red ones. Once again, Democratic candidates are boxed in.
As far as I can see, the only recourse Democrats have is to reverse the drift toward the center that began after McGovern’s defeat in 1972, and once again put themselves forward as the Party of the Poor. This may not work, but it is the only card they have left to play. They should beat the drum about the widening gap between haves and have-nots, about the humiliation and misery of families without health insurance, about the scandal of disappearing pensions and about outrageous corporate tax dodges, about fabulously overpaid corporate executives, about Halliburton and Enron. If they adopt this strategy, at least they will be positioned to take advantage of any future economic downturn, and can hope for something like a reprise of the 1932 election. If they instead edge still further to the right, the Republicans will simply shift the goal posts by doing the same.
Richard Rorty is the author of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (Princeton) and Achieving Our Country: Leftist Thought in Twentieth-Century America (Harvard).
FREEDOM IS ON THE MARCH, said George W. Bush in the presidential debates. He’s right. For the past forty years, rightward-leaning political thinkers have been developing rigorous accounts of the human and economic value of political liberty and arguments about how to secure and protect that liberty. Coherent theories of liberty developed by the likes of Milton Friedman’s and Leo Strauss’s fellow travelers gained precision and force for being targeted responses to Soviet totalitarianism and communism.
But what about the Patriot Act? How can that be reconciled with a description of the Republicans as the party of liberty? The pursuit of liberty reasonably requires the reasonable pursuit of security, but the unmediated pursuit of liberty and security easily evolves into pursuit of dominance, whether at home or abroad.
By what, then, might the pursuit of liberty reasonably be mediated? By the pursuit of equality.
Democracy depends on both liberty and equality, and a constant, messy struggle between these two ungainly and not perfectly compatible fraternal twins. To the degree that this country now divides into red and blue states, the red states are those where, of the two ideals, liberty leads; in the blue states, equality leads, despite the fact that the party of equality has not lately offered any particularly convincing philosophical accounts of the human and economic value of equality, nor clear arguments about how to protect equality. (When John Kerry wheels around a debating stage and, after surveying the audience, says, “I suspect there are only three people here who are going to be affected: the President, me and Charlie,” it’s not even clear that the party of equality is the party of equality.)
Liberals and progressives need to get back to the hard work that precedes policies and slogans: thought-work. We need a thorough, theoretical defense of the foundational status of equality in democratic life.
Freedom has always been on the march in this country. Equality has had more difficulty gaining its own foothold. Now is the time.
Danielle Allen, author of Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship Since Brown v. Board of Education (Chicago), is professor in the departments of classics and political science and a member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.
IN THE WAKE OF THE ELECTION, we Democrats do not have to go looking for moral values. We merely need to articulate a vision of America based on the moral values we already believe in–fairness, opportunity and respect for others. It is a moral issue whether or not a child has healthcare, whether a family has quality childcare or whether parents have enough to feed their children or send them to college. It is a moral issue that we give tax breaks to the rich when millions of Americans go hungry or can’t afford a doctor’s visit.
For too long, we have been on the defensive. We need to define an America of hope rather than fear. We need to champion the economic concerns that matter most to Americans–a living wage, healthcare, educational opportunities and time to be with one’s family. We need to champion a government that represents not the top 5 percent but all hardworking Americans who struggle to provide their families with the basics of a decent life.
We need to continue to push at the state and local levels to bring changes that help working Americans. Initiatives to raise the minimum wage and provide healthcare won handily in states that went for Bush. Yet while we should build on coalitions formed during this election, we cannot just talk issues and policies. Without a clear vision of America based on the values we believe in, we will face another Republican victory. Voters do judge issues through a moral lens. But if the other side is the only one articulating a vision, we will continue to lose. John Edwards began a conversation about “the two Americas.” The Democratic Party needs to continue that conversation and set forth a bold agenda based on values that will insure economic opportunity, fairness and prosperity for all.
Beth Shulman is the author of The Betrayal of Work: How Low-Wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans (New Press). She is a lawyer and consultant and is co-directing the Fairness Initiative on Low-Wage Work.
