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Two Americas: Past, Present and Future

i-710d005c8660d36282911838843a792d-ClockWeb logo2.JPGThis post from November 26, 2004 was my fourth (out of five), and longest, analysis of the 2004 election. With Balkans and Creationism sprinkled in. How did it stand the test of time over the past 3.5 years?

Oftentimes, an outside observer can see what a native observer cannot. The native is too deeply immersed in one’s own culture, takes too much for granted, sees too many things as “normal” (“doesn’t everyone do it this way?”) that an outsider finds highly idiosyncratic and unusual.

I spent the first 25 years of my life in a nicest country. Life was great. I had everything I wanted, and so did everyone else around me. My school was fantastic. I had great friends. I travelled across Europe. Life was fun every day. Then, within a matter of several months, I saw many of those nice people become killers, neighbors going to war against each other, the government turning totalitarian, economy tanking, a once-proud nation cowering in shame. I escaped as soon as it became obvious that the disaster could not be prevented. I came to the USA then, for the same reasons many are moving to Canada now – to escape totalitarian rule and make something of my life.

Well, here we go again. After 13 years here, I see the same symptoms all over again. And this time, I am not budging. I am not going to spend my life moving from one dictatorship to another. And, from the example of the old country, I learned something. It may take a long time (13 years in that case), it may take a lot of effort, it may require some belt-tightening in the meantime, but it can be done – the dictators can be dethroned and civilization can return. Thus, I am an optimist.

Everyone is writing analyses of the election and I wrote a couple of posts myself (e.g., http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/11/election-analysis-part-ii-state-of.html ). But I wanted to do something more – add a new perspective. I may be a native now – I have lived here for quite a while now and think I understand America quite well – but at the same time, I also bring a view of an outside observer. I want to tell you what I see, in which areas should we be more alarmist than most native writers, and in which areas we should be more optimistic than native writers.

So, here’s my big post. I’ll start with my view of the State of the Union and try to put it in a historical perspective. I will then attempt to understand the outcome of the 2004 election. Next, I will try to predict the unfolding of the next four years. Finally, I’ll try to put in my 2c ($2000, counting inflation) on the best strategies for the future, both short-term (2-4 years) and long term (decades). Bear in mind that all of this is based entirely on my armchair philosophizing informed by personal experience, and not on any real knowledge, research or scholarship.

The Swan Song of Medieval Conservativism

First, to clarify the terminology: I use the terms Conservative and Liberal in the sense of Lakoff, i.e., the core Strict Father and the core Nurturant Parent moral codes. The GOP was never truly conservative. It used to be a mix of conservative and liberal stands. Currently it is a mix of conservative and wildly reactionary (anarchist?) ideas. In the same way, the Democratic party was never a truly liberal party. It always combined liberal and conservative ideas, the ratio and exact identity of these changing over time. Unlike the GOP today, the Dems never allowed their extremists to have much voice in the party.

The two-party system in this country is, actually, quite a natural affair. There is no ideological or political continuum: there are conservatives and there are liberals. All other labels, from libertarians, through Greens, to socialists, are just “radial deviations” from the central core of one of the two essential worldviews.

We started this country as an experiment in applied Enlightement. Officially. However, from the very beginning, the country was divided along the lines of ideology: pre-Enlightement (or pre-Darwinian, or conservative) forces and Enlightement (or Darwinian, or liberal) forces. Over the centuries many victories have been won by the liberals. Little by little, we got rid of slavery and many other kinds of discrimination. Women used to be their husbands’ property – not any more. They were not allowed to own property or get a job outside the house – not any more. They could not file for divorce and collect allimony – not the case any more. Segregation is a thing of the past. Gays are starting to get married in some places. Even admitting you are an atheist does not get you shot on the spot.

Every now and then, conservatives gain the upper hand, but they were never able to go back in time, e.g., to re-institute slavery, or turn women into property again. Two steps forwards, one step back. Gradually, liberal outlook won many of its major battles. What is the essential difference between the two worldviews, and have they changed over time? Originally, the main difference was in perception of time.

Medieval view of time is a Cycle. Time keeps going round and round: days and nights, seasons of the year, great epochs. It’s going nowhere. Universe is static: it looks pretty much the same now as it did on the Seventh Day. Of course, it was easy then to live a whole lifetime without witnessing a single societal or technological change. Each generation lived just like their parents and grandparents. It was the duty of people to take care of God’s Creation, to preserve it, to CONSERVE it! The world was a homeostatic system, and the humans were an important regulatory system put in place to prevent any deviations from the norm. Conservatives feel deeply that their God-given role is to act as resistors to change.

Enlightement brought a completely new view of Time – an Arrow! Progress! There was a beginning and there will be an end, and there is no going back. God did not give us these smart big brains so we can sit on our asses and enjoy nature. He put us on Earth so we can further His Grand Plan. How can we know what to do? We have to figure out what God is thinking and what he meant us to do. The only way we can do it is by studying His Creation. Puff – there was science! And more we discovered about Creation, more we realized that He was not really neccessary for it to exist. Better we understood the world, more we realized that our social organization conflicts with the empirical facts about people, societies and nature. We have learned that men and women are equal, that whites and blacks are equal, that straights and gays are equal, that overpopulation leads to starvation, that SUVs cause global warming… The human project became an effort to right the wrongs and to make this planet as hospitable as possible to as many people as possible. Liberalism was gradually born. If the current state is bad, change is good. We are agents of change.

Thus, something like a notion of fiscal responsibility is an almost accidental by-product of the conservative worldview. It is an outgrowth of a specifically American version of conservatism – the “18-and-out” rule – and is a characteristic of this ideology only at a particular time in history. Centralized economy is, likewise, only an accidental and temporary (and spatially limited to Eurasian continent) outgrowth of liberal thought. Both have already been abandoned by the respective core ideologies. Those are very superficial ideas about the differences – the chasm between the two worldviews goes much, much deeper than that. Conservatives abhor novelty, liberals disdain the reaction. Conservatives live in fear of the unknown. Liberals can’t wait for the exciting new developments. Conservatives are passionate about the past, liberals about the future. Conservatives cling to God, the Big Daddy in the Sky who will save them from – oh, horror – change! Liberals don’t find much use for God any more, except for the wonderful feel of the holidays and the moving power of religious music.