THE BRUTAL DESTRUCTION OF FALLUJA in order to “save” it and a recently published report that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children are suffering from acute malnutrition–an affliction that has doubled since the US invasion–are just two of the many compelling reasons that stopping the Bush Administration’s war in Iraq is a moral imperative. The leadership required to meet this imperative will not come from Democrats in Congress. It will come from a focused, determined and relentless antiwar movement.
In addition to being a moral calling, a mass movement to end the war could deter the Administration’s assault on the principles and values we cherish. It has been said that some of the good things President Lyndon Johnson hoped to achieve with his “Great Society” became casualties of the Vietnam War. Likewise, George W. Bush’s capacity to do many bad things at home and abroad could be diminished by his war in Iraq.
Exit polls showed that Americans are deeply divided on Bush’s war. A plurality believes that the war in Iraq is not making America safer. The daily diet of horrific images from Iraq will only push the number of disaffected Americans upward, causing discomfort among prowar members of Congress. Add to this the increasing chorus of antiwar voices from the Republican coalition, and Karl Rove has something to worry about.
The Bush war in Iraq presents an opportunity for progressive organizing. The invasion and occupation of Iraq outraged millions of soon-to-be activists and contributors, swelling the campaign coffers and volunteer ranks of progressive organizations and Democratic political campaigns. This network of supporters and activists–1 million of whom called or faxed the Senate in a single day before the invasion–represents a powerful political force that could make it difficult for Bush to drum up the funds and the troops to “stay the course” in Iraq. Now is the time for this movement to mount vigorous opposition to the Administration’s request for as much as an additional $75 billion for the Iraq war, and to the nomination of an Attorney General who believes that the torture exposed at Abu Ghraib is perfectly legal and that treaties like the Geneva Convention are “obsolete.”
These battles are opportunities to provide an increasingly skeptical public with a new narrative about the US military occupation of Iraq, starting with why there is no military solution. They are also opportunities to build strong coalitions in Congressional districts across the country, including labor, clergy, students, city and town councils, neighborhood organizations and all groups who are watching the day-to-day impact of a federal government squandering resources needed at home. There is an opportunity to build alliances with “unusual suspects,” including antiwar conservatives and Republicans.
Perhaps most important, there is an opportunity to forge working partnerships with veterans of the Iraq war and their families as well as reservists, National Guardsmen and -women and the families of the victims of 9/11 who reject the idea that the war in Iraq is making anyone safer from terrorism. I would like to see former prisoners of war confront President Bush’s nominee for Attorney General not only with the immorality of his infamous memos linked to Abu Ghraib but with the fact that an “obsolete” Geneva Convention is a threat to every American who is wearing, or ever will wear, their nation’s uniform.
Finally, the Bush war in Iraq presents progressives with an obligation and an opportunity to act locally and globally. Speaking about the UN in the wake of the US-led invasion of Iraq, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recently said: “We have reached a fork in the road. This may be a moment no less decisive that 1945 itself, when the UN was founded.” It is time to reach out and work with progressives around the world, starting with those from member nations of the US-led Iraq coalition.
There is a moral imperative to ending the Bush war in Iraq. There is also an important opportunity to drain the “political capital” President Bush believes he has accumulated, before he is able to spend it.
Tom Andrews is the national director of Win Without War.
THE ELECTIONS ARE LIKELY TO HAVE significant policy consequences, particularly harmful in the domestic arena, and in accelerating the “transformation of the military” that some prominent strategic analysts warn, realistically, may lead to “ultimate doom.” But they tell us little about the country, though major studies of public opinion released just before the election are highly informative.
In particular, we learn that there were no elections, in any serious sense of the term. Voting patterns were similar to 2000. A small shift in preferences would have put Kerry in the White House, also telling us very little. As previously, elections were run by the PR industry. Its guiding principle is deceit. That is true in its regular vocation of undermining the fanciful markets of doctrine, in which informed consumers make rational choices. And the same practices are used when it is called upon to undermine democracy. That businesses spend vast sums to delude consumers, not inform them, is too obvious to merit comment. It is entirely natural that they should do the same when they are selling candidates, not toothpaste. And voters appear to be aware of it.
About 10 percent of voters said their choice would be based on the candidate’s “agendas/ideas/platforms/goals.” The rest would choose what the industry calls “qualities” and “values,” the political counterpart to TV ads, with about as much relation to reality. The most careful studies reveal that voters tended to believe that the candidates shared their beliefs, even when this was demonstrably false.
Far more instructive are the virtually unreported attitudes. To illustrate, a considerable majority believe that the United States should accept the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court and the World Court, sign the Kyoto Protocols, allow the UN to take the lead in international crises (including security, reconstruction, and political transition in Iraq), rely on diplomatic and economic measures more than military ones in the “war on terror,” and use force only if there is “strong evidence that the country is in imminent danger of being attacked,” thus rejecting the bipartisan consensus on “pre-emptive war.” Overwhelming majorities favor expansion of purely domestic programs: primarily healthcare (80 percent), but also aid to education and Social Security. And so it continues. There is little connection between public opinion and electoral practices.
The election has elicited much hopelessness and despair. The lessons should be different. There is ample opportunity for education and organizing to create–in part re-create–a functioning democratic culture in which public opinion plays some role.
Noam Chomsky’s latest book is Hegemony or Survival (Owl).
AS AN IRISH CITIZEN LIVING IN THE UNITED STATES, my travels put me in regular contact with Americans from “red” and “blue” states alike. Most tell me the world is less secure and more divided than at any time in recent memory. They want leadership that strengthens human security at home and abroad. But many aren’t convinced either Democrats or Republicans have a compelling vision of how that can be achieved.
I am encouraged by an emerging awareness among Americans that US domestic and international policies are increasingly out of sync with long-held American beliefs in fairness, opportunity and shared responsibility. Many people in this country are concerned about the millions around the globe who struggle to survive through grinding poverty. They understand that US positions are not always supportive of those in need, and send signals abroad that the most powerful nation is frequently only concerned with narrowly defined national interests. They are convinced that unless the United States plays a constructive role in promoting social and economic development for all, frustration will lead to further social unrest and political instability, threatening human security today and in the future.
The Democratic Party, as well as governments and political parties around the world, should see the election results as an opportunity to form a new movement based around shared values and shared responsibilities. The good news is that such an agenda already exists in the international human rights agenda.
That broad framework for action covers civil and political rights–to liberty, freedom of speech and religion, freedom from torture, and fair trial–all part of the best American traditions. But it includes as well economic, social and cultural rights–to food, safe water, health, education and decent work. These rights are much less familiar in the United States, yet also spring directly from American leadership under President Franklin Roosevelt, who said all people should be guaranteed freedom from fear as well as freedom from want.
If we hope to address problems of injustice and despair that incubate the indiscriminate rage and violence we see around the world today, problems which have widened the divides between rich and poor, secular and religious, we should renew our commitment to making human rights a reality for all.
Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is executive director of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative.
THE DEMOCRATS DID NOT GET IT. Well-informed voices predicted early in the campaign that this presidential election was going to be decided by Hispanic voters. The argument was solid: In a close election, with the country polarized by the war, 9 million Hispanic voters–concentrated in battleground states–were going to be the ultimate swing vote. But John Kerry and the Democratic Party did not take this seriously enough–and they lost.
The election was decided by Latino voters in Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. President Bush won Colorado with a 100,000-vote lead, Nevada by 21,500 votes and New Mexico by 6,000. That means if 64,000 Hispanic voters had chosen Kerry instead of Bush in those three states, Kerry would have had nineteen additional electoral votes, for a total of 271, which would have won him the White House. Those 64,000 Hispanic votes–which represent less than 1 percent of the total Hispanic vote–could have been gained with relative ease through more interviews in Spanish, more Hispanic TV and radio ads and by linking the Kerry campaign in Colorado with that of Hispanic Senator-elect Ken Salazar.