Now…liberals have been winning all those battles for a couple of centuries. The conservatives must be feeling hugely threatened by the obvious inevitability of the total demise of their worldview. Their core emotion is fear to begin with – they must be jumping out of their skins with paranoia these days. Their eyes have fogged, their fists are clenched and they are swinging their arms through the air in desparate fight for sheer survival. It is a wounded beast – thus extremely dangerous. Fighting for one’s own life eliminates all rules of combat, and all considerations for the one who is killing you. It is you or me, and it better be me.

But are the liberals fighting to kill? Do we see it as a beast to be shot on the spot, or do we think it is a cute little doggie who just needs some more house-training? How should we think of it? Equality is our core value, thus letting conservatives live and even have a voice is what comes naturally to us. The conservatives may see it as a life-or-death struggle, but we still naively believe that the beast can be tamed. We can live perfectly well with some sweet well-behaved conservatives in our midst. On the other hand, they cannot achieve piece until we are completely exterminated. We have to figure this out – and fast!

In America, the liberals of various strains and colors are organized under the banner of the Democratic Party. Past few years have seen, under the fearce attack from the conservatives, a split within the liberals into two groups: those who realize that this is the ultimate battle for survival and that the beast needs to be killed, and those who still think there is a prospect for peaceful coexistence with the conservatives. The former are energized footsoldiers on the ground, the latter are the entrenched Party leaders. We will lose not just elections, but the future of the country and the world, and see all our victories rolled back right into the New Middle Ages, unless we do something about it. And it appears that the top dogs in the party are not aware of this. Thus, they are unlikely to do anything about it. There is a tiger with bared bloody canines lunging towards our throats, yet our leaders want to hit it on the head with a rolled-up newspaper.

How much more obvious can it be from the past four years that the next four years will be an out-and-out attempt to get rid of liberalism and Enlightement from this planet? They are moving fast and we better wake up. History is on our side. Science is on our side. Truth is on our side. Are we going to let it all go for nothing? Are we stupid, or lazy, or “too nice”? What are we waiting for?

All Politics is Gender (or Sex?) Politics, or, What Happened on November 2?

The infamous CNN exit polls drew many people to conclude that religion was the key ingredient of Bush’s victory (apart from voter intimidation, voter list purges, touch-screen malfunction, partisanship of electoral officials and outright electoral fraud, etc.). I disagreed strongly in my original post about exit polls (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/11/election-analysis-part-i-exit-polls.html ).

Religion is codifed ideology. It is one’s worldview, inherited from one’s parents, that helps one choose a religion, and within it, to choose a particular practice. In other words, it is the ideology that informs one’s religion, not the other way round. The sacred books were written explicitly to provide a moral codex of a particular worldview. The same books are still used for the same purpose.

Old Testament is Strict Father – God is angry and vengeful. New Testament is Nurturant Parent – it is all about God’s grace. If you grew up in a conservative household, you will instinctively “connect” to the God of Old Testament. If you are from a liberal family, the teachings of Jesus will resonate with you more strongly. The Bible is internally incoherent. Thus, everyone cherry-picks favourite passages from the Bible according to one’s worldview (or invents new quotes, like Tevye in Shalom Aleihem’s stories). This may explain almost universal popularity of Christianity – it has something for everybody (in other words it is a whore of religions).

Religion is also often used as a socially respected cover for socially unaccepted (non-PC) views. Carefully selected, often mis-translated and ambiguous quotes were used to justify slavery and racism at the time when such topics were deemed OK in polite company. Today, it is Creationism that gives a cover of respectability to covert racism (Check these links: Creationism and Racism: http://home.austarnet.com.au/stear/creation_and_racism.htm ; Creationism Implies Racism? – http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/racism.htm ; William Gibson on creationism: http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/william_gibson_on_creationism/ ; Re Creationism: http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/blog/2004_11_01_archive.asp#110073710621996499 ;…The Gods Themselves…:http://alankhenderson.blogspot.com/2004_11_01_alankhenderson_archive.html#110010292979394627 ). Mysoginist, homophobic and anti-abortion views are similarly defended with biblical quotes. But you have to bear in mind that the mindset did not arise from reading the Bible. The worldview came first, in the crib, and later got applied to one’s reading of the Bible. In other words, biblical passages are excuses for holding on to outdated and (currently held to be) immoral worldviews.

So, if it was not religion, what was it? It was fear. Fear of the Other to some extent, but fear of change even more. And fear comes straight out of one’s upbringing in a Strict Father family. Competitiveness, power-hunger, greed, stepping down on heads of those below you – those are driving forces of conservative ideology and they make it hard for one to measure up. The aggression and machismo of conservatives is just a thinly veiled cover-up for intense insecurity about one’s masculinity. A wimp in a flight-suit looks like a small pecker in an Extra Large condom. Thus, really, fear translates into sex, hence the subtitle of this section.

Real men voted for Kerry. So did real women. One needs to be a grownup to be a liberal because liberal upbringing instills internal focus of moral strength. Conservatives require external focus: parents, God, President…somebody who will tell them right from wrong. Conservatives are nervous teenagers, covering up their insecurity with machismo (Culture War or Adolescent Angst? http://matewan.squarespace.com/journal/2004/11/16/culture-war-or-adolescent-angst.html ). What are guns and trucks compensation for? Why are smart, outspoken women a threat (Teresa)? Why are THEY afraid if gays have sex? Evolution – what’s the fear? Sharing the common ancestor with the Black guys with threateningly large penises is too much to swallow? Fundamentalists are flaccid. Hearts, brains and balls make liberals better lovers. It takes guts to treat others (including women) as equals. Fear was the main determinant for one’s vote on November 2, and all the cowardly wimps and panicking wusses voted for Bush while the cool-headed and courageous voted for Kerry. For all their chest-thumping and gun-toting, it is conservatives who are asking for protection from the Government, and the liberals who subscribe to the notion that “we are all in it together” and “in community lies the strength”, and “we are all Army”. Who are really girlie-men? (Wow, upon re-reading the last two paragraphs I thought that several of the shorter sentences would look great on a bumper sticker!)

It goes the same for women. Most women raised in a Strict Father family become “submissive wives”. They require protection from the husband, and if the threat is perceived as huge – from the National Husband (ask Condi Rice about it). They are “security moms”. It does not matter that most of them live in safe small places in Middle America. Osama maybe crazy but he is not stupid – he is not going to waste precious time, money, energy and manpower to bomb Lizard Rock, ID (Pop.1300). White supremacists are more likely to do some damage there. The exception is the occasional woman who tries to become a Strict Father herself. She overcompensates by being more manly than men – extremely obnoxious and aggressive type like Ann Coulter (You gotta check this out: http://mungowitzend.blogspot.com/2004/11/i-have-no-words.html ).

I have written many posts about moral politics (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/08/moral-politics-in-context-of-history.html ), moral order (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/09/moral-order.html ), femiphobia (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/10/femiphobia.html ) and other aspects of differences between conservative and liberal worldviews, mostly building on the foundation provided by Lakoff’s scheme. Go read those if you have not done so before. If I tried to repeat all those points here, this post would turn into a book-length treatise!

I would like to build a little more upon the Village vs. City metaphor. I used Village vs. University before (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/11/citycountry-what-is-exurb.html ), and in a sense that works better both as a metaphor and for real, but the obvious dichotomy is between rural and urban way of thinking. Kerry did carry big cities, even in the Deep South, while Bush swept the countryside, even in the Bluest states. ( A great introduction is this post from Orcinus: http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2004/11/healing-heartland.html, then do the real homework – read these two insightful views, this one: The Law of the Monkey: http://www.pointlesswasteoftime.com/monkeysphere.html, and especially this one: The Red Menace: Neopatrimonialism in America: http://theenlightenmentproject.blogspot.com/2004/11/red-menace-neopatrimonialism-in.html ).

Humans are social animals. Many of our behavioral traits have likely evolved through the agency of group selection (Is God in Our Genes: http://alylean.blogspot.com/2004/11/is-god-in-our-genes.html ; Other considerations….
http://www.gnxp.com/MT2/archives/002884.html ; David Sloan Wilson:
http://soulead.blogspot.com/2004/10/david-sloan-wilson.html ). As I explained before (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/10/god-genes-and-conservatives.html ,
http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/10/molecules-organisms-and-practice-of.html ,
http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/10/genocentrism-aids-anti-abortion.htm
), genocentrism is a conservative understanding of biology. But, group selection implies outgroups and ingroups. Usually the group is small: one’s family/clan (the numerical precision of 150 individuals, as stated in the Monkeysphere link above, is suspect, but it may well be the ballpark). We do have brains, though, so we are capable of expanding our views to a feeling of membership in a larger cohort: nation, for instance, leading to nationalism and xenophobia, or race, leading to racism. The ultimate membership is what Neil Postman (in “The End of Education”) called “Spaceship Earth” – all the life, including all the people, of our planet. My enemies are not Republicans, or Iraqis, or Al-Qaida. My enemies are Martians (at least until we realize that Martians are nice, necessitating expansion to a “Solar System Community”).

Conservative (or Strict Father, or Village) worldview tends to actively narrow the circle and reduce the size of the in-group. It is us versus them. It is a dangerous world out there so we better hang together in our little Appalachian holler and shoot any stranger who comes by. Converesely, Liberal (Nurturant Parent, or City) worldview tends to actively broaden the circle and increase the size of the in-group. Instead of fear, empathy is the core liberal value. The world may be somewhat dangerous right now, but we can make it safer if we turn our enemies into friends, by travelling to meet them where they live and learn what they are all about. Rural folks tend to spend their entire lives never travelling further than 100 miles away from their place of birth. Urban folks like to go to study abroad for a year, not to mention that living in a big city is already a very multi-cultural experience (This holds in other countries, too: http://dienekes.blogspot.com/2004/11/genetics-of-londoners.html ).

Look at the electoral Red/Blue map of the USA. What states are Blue? Those that have large cities – large enough in population to overcome the votes of the rural folks. Where are the Blue states situated? In places where it is possible to have large cities. Where is that? Near the water. Big bodies of water are not just historically the main entry points for immigration (until quite recently only by ship), but they also provide enough drinking water for a large population. Think of Great Lakes. Or all those large rivers, like Mississippi, that gave rise to several big cities. Or all those smaller rivers that get just big enough to be useful at the point of entry into the ocean (Hudson, Potomac, Charles). Las Vegas, Tucson, Albuquerque – those places have a serious limit to growth because of water. Only recently it became feasible to transport large amounts of water inland. Water is extremely difficult and expensive to transport, though, and the mere fact that it is done at all is a testament to its importance.

Now look at the map of USA again. Use a physical map this time. There is far more “inland” than “coast”. It is just a fact of geography – nothing we can do about. Look at the mountain ranges, how Rockies and Appalachia divide the continent into two narrow slivers along the coasts and a huge chunk of land in between. Look at the major highways – they mostly run North/South – up and down these geographical corridors. A transcontinental road, like I-40, is not passable from Atlantic to Pacific during the winter. Snow closes its portions on mountainpasses in the Rockies and Appalachians for three months every year, thus effectively cutting off the heartland from the coasts. The Two Americas are physically isolated even in the 21st century, and the Red America is bigger.

What “grows” in the big cities? Trade, ‘clean’ Industry and Universities. What “grows” in the vast plains? Agriculture, ‘dirty’ Industry and military bases. Why is Tevye so open-minded? Because he delivers milk to everyone in Anatevka: Jews and Russians, rich and poor. He sees diversity, learns a lot, and knows he has to be nice to everyone. Trade promotes tolerance. University, as I wrote before (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/10/assault-on-higher-education-lakoffian.html ), is the archetypal Nurturant Parent Institution (if you are a student – faculty are organized in quite a hierarchical manner produced by a highly competitive game). On the other hand, agriculture is practiced in The Village, and the Military Base is the extreme version of The Village – it is the most Strict Father institution ever invented.