Democrats made three big mistakes. First, they did not choose governor Bill Richardson López as Kerry’s running mate. Second, the mid-July polls that indicated a 2-to-1 lead for Kerry over Bush with Hispanic voters gave them a false sense of security; this led them to de-emphasize the importance of the Hispanic vote and to concentrate their efforts and money in non-Hispanic states. Third, Kerry gave only twenty-five interviews to the Spanish-language media (in comparison, George W. Bush gave more than 100 interviews in 2000). The consequences of these errors are plain to see: Bush got 44 percent of the Hispanic vote and Kerry 53 percent, significantly less than the 62 percent won by Al Gore four years before. What happened? Kerry never connected with the Latino voters and did not have a clear strategy to win the Hispanic vote.
On the other hand, the Bush team understood early on that their victory depended on the Hispanic vote; since Ronald Reagan, every Republican candidate who has won more than 30 percent of the Hispanic vote has taken the White House. They sensed that Hispanics tend to have conservative values, particularly with regard to abortion, religion and same-sex marriage, and they directed their message that way. In the end, Bush won the five Hispanic battleground states: Florida, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico.
If Democrats cannot reverse these trends, they won’t be able to regain control of the Congress and the White House for generations to come. Democrats have not recognized the importance of the Hispanic vote in the past two presidential elections. We will have to wait until 2008 to see if they have finally learned their lesson.
Jorge Ramos is senior anchorman of Univision News and author of The Latino Wave (Rayo). His upcoming book, Dying to Cross, will be published by HarperCollins this spring.
STEVE COBBLE &
IT HAS FREQUENTLY BEEN POINTED OUT that John Kerry would be President if fewer than 70,000 Ohioans had switched their votes. What hasn’t been noticed is that a similar number holds for the “Cactus Corner”–if 64,000 voters had switched their votes in three Southwestern states, Kerry would have won another nineteen electoral votes, enough to win the White House.
Kerry trailed George W. Bush by only about 6,000 votes in New Mexico, by only 21,500 in Nevada and by fewer than 100,000 in Colorado (a big state in the campaign, as Democrats gained in the presidential race, won a historic Senate seat with Ken Salazar, won back a House seat and gained state legislative seats). These statistics bolster a point we made in The Nation almost a year ago, in “Blue States, Latino Voters” [January 5]–that the “path to the White House runs through the Latino Southwest, not the former Confederacy.”
Our point is not that Ohio and Florida were the wrong targets in 2004. We agreed with those targets. It’s that the future for Democrats is brighter in the Southwest than in those deep red states below the Mason-Dixon line.
Consider this: Besides Florida, the closest former Confederate states showed Bush winning by nine percentage points (Virginia, Arkansas). On the other hand, of the six states which W. won by five points or less, two of them were in the Midwest (Iowa, Ohio), one is Florida and three were in the Southwest (New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado).
What do these Southwestern states have in common? A large and growing Latino constituency (a rising demographic that should soon also have an impact in two other red states, Florida and Arizona), plus a strong overall environmental sensibility that is usually overlooked by Democrats and steamrolled by Republicans.
The 2004 exit polls seem to show that Bush made gains with Latinos. However, based on an exit poll specifically targeting Latino voters by the Willie C. Velasquez Institute, plus our own analysis, we believe that the 44 percent Bush supposedly won from Latinos is too high. While W. probably did make some smaller gains, we believe the national split was still closer to 3-to-2 in favor of Kerry, especially in the Southwestern battleground states.
And even if the exit polls are right, that still means that Kerry won a solid victory among Hispanics, despite losing nationally. We would also point out that the smart strategy for the future remains the same–to target the growing Latino vote for issue work, organizing, voter registration and mobilization.
What issues are key? We’d start with the brazen voter suppression tactics the GOP openly employed this election. We should fight back fiercely against these immoral and un-American tactics, and “brand” the Republicans as the party that tries hard to keep African-Americans and Latinos from exercising their right to vote.
Plus, Hispanics care more than most Americans about public education. They want decent healthcare, good jobs and living wages. They are open to labor unions, and less supportive of the Iraq war than whites are. Not surprisingly, they care about issues concerning Latin America, trade, immigration, travel to Cuba. And since Latinos in the United States are very urban, they care about crime and police issues and the lack of affordable housing.