Geography has further effects. For instance, it affects the mobility of the population in the long term. The Eurasian continent is an East-West corridor. For example, if you have developed a strain of wheat you can take it with you from Spain to Korea and back, and wherever you stop on the way you can plant the seeds and reap the harvest because you are on the SAME latitude. In the Americas, the corridors are North-South. Every time you move a couple of hundred miles you encounter a new climate, thus you have to domesticate new plants (and even animals, very few species of which are domesticable). You have to settle down for a long time and suffer many years of hardship before you solve the problems of life in the new region. While doing this, you are isolated from other regions and you develop your own culture. Thus Americans were inherently less mobile throughout history, leading to geographically-based cultural fragmentation. Long years of cultural isolation tend to build the Village mentality. This was much more critical in the heartland, where agriculture is the mainstay of life. The effect was much less pronounced in big cities along the coast as one can move one’s trade from one city to another easily: cabbies in Seattle, Portland and San Francisco equally needed a blacksmith! And if the blacksmith was good (worth his weight in gold at that time in history) than one could easily overlook that he looked and talked funny.

So, to summarize what happened on November 2nd. In states in which cities are large enough to overwhelm the rural vote, Kerry won. In states in which cities are too small (or too compartmentilized into various disconnected suburbs with no need for daily commute – in essence a conglomerate of villages), Bush won. Kerry won in places in which his message was spoken loud and clear (bumper stickers and signs play a role) and made it comfortable for insecure people to follow the Kerry crowd. Bush won in places in which his message was stronger, leading doubters to, in the end, go with the Bush crowd. Progressive base was energized to vote for Kerry, but was disproportionately concentarted in big cities which are concentrated in a few “Big Water” states. Conservative base was energized to vote for Bush and was scattered all over the numerous inland states. The Independents living in big cities were more likely to vote for Kerry. Independents in the rural areas were more likely to vote for Bush and there is more of them there. Independents broke for Bush much more than for Kerry due to several factors.

First, they are a mix of Strict Father and Nurturant Parent worldviews. They use one mode at home, the other at work etc. As they live mostly in the “Village” part of the country, the Strict Father may have a somewhat upper hand. Bush message, amplified by neighbors, stimulated the Strict Father aspect of their personalities when it came to politics.

Second, although Kerry is a fine man, and would be a great President, he is a captive of his own upbringing. He trotted out a long laundry list of policy proposals instead of voicing a single unified coherent ideology: not a single slogan – a single ideology. Thus, he was unable to stimulate the Nurturant Parent aspect of the Independents’ minds when it came to politics. It was maddening to hear them say, in every interview, how they just did not know enough about Kerry. The progressive blogosphere was screaming every time they heard that answer. “Go to the website and read, you dummies!” was the collective outcry, “and you’ll see Kerry’s plan for health care and education and environment and taxes!”. But that is exactly NOT what the Independents were looking for. The website was also a collection of policy proposals. What they were looking for was to see Kerry’s core. Who is he? What is his basic outlook on life? They were looking for a coherent worldview, a moral code that will inform Kerry’s decisions no matter what unanticipated events may happen in the future. Such things cannot be gleaned from the health care policy proposal.

Third, as Dr.Neiwart pointed out in the post linked above, progressive message was almost not heard at all in much of the country. Quality media is produced and is accessible in the large coastal cities. Most of the countryside has only a bad local newspaper, a couple of radio stations with conservative talk shows, a horrible little local TV news station, and much less Internet connectivity. Only rare individuals who actively saught Kerry’s message could hear it. It took some effort to do so. Most people could not be bothered with it. They were for Bush by default.

Fourth, many people in rural areas are woefully uneducated, miseducated and ignorant. They are not stupid, though. But the PIPA report from University of Maryland should be no shock to anyone who is aware of the annual NSF surveys of science literacy or the National Geographic surveys of geography literacy. (Also check out an interesting debate here: http://pharyngula.org/index/weblog/comments/a_reply_to_burke )

Finally, there is, in mind of many voters, a huge disconnect between personal and political. If you have read the (now famous) article by Christopher Hayes in The New Republic on the minds of undecided voters, you know what I am talking about here. Since the article is for subscribers only, I will reprint it here in its entirety (to hell with corporate copyright law):

LESSONS LEARNED ABOUT UNDECIDED VOTERS.
Decision Makers
by Christopher Hayes
http://tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=express&s=hayes111704

For those who follow politics, there are few things more mysterious, more
inscrutable, more maddening than the mind of the undecided voter. In this year’s
election, when the choice was so stark and the differences between the
candidates were so obvious, how could any halfway intelligent human remain
undecided for long? “These people,” Jonah Goldberg once wrote of undecided
voters, on a rare occasion when he probably spoke for the entire political
class, “can’t make up their minds, in all likelihood, because either they don’t
care or they don’t know anything.”

And that was more or less how I
felt before I decided to spend the last seven weeks of the campaign talking to
swing voters in Wisconsin. In September, I signed up to work for the League of
Conservation Voters’ Environmental Victory Project–a canvassing operation that
recruited volunteers in five states to knock on doors in “swing wards” with high
concentrations of undecided or persuadable voters. During my time in suburban
Dane County, which surrounds Madison, I knocked on more than 1,000 doors and
talked to hundreds of Wisconsin residents. Our mission was simple: to identify
undecided voters and convince them to vote for John Kerry.

My
seven weeks in Wisconsin left me with a number of observations (all of them
highly anecdotal, to be sure) about swing voters, which I explain below. But
those small observations add up to one overarching contention: that the
caricature of undecided voters favored by liberals and conservatives alike
doesn’t do justice to the complexity, indeed the oddity, of undecided voters
themselves. None of this is to say that undecided voters are completely
undeserving of the derision that the political class has heaped on them–just
that Jonah Goldberg, and the rest of us, may well be deriding them for the wrong
reasons.

Undecided voters aren’t as rational as you think. Members
of the political class may disparage undecided voters, but we at least tend to
impute to them a basic rationality. We’re giving them too much credit. I met
voters who told me they were voting for Bush, but who named their most important
issue as the environment. One man told me he voted for Bush in 2000 because he
thought that with Cheney, an oilman, on the ticket, the administration would
finally be able to make us independent from foreign oil. A colleague spoke to a
voter who had been a big Howard Dean fan, but had switched to supporting Bush
after Dean lost the nomination. After half an hour in the man’s house, she still
couldn’t make sense of his decision. Then there was the woman who called our
office a few weeks before the election to tell us that though she had signed up
to volunteer for Kerry she had now decided to back Bush. Why? Because the
president supported stem cell research. The office became quiet as we all
stopped what we were doing to listen to one of our fellow organizers try, nobly,
to disabuse her of this notion. Despite having the facts on her side, the
organizer didn’t have much luck.

Undecided voters do care about
politics; they just don’t enjoy politics.
Political junkies tend to assume that
undecided voters are undecided because they don’t care enough to make up their
minds. But while I found that most undecided voters are, as one Kerry aide put
it to The New York Times, “relatively low-information, relatively disengaged,”
the lack of engagement wasn’t a sign that they didn’t care. After all, if they
truly didn’t care, they wouldn’t have been planning to vote. The undecided
voters I talked to did care about politics, or at least judged it to be
important; they just didn’t enjoy politics.

The mere fact that
you’re reading this article right now suggests that you not only think politics
is important, but you actually like it. You read the paper and listen to
political radio and talk about politics at parties. In other words, you view
politics the way a lot of people view cooking or sports or opera: as a hobby.
Most undecided voters, by contrast, seem to view politics the way I view
laundry. While I understand that to be a functioning member of society I have to
do my laundry, and I always eventually get it done, I’ll never do it before
every last piece of clean clothing is dirty, as I find the entire business to be
a chore. A significant number of undecided voters, I think, view politics in
exactly this way: as a chore, a duty, something that must be done but is
altogether unpleasant, and therefore something best put off for as long as
possible.

A disturbing number of undecided voters are
crypto-racist isolationists.
In the age of the war on terror and the war in
Iraq, pundits agreed that this would be the most foreign policy-oriented
election in a generation–and polling throughout the summer seemed to bear that
out. In August the Pew Center found that 40 percent of voters were identifying
foreign policy and defense as their top issues, the highest level of interest in
foreign policy during an election year since 1972.

But just
because voters were unusually concerned about foreign policy didn’t mean they
had fundamentally shifted their outlook on world affairs. In fact, among
undecided voters, I encountered a consistent and surprising isolationism–an
isolationism that September 11 was supposed to have made obsolete everywhere but
the left and right fringes of the political spectrum. Voters I spoke to were
concerned about the Iraq war and about securing American interests, but they
seemed entirely unmoved by the argument–accepted, in some form or another, by
just about everyone in Washington–that the security of the United States is
dependent on the freedom and well-being of the rest of the world.

In fact, there was a disturbing trend among undecided voters–as
well as some Kerry supporters–towards an opposition to the Iraq war based
largely on the ugliest of rationales. I had one conversation with an undecided,
sixtyish, white voter whose wife was voting for Kerry. When I mentioned the
“mess in Iraq” he lit up. “We should have gone through Iraq like shit through
tinfoil,” he said, leaning hard on the railing of his porch. As I tried to make
sense of the mental image this evoked, he continued: “I mean we should have
dominated the place; that’s the only thing these people understand. … Teaching
democracy to Arabs is like teaching the alphabet to rats.” I didn’t quite know
what to do with this comment, so I just thanked him for his time and slipped him
some literature. (What were the options? Assure him that a Kerry White House
wouldn’t waste tax dollars on literacy classes for rodents?)

That
may have been the most explicit articulation I heard of this mindset–but it
wasn’t an isolated incident. A few days later, someone told me that he wished we
could put Saddam back in power because he “knew how to rule these people.” While
Bush’s rhetoric about spreading freedom and democracy played well with
blue-state liberal hawks and red-state Christian conservatives who are inclined
towards a missionary view of world affairs, it seemed to fall flat among the
undecided voters I spoke with. This was not merely the view of the odd kook; it
was a common theme I heard from all different kinds of undecided voters. Clearly
the Kerry campaign had focus groups or polling that supported this, hence its
candidate’s frequent–and wince- inducing–America-first rhetoric about opening
firehouses in Baghdad while closing them in the United States.

The
worse things got in Iraq, the better things got for Bush. Liberal commentators,
and even many conservative ones, assumed, not unreasonably, that the awful
situation in Iraq would prove to be the president’s undoing. But I found that
the very severity and intractability of the Iraq disaster helped Bush because it
induced a kind of fatalism about the possibility of progress. Time after time,
undecided voters would agree vociferously with every single critique I offered
of Bush’s Iraq policy, but conclude that it really didn’t matter who was
elected, since neither candidate would have any chance of making things better.
Yeah, but what’s Kerry gonna do? voters would ask me, and when I told them Kerry
would bring in allies they would wave their hands and smile with condescension,
as if that answer was impossibly na├»ve. C’mon, they’d say, you don’t really
think that’s going to work, do you?

To be sure, maybe they simply
thought Kerry’s promise to bring in allies was a lame idea–after all, many
well-informed observers did. But I became convinced that there was something
else at play here, because undecided voters extended the same logic to other
seemingly intractable problems, like the deficit or health care. On these
issues, too, undecideds recognized the severity of the situation–but precisely
because they understood the severity, they were inclined to be skeptical of
Kerry’s ability to fix things. Undecided voters, as everyone knows, have a deep
skepticism about the ability of politicians to keep their promises and solve
problems. So the staggering incompetence and irresponsibility of the Bush
administration and the demonstrably poor state of world affairs seemed to serve
not as indictments of Bush in particular, but rather of politicians in general.
Kerry, by mere dint of being on the ballot, was somehow tainted by Bush’s
failures as badly as Bush was.

As a result, undecideds seemed
oddly unwilling to hold the president accountable for his previous actions,
focusing instead on the practical issue of who would have a better chance of
success in the future. Because undecideds seemed uninterested in assessing
responsibility for the past, Bush suffered no penalty for having made things so
bad; and because undecideds were focused on, but cynical about, the future, the
worse things appeared, the less inclined they were to believe that problems
could be fixed–thereby nullifying the backbone of Kerry’s case. Needless to
say, I found this logic maddening.

Undecided voters don’t think in
terms of issues.
Perhaps the greatest myth about undecided voters is that they
are undecided because of the “issues.” That is, while they might favor Kerry on
the economy, they favor Bush on terrorism; or while they are anti-gay marriage,
they also support social welfare programs. Occasionally I did encounter
undecided voters who were genuinely cross-pressured–a couple who was fiercely
pro-life, antiwar, and pro-environment for example–but such cases were
exceedingly rare. More often than not, when I asked undecided voters what issues
they would pay attention to as they made up their minds I was met with a blank
stare, as if I’d just asked them to name their favorite prime number.