The next Democratic Party leader, and progressive activists, should focus intensely on building stronger connections with Latinos. The heavily Hispanic states of the Southwest, the “Cactus Corner,” could be part of a winning strategy in 2008.
Joe Velasquez is a founder of a new website, www.HispanicAction.com, a former union official and a deputy political director in the Clinton White House. Steve Cobble grew up in New Mexico politics, was political director for the National Rainbow Coalition and served as strategist for the Kucinich presidential campaign.
THE REPUBLICANS HAVE DUG BOTH themselves and the nation into a very deep hole, combining an unwinnable war of occupation in Iraq with domestic policies that have produced the largest gap between rich and poor in all of American history. A day of reckoning will surely come–and rather than rushing to act as willing accomplices, the Democrats should be developing strategies that will provide the nation with alternative and corrective pathways when that day arrives.
Interpreting the election results, we get to choose between two nightmares: One, 60 million Americans knowingly voted for George W. Bush, ratifying the right-wing ideology guiding his Administration. Or two, we have just witnessed a second successive nonviolent coup d’état–a massive voter fraud that produced, among other anomalies, a gap between exit polls and paperless electronic voting tallies.
If we assume that Bush actually won, progressives are entitled to disappointment, but not shock. For at least a full century, every industrialized nation has had a strong right-wing base hovering at about 15-20 percent of the population. Energizing that constituency to be a potent force is contingent on many factors, but it is an enduring potential, smoldering, waiting to be stoked by those who would “go there.” It is a mistake to think of 1930s Germany, Italy and Spain as exceptional and inexplicable political aberrations that could not happen here. We easily forget that those right-wing governments had strong electoral showings and sympathizers in many Western nations.
To suggest that Democrats move closer to this base, emulate or embrace its ideas or even call these ideas “moral values” is morally unacceptable. Too few in the electorate recognize that our taken-for-granted institutions of social justice did not arise, as the Republican drumbeat tells them, from “bad values” but as a decent, humane response to widespread woeful living conditions. Our national commitment to offset the attacks on these efforts to achieve greater social justice reflects the true American moral values.
Troy Duster, professor of sociology at New York University, is a senior fellow of the Rockridge Institute.
EDUCATION BARELY SURFACED in the final weeks of the electoral campaign. This was partly because George Bush effectively displaced domestic issues (other than his coded emphasis on “faith” and “values”) from the nation’s attention, but also because the Democrats have abdicated any serious oppositional position on the President’s benighted test-and-drill agenda for our public schools. In saying he would continue to enforce these policies but would simply come up with more money to enable districts to fulfill these goals, Senator Kerry sounded the familiar note of tired and defensive semi-liberals, capitulating to a right-wing ideology while promising more federal funding to advance that ideology perhaps a bit more evenhandedly.
The late Paul Wellstone openly denounced the President’s obsession with the measuring of children’s skills while starving children in poor neighborhoods of the amplitude of learning still afforded to the children of the privileged. With the exception of a handful of his colleagues in the Senate and most of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Wellstone found no backing for his eloquent dissent within the Democratic Party. It is dissent and indignation on that order that was missing from too many of the statements Kerry made on education and related issues of equality for children. Here was a highly principled, intensely decent and enlightened man who, like most of his party, somehow could not rise above the terms of argument that have been locked in place by educational conservatives.
I doubt that this will greatly change until there is a grassroots movement in defense of children on a scale progressives have not dared envision since the year Ronald Reagan came to office. It may seem to some beyond imagination, at this moment of defeat, that liberals can reignite the passion and assemble the resources it would take to counteract the power of the right-wing juggernaut in education policy today. But we will never win the victories we do not fight for.
Jonathan Kozol is the author of Amazing Grace (Crown) and other books on urban education.
BLANCHE WIESEN COOK
IN 1940 FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT confronted an entirely divided country, divided sectionally and politically much as it is today, and declared: “We will have a liberal democracy, or we will return to the Dark Ages.”
Liberals to Arms! We need to regroup, reconsider, reorganize. For thirty years I have been privileged to study America’s great liberals, particularly Dwight Eisenhower and Eleanor Roosevelt. They have much to tell us about where we might go from here, and how once again to get there.
To see how far along a dastardly path we have crawled, it is important to remember that Eisenhower called himself “a militant liberal.” On November 16, l953, he wrote to John Foster Dulles that his Administration was “committed to…policies that will bring the greatest good to the greatest number. This means that there must be lifted from the minds of men the fears of disaster, poverty, and old age.” He campaigned for national healthcare and appointed former Women’s Army Corps commander Oveta Culp Hobby to head his new Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Together with Eleanor Roosevelt and her friend Esther Lape, Hobby and Eisenhower fought for a single-payer health system to cover all Americans. Eisenhower increased the minimum wage, extended the excess-profits tax, expanded the public-housing program and warned the nation of the dangers of the military-industrial complex, which he originally called the Congressional-industrial-military complex.
Eisenhower wrote his brother Edgar on May 2, l956: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again…. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H.L. Hunt…a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
Eleanor Roosevelt’s work for affordable housing was central to her democratic vision. She always said governments exist for only one purpose: to make life better for all people. But, she continued, you can never depend on politicians to do anything about that. You have to go door to door, block by block, to get your wants and needs met. During the l920s ER and her friends went “trooping for democracy” to ask potential voters what they wanted, what they needed. She asked questions and worked to build movements–movements for women, peace, community. This year thousands of volunteers followed her advice. My partner Clare Coss and I went to St. Louis with ACT, MoveOn.org and Planned Parenthood.
After a lifetime of activism, ER addressed the future. In her last book, Tomorrow Is Now, published posthumously in l963, she called for ardent courage and refortified liberalism:
Long ago, there was a noble word, LIBERAL, which derived from the word FREE [libre]. Now a strange thing happened to that word. A man named Hitler made it a term of abuse, a matter of suspicion, because those who were not with him were against him, and liberals had no use for Hitler. And then another man named McCarthy cast the same opprobrium on the word. Indeed, there was a time–a short but dismaying time–when many Americans began to distrust the word which derived from FREE. One thing we must all do. We must cherish and honor the word FREE or it will cease to apply to us….
To forestall horror and save the rule of law (American constititutional law, international law and the promise of human rights), we will go trooping for democracy. Our future depends on a simple fact: People must have more to live for than to die for.
Blanche Wiesen Cook is Distinguished Professor of History at John Jay College. She is the author of Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 1, 1884-1933 and Eleanor Roosevelt: Volume 2, The Defining Years, 1933-1938 (both Penguin). Volume 3 is forthcoming.
MANY OF US IN THE GREEN PARTY made a tremendous compromise by campaigning in swing states for such a miserable standard-bearer for the progressive movement as John Kerry. Well, I’ve had it. As George Bush says, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me–you can’t get fooled again.”
For those of you willing to keep wading in the muddy waters of the Democratic Party, all power to you. I plan to work with the Greens to get more Green candidates elected to local office.
Let’s stop the infighting, though. Dems, Greens and other progressives must not only respect one another’s choices, we must start using these different “inside-outside” strategies to our collective advantage. A strategically placed Green/progressive pull could conceivably prevent a suicidal Democratic lurch to the right.
Regardless of our party preferences, we must build strategic alliances on two key issues of our day: electoral reform and ending the occupation of Iraq.
Let’s jointly promote a Voters’ Bill of Rights that includes standardized voting machines with paper trails, nonpartisan administration of elections, instant-runoff voting, a national election day holiday, an end to felon disenfranchisement and others changes outlined in our ten-point Voters’ Bill of Rights (see www.globalexchange.org).
Let’s get millions of Americans to sign on to the Voters’ Bill of Rights; let’s get city, county and state legislators on board. And once we have a groundswell of support, then we demand that Congress enact legislation enshrining these rights. When we have an electoral system that’s free, fair and trustworthy, it will be much easier to get progressives elected.