The majority of undecided voters I spoke to couldn’t name a single
issue that was important to them. This was shocking to me. Think about it: The
“issue” is the basic unit of political analysis for campaigns, candidates,
journalists, and other members of the chattering classes. It’s what makes up the
subheadings on a candidate’s website, it’s what sober, serious people wish
election outcomes hinged on, it’s what every candidate pledges to run his
campaign on, and it’s what we always complain we don’t see enough coverage of.

But the very concept of the issue seemed to be almost completely
alien to most of the undecided voters I spoke to. (This was also true of a
number of committed voters in both camps–though I’ll risk being partisan here
and say that Kerry voters, in my experience, were more likely to name specific
issues they cared about than Bush supporters.) At first I thought this was a
problem of simple semantics–maybe, I thought, “issue” is a term of art that
sounds wonky and intimidating, causing voters to react as if they’re being
quizzed on a topic they haven’t studied. So I tried other ways of asking the
same question: “Anything of particular concern to you? Are you anxious or
worried about anything? Are you excited about what’s been happening in the
country in the last four years?”

These questions, too, more often
than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn’t the
word “issue”; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the
broad category of the “political.” The undecideds I spoke to didn’t seem to have
any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances.
Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as
the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan
to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief–not in disbelief
that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It
was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into
December.

To cite one example: I had a conversation with an
undecided truck driver who was despondent because he had just hit a woman’s car
after having worked a week straight. He didn’t think the accident was his fault
and he was angry about being sued. “There’s too many lawsuits these days,” he
told me. I was set to have to rebut a “tort reform” argument, but it never came.
Even though there was a ready-made connection between what was happening in his
life and a campaign issue, he never made the leap. I asked him about the company
he worked for and whether it would cover his legal expenses; he said he didn’t
think so. I asked him if he was unionized and he said no. “The last job was
unionized,” he said. “They would have covered my expenses.” I tried to steer him
towards a political discussion about how Kerry would stand up for workers’
rights and protect unions, but it never got anywhere. He didn’t seem to think
there was any connection between politics and whether his company would cover
his legal costs. Had he made a connection between his predicament and the issue
of tort reform, it might have benefited Bush; had he made a connection between
his predicament and the issue of labor rights, it might have benefited Kerry. He
made neither, and remained undecided.


In this context, Bush’s victory,
particularly on the strength of those voters who listed “values” as their number
one issue, makes perfect sense. Kerry ran a campaign that was about politics: He
parsed the world into political categories and offered political solutions. Bush
did this too, but it wasn’t the main thrust of his campaign. Instead, the
president ran on broad themes, like “character” and “morals.” Everyone feels an
immediate and intuitive expertise on morals and values–we all know what’s right
and wrong. But how can undecided voters evaluate a candidate on issues if they
don’t even grasp what issues are?

Liberals like to point out that
majorities of Americans agree with the Democratic Party on the issues, so
Republicans are forced to run on character and values in order to win. (This
cuts both ways: I met a large number of Bush/Feingold voters whose politics were
more in line with the Republican president, but who admired the backbone and
gutsiness of their Democratic senator.) But polls that ask people about issues
presuppose a basic familiarity with the concept of issues–a familiarity that
may not exist.

As far as I can tell, this leaves Democrats with
two options: either abandon “issues” as the lynchpin of political campaigns and
adopt the language of values, morals, and character as many have suggested; or
begin the long-term and arduous task of rebuilding a popular, accessible
political vocabulary–of convincing undecided voters to believe once again in
the importance of issues. The former strategy could help the Democrats stop the
bleeding in time for 2008. But the latter strategy might be necessary for the
Democrats to become a majority party again.

A point for optimism, though: 55.000,000 people who voted for Kerry are largely the Democratic base. On the other hand, 58.000,000 people who voted for Bush are a combination of the Republican base PLUS most of the Independents. The result could have easily been reversed – we are not doomed by demographics (also see: http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/11/election-analysis-part-iii-temporal.html ).

Next Four Years

I am assuming now that all the recounts in Ohio and investigations of electoral improprieties in Florida, New Hampshire and North Carolina (Iowa, New Mexico?) will not result in a sudden change of electoral final result. I am also assuming that there will be no mass demonstrations before January 20th – this is not Ukraine, after all. Thus, Bush will be the next President.

What can we expect the next four years? Well, W said that he earned political capital and he intends to spend it because “that’s his style”. We are already seeing the Republicans in Congress ramming through the most despicable pieces of legislation and gearing up for even more and even worse.

The Religious Right, although relatively small in numbers, is disproportionately loud (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/09/war-of-worlds.html ). They are touting the media-driven common “knowledge” that they delivered the election to Bush. They are already asking for payback. Don’t be naive to think that Bushies are not eager to give it to them. Remember that the Republicans in the White House, Senate, House of Representatives, and soon to be on the Supreme Court are mostly not members of the ‘reality-based’ community. They are members of the Religious Right themselves – this is their cause and they are in power. They do not need to ask for payback – they will give it to themselves. Erasure of the wall, hell, erasure of any distinction between Church and State is called Theocracy. Hang on – it’s going to be a rough ride.

The Business Right, although also relatively small in numbers, is disproportionately loud in the sense that money speaks louder than words. They made an investment in Bush and they are asking for payback. The GOP leadership also belongs to this group and they are already busily writing legislative checks to themselves. Erasure of the wall between Business and State is called Fascism. Read the Orcinus blog (http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/ ) for more details. I have no formal training in any social sciences so I do not know if the term “fascism” is a technical term for this. My gut feeling is that fascism is just one of the many possible manifestations of a totalitarian form of government, one explicitely describing Mussolini’s Italy and a few copy-cats from that time period (e.g., Franco’s Spain or Pavelic’s Croatia). I prefer to call it totalitarian. Use of the term fascism usually invokes responses that point to superficial differences between Bush Administration and its followers on one hand and Hitler and his followers on the other. Nobody expects Bush to start using a swastika and start singing “Deutchland Uber Alles”. It will be Stars and Stripes and “America the Beautiful”, to the same effect. Also, technological advances over the past 60 years make it unnecessary to build concentration camps – people can be “neutralized” wherever they are without being “concentrated” in one place and killed in a gas chamber. Replacement of Aschcroft by Gonzales indicates that this will be the direction for the future. Read the book “Hitler’s Willing Executioners” and as you read it, replace Hitler with Bush, Goebbels with Rove and everything will start looking familiar and making sense.