Re Iraq: We need–urgently–to send massive people-to-people aid to Falluja (see www.codepinkalert.org). They desperately need the aid and we desperately need to show the world that there are caring, compassionate Americans who are appalled by Bush’s thuggery. We need to demand from both the Republicans and Democrats a realistic exit strategy to end the occupation. We need to hound Halliburton until it cries uncle and gives up on war profiteering. We need to widen and deepen our peace movement by reaching out to people most affected by this war–poor communities and military families. And given the ominous statements about Iran of late, we need to steel ourselves this time to effectively stop a new war.
Strengthening the framework of our internal democracy (count every vote, every vote counts) and fighting against empire (money for jobs, not for war) are strategies that will resonate with the vast majority of Americans and set the stage for future electoral victories.
Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Global Exchange and Code Pink, was a Green Party candidate for Senate in 2000.
BERTHA LEWIS & br /> BOB MASTER
IN A TIME OF WAR AND INSECURITY, Karl Rove made Kerry unacceptable even to voters who repeatedly expressed a loss of confidence in the President. The Republicans systematically undermined Kerry’s life story (Swift Vets) and personal integrity ($87 billion flip-flop), while creating a politicized climate of fear with single-minded purpose.
By contrast, Kerry and the Democrats could not make Bush’s own life story (inexperienced rich kid, chickenhawk) a part of the picture, were unable to convincingly tap into resentment of corporate rip-offs (Enron et al. never became an issue) and simply could not make the case that Bush is recruiting terrorists, not defeating them.
We are not naïve. This defeat was a major setback. But it is time to neither panic nor despair. As the Democratic experience of 1964 demonstrates, even a massive mandate can turn to dust in a matter of years as events unfold. Bush’s so-called mandate doesn’t come close to the LBJ vote of ’64. Indeed, Bush can claim little mandate beyond having successfully discredited his opponent.
Here in New York, we can use our blue-state haven as a laboratory to grow new alternative policies. Over the next few years, we can help elect a progressive governor and work with him or her to develop effective public programs that truly address the needs of working men and women–for jobs, healthcare, childcare and good schools.
We believe the experience of the Working Families Party provides a source of hope. From its modest inception six years ago, the WFP has developed into a class-conscious, multiracial, competent vehicle for progressive values. We are on the verge of raising the state minimum wage; the party won a district attorney race in Albany County that could help break the logjam on the Rockefeller drug laws; and candidates for offices from county legislator to governor regularly beat a path to our door.
We are testing Justice Brandeis’s thesis of the states as laboratories. Our experiment with fusion voting–New York’s unique system of multiple ballot lines and cross endorsement–has proved that it is an effective tool for building power for people who are neither wealthy nor well-connected. Through fusion, the Working Families Party provides the margin of victory in race after race across the state, getting votes from the right, left and apathetic center. A similar party has begun to grow in Connecticut. The WFP looks forward to replicating our experiment in other states where fusion is legal or may become so in the near future.
Bertha Lewis of ACORN and Bob Master of the CWA serve as co-chairs of the Working Families Party (http:www.workingfamiliesparty.org).
FOR 2008, THE DEMOCRATS SHOULD SELECT the master-marketer and tactician who can best discredit the alternative brand and sell the product. Although they should probably avoid the Rove model (i.e., someone with the ethical compass of a feral sewer rat), a slightly more ruthless James Carville might be in order to help run the campaign. The chosen leader should be a physically attractive, white male, Midwestern or border-state politician who is able to feel the pain of the American people (or fake it satisfactorily) and talk about Jesus without looking as if he has stumbled, fully clothed, into a nudist colony. He should forget about most of the Old Confederacy, since a clear majority of white Southerners will vote Republican as long as there is a flag to be waved, a homosexual to be pilloried, an abortionist to be consigned to hell, a tax to be cut and a program for the poor to be eviscerated. (Never mind that Republican right-wing economic policies have had a particularly devastating effect on a region that has some of the worst pockets of poverty in the nation.)