Do you really believe Afghanistan is going to be OK (http://michaelparenti.org/TerrorismTrap.html )? Do you really believe Iraq will get better over the next four years (http://michaelparenti.org/IRAQGeorge2.htm )? Forget the images from CNN and try to remember your history. Iraqis invented writing. They invented agriculture and irrigation 12000 years ago. They developed modern mathematics and astronomy. They founded universities in 800AD. Code of Hammurabi was the first legal system that protected the weak. Repeat after me: We have attacked a country more civilized than we are. What is 20 years of Saddam compared to 12000 years of culture? A blink of an eye. A temporary error – he was going to die of old age if nothing else intervened before. Rulers come and go, invaders come and go, but Iraqi civilization keeps going. From Iraqi perspective some New-Cowboys-On-The-Block came in to tell them how to live. Their response – “listen, son, wipe your snot!”. They don’t measure time in months like we do. They are used to millennia. This kind of stuff has happened to them before and they are patient – they’ll keep picking at us until we grow tired and leave. Serbia is the same story (http://michaelparenti.org/ToKillANation.html ). So will be Iran.

What do you think is going to happen to the economy? Do you still believe that President has no effect on economy – that there are some mystical ups and downs in the market that nobody can understand, even less control? Well, if you have the President, Congress, and most Governors pushing the same economic agenda – one shown in theory and practice to be bogus – than you will have a real effect. Within a year, four years at most, we will see an economic debacle worse than the Great Depression. Deficit will grow bigger and so will unemployment and poverty rates. Markets will tank. Dollar is already at its lowest point in history, sliding fast every day. This is going to make other countries very nervous and, guess what, they’ll start selling the various kinds of IOUs they bought from the US thus propelling the trade deficit and national debt into the stratosphere. More and more countries will start conducting their international trade in euros, further devaluing the dollar in the process. Do you know which countries switched to the euro first? Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Sound familiar? The Axis of Evil. One of the three reasons (the other two being oil and prevention of the “third way” as described in the Parenti link above) we attacked Iraq and are eyeing the other two. EU is speeding up implemenation of their economic plan, turning them into the largest market in the world. Russia and China have already had a few “talks” about unified front against us.

What are Republicans going to be pushing over the next few years? We can imagine what (shifting the taxes, elimination of Medicare and Social Security, “fiath-based” everything etc.), but what really matters is HOW they go about it. If they are stupid (and they are not) they will take the “mandate” seriously and push their agenda openly. This will make it easy for Democrats to cry foul and for the populace to see what is coming. They are more likely to go slow, though. Little by little, seemingly innocuous changes, some sentences inserted into huge bills, under the radar and wrapped into Orwellian language (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2004_11/005163.php AND http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?pt=KbUs8%2Bpt6JmKm1DN2Pshdh%3D%3D).

Every nation has a stereotypical “trait of the national character”. Americans are supposed to be “can-do” people and “rugged individualists”. The national character of Serbs is “spite”. Whatever they do, they do out of spite. Much humor comes out of this, focusing on actions of individuals. But when push comes to shove and the nation as a whole is threatened, the spite grows into insanely heroic deeds by the unified population. Serbs cherish freedom above everything else (“Better grave than slave” is an unofficial motto of the country). Thus, when attacked, they tend to defeat hugely powerful invaders, just “out of spite”. And what is happening now? They are enslaved. The foreign military forces are in charge of Kosovo. Kosovo is not some little disposable province in the South – it is the historical and emotional heart of Serbdom. When Serbia first attained statehood about 800 years ago it only occupied the small territory that is now Kosovo. The Prince’s castle and all the churches and monasteries were in Kosovo. Kosovo WAS Serbia. Albanians were few and mostly out of sight, tending sheep in the mountains.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the ratio of population numbers of Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo was 9:1. By the end of the 20th century, the ratio reversed to 1:9. What happened? There are two main reasons. First, differential natality: Serbs, like most Europeans, barely manage to replace the population every generation (natality just below 2, i.e., 2 kids per couple). Albanians do not care much for contraception and tend to have as many children as physically possible (about 6). Second, Kosovo is the poorest region of the former Yugoslavia. Serbs, being better educated, tended to leave. They went to Belgrade, or abroad. During the 1980s they left at gunpoint – the mass exile of Serbs from Kosovo under the pressure of Albanians was the first event for which the term “ethnic cleansing” was invented (by Serbian Orthodox Patriarch).

The Serbs today are doing a lot of soul-seaching. Where is the freedom? What happened to spite? Where are the examples of insane heroism? It is a morally defeated nation. Everything it stood for, everything it thought about itself, is gone. Can you imagine the feeling? You better try, try really hard, because this is about to happen to the Americans very soon. The rugged individualists fell in line of groupthink. The can-do people could not do anything about a madman’s rise to power. But most importantly, very soon we will cease being Number One. Superpatriotism (http://michaelparenti.org/superpatriotism.html, http://michaelparenti.org/articles.html ) will be hit hard.

Within months, perhaps a couple of years, we will not be:

#1 Military superpower. The world has now seen the limits of our military. We will be stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan, beaten by Iraqi partisans a little bit every day. Troops will be more and more doubting and demoralized (as they were in Vietnam towards the end). New conscripts will be there not because they thought enlisting was honorable, or because they hold a naive belief that a stint in the army “turns a boy into man”, but due to economic conscription. Removal of Pell Grants and a horrible job situation leave the military as the ONLY option for many young people. The obvious impotence of our military will allow others to thumb their noses at us and go unpunished because we cannot do anything about it (perhaps the Serbs will reclaim “spite” by kicking out the Americans out of Kosovo now that they can see it is a tiger with no teeth). New alliances will be forged, the Russo-Chinese one being the most dangerous. We will not be considered the “only remaining superpower” any more. What is that going to do to our collective ego?