As the Iraq body count mounts, it may be advantageous for him to point out–regretfully–the criminal stupidity of the current Administration’s foreign policies while swearing to kill more terrorists if he’s elected. Personally, if necessary. With his bare hands.
Finally, the ideal candidate should be fuzzy on the social issues but resolute in defending Medicare and Social Security. The youth turnout may have been disappointing in this election, but those post-65 codgers will vote until the Social Security death benefit check is in the mail.
While most of us cringe at such a cynical strategy, we delude ourselves if we believe there is a vast untapped liberal electorate waiting to be unleashed if we could only nominate a photogenic Dennis Kucinich. Support in this country for a Western European style social democracy has been withering for thirty-five years. We should not underestimate the importance of the presidency as a megaphone for shaping public opinion and redirecting political priorities, but electing a pragmatic Democrat will do little to reverse this long march to the right.
And that’s the good news. The “Christian” right is simply reactionary politics with gospel lip gloss, but its fearmongering message has touched a responsive nerve among millions of Americans in and outside the Bible Belt and the movement shows little signs of abating. Add the Republican lock on most of the electoral votes of the Old Confederacy and the Rocky Mountain states, a sclerotic political system, a campaign financing system run amok, a ruthlessly efficient right-wing political and propaganda apparatus and an electorate befuddled by a lap-dog media. It’s enough to make a Nation reader check out the Canadian immigration website.
We now face a generation-long campaign to reconnect our liberal traditions and policies to the day-to-day struggles–and best aspirations–of working Americans. As for me and my house, we will continue to struggle against racism, sexism and homophobia. While there are many battles to be fought in the years to come, however, nothing is more important than attacking the dog-eat-dog ideological assumptions of the new corporate state that now dominate American politics. With our bare hands.
Dan Carter is the Educational Foundation University Professor, University of South Carolina.
ON NOVEMBER 2 HALF THE VOTING PUBLIC supported a President who would be sending their sons and daughters to die in an imperial quagmire, handing over their hard-earned Social Security contributions to his scandal-ridden Wall Street cronies, blocking access to cheaper prescription drugs and accelerating the catastrophe of global warming. Pretty stunning. Did Republicans neutralize these realities through culture and character? No, and yes.
Republicans have steadily consolidated their control of the electoral process. Kerry got beaten in Ohio partly by a nefarious plan that denied Democratic precincts an adequate supply of voting machines. Nationwide, he lost votes to software breakdowns. How many is unknown at this point, as is the scope of e-fraud. No amount of cultural repositioning will cure this problem. Democrats’ top priority must be to accelerate the momentum for nonpartisan electoral reform and not worry about looking like sore losers. They need to own fairness and transparency, hammering away on the theme that every vote should count, and right now it doesn’t. Demonize the Republicans for opposing recounts, suppressing voters and installing insecure e-voting systems with proprietary software owned by partisan companies.
That said, Democrats must also gain ground on authenticity (character) and quality of life (culture). The former trumps policy positions and facts. It’s an animating value in consumer markets, where authenticity is created by promoting a brand myth and history. It’s why companies use “founded in” language, and niche brands don’t reveal their corporate owners. Once presidential politics became a branding exercise, the value of authenticity soared, and we got “postrational politics.” It explains the appeal of McCain and Dean. Bush successfully rebranded as a real-deal Texan. Kerry got hammered as an opportunist. Whether it’s possible for him to successfully rebrand himself in the next four years is an interesting question.
On culture, it’s not “god, guns and gays” the Democrats should address but the quality-of-life issues that cross the red-blue divide–excessive working hours, loss of community, commercialized childhood and rampant materialism. A people’s environmentalism could target the poisoning of food and neighborhoods. Eighty-five percent of Americans believe society’s priorities are “out of whack,” and they’re not all in blue states. But to be authentic on these issues Democrats need to give up corporate money and remake themselves as the party of small donations. It’s a bold but high payoff move that would enable both cultural and economic populism, differentiate the Democrats from their opponents and free them up to offer real, galvanizing solutions.
Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College, is the author of Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture (Scribner).