#1 Economic superpower (http://majikthise.typepad.com/majikthise_/2004/11/economic_armage.html ). New Depression, world-record deficit, tanking of the dollar, sale of Federal IOUs by East-Asian countries, switch to Euro as an official currency of international trade, and formation of the European Market which is already bigger and richer than American, will together dethrone the USA from the Number One spot in economy of the World. Read the new books by Reid and Rifkin about the New Europe. They (and Japan and China) will dictate to us from now on, and not the reverse. What is that going to do to our collective ego?

#1 Technological superpower. What happened to the American ingenuity? The USA is slipping fast in its ranking in science and in technological innovation. We have been boasting of our “knowledge-based” economy, but soon we will not be Number One in this area any more, and the agriculture and manufacture are gone already. What are we going to do? Tourism? Who’s gonna come? There will be nothing to offer the world that the world cannot invent, produce, and sell cheaper by themselves. What is that going to do to our collective ego?

#1 Moral superpower. That is already gone. An incipient totalitarian theocracy that acts like a bully abroad holds no moral sway over anyone. It will just take some time for the news to arrive to the Red states. We are the last to learn that we are now considered to be a Third-World country. What is that going to do to our collective ego?

Buckle up! The Bushies are about to destroy the core meaning of what it is to be an American. The “City on the Hill” will be gone. The “shining beacon of freedom” will be gone. The “greatest democracy in the world” will be a laughingstock. It is going to hurt.

What’s To Be Done?

First, the GOP has to be defeated at all costs. Second, only the Democratic Party is big enough to defeat the GOP. We better turn the Democratic Party into a weapon. Right now!

The strategy of the impending struggle has several dimension. First, there is a spatial dimension: The Dems will have to develop somewhat different tactics (yet consistent with each other within an overarching strategy) in the Blue States and in the Red States, in big and small cities, big and small towns, hamlets, hollows, villages and isolated ranches. Second, there is a temporal dimension: some things need to be done now, some for the 2006 election, some for the 2008 election, some even more long-term. Third, there is a dimension of hierarchy: winning the White House is just one element of the strategy – winning the Senate and House, the state-wide offices and local offices is equally, if not more important. Fourth, there is a structural dimension: who calls the shots, who devises the overall strategy, who picks the candidates, is the power flow in the top-down or in the bottom-up direction. Fifth, there is a technical dimension: what tactics will be used on the ground, e.g., how is Internet going to be used, how is talk-radio going to be countered, etc.

First order of business is for the elected Democrats to grow a spine. We know that The Repubs are about to write a new tax-code, a new energy bill, a new Social Security bill, etc. We need to have our Congressmen and Senators write those same bills BEFORE the Republicans do it, push them onto the floor, post them online in their entirety, make news, visit every TV news show screaming how the Democratic bill solves problems and the Republican bill screws people up. Thus, the Democrats will be seen as pro-active. The choice is not between the Republican bill and nothing, but between a bad Republican bill and a good Democratic bill. Some ears will perk up, even in the Red states.

Second, we need to define who we are (http://neogaidaros.blogspot.com/2004/11/what-do-democrats-stand-for.html ). For that to happen, we need to first figure out who we are and what we stand for. We need to devise a coherent ideology. Once we have a coherent ideology, putting it in simple language will be easy. Instead of a litany of “issues” (which “undecideds” in the Blue state of Wisconsin do not understand to have anything to do with them, or politics, or President, see above), we will have a simple poweful statement about us, and that statement will naturally be better than the GOP’s because we are on the side of Truth, modernity and Enlightement. We don’t have to lie – Repubs do. That is what framing is all about.

Teaching the Progressives about framing is the third order of business. It is obvious that many (if not most) think, mistakenly, that framing = marketing (or sloganeering). See, for instance, comments on this thread for a typical Progressive response to Lakoff : http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2004_11/005219.ph. On the other hand, conservatives have their own frames. Look at these: http://jonjayray.netfirms.com/lakoff.html ; http://mikejericho.blogspot.com/2004/11/lakoff-again.html. Both are putting up straw-men. On one hand, Liberals are presented as moral relativists (darned postmodernists gave liberalism a bad name!). On the other hand, these conservative authors do not identify with the Lakoffian description of Conservativism, rightly so, as most conservatives today do not adhere to the core model. Their ideology is a radial deviation from the core model, i.e., they are not PURE conservatives. A couple of hundred years of progress have modified what it means to be a conservative – you do not have to be racist, sexist, homophobic pig, at least not overtly. And of course, they immediately misread “Nurturant Parent” to be Mother because they do not have a personal experience of a nurturant father.

Fourth, we need to organize feet on the ground (The Orifice is Open: http://www.mousemusings.com/weblogs/2004/11/orifice-is-open.html ; Resist Homelandabsurdity — Act!
http://www.homelandabsurdity.com/act ; WE’LL TAKE TURNS BEING STRONG: THE EIGHT FRONTS OF RESISTANCE TO BUSH: http://blogs.salon.com/0002007/2004/11/09.html#a943 ). Now, not in 2008. Much of the success of getting 55 million people to vote for an uncharismatic Massachusets liberal Democrat for President was a result of an excellent organization that started about 2.5 years too late. MeetUps, blogs and forums, books, ACT, MoveOn, Rockridge Institute, mass e-mailing to the media and elected representatives, street-protests, ….all that worked great but started too late. The bulk of Americans have already swallowed the Bush lies and digested them for a couple of years before they ever heard a counter-story.

Fifth, we need to start picking and grooming the candidates for everything from President to dogcatcher now! The campaign managers and speechwriters should be taught about framing, and sent a daily, weekly or monthly booklet of phrases to be parroted ad nauseaum on every media outlet possible, i.e., “do the Luntz”.

Sixth, realize that there is no continuum between conservative and liberal outlook. There is no Left and Right. Thus, it is impossible to move to the Right. It is like trying to walk a tight-rope without safety net. You step off the Left Tower in order to move towards the Right Tower. But in reality, the rope is not there. You are dead. What “moving to the Right” really means is adopting some conservative individual positions, i.e., switching some position from the “Conservative OFF/Liberal ON” mode to the “Conservative ON/Liberal OFF” position. More you do this, more incoherent your ideology is and more difficult it is to state who you are and what you stand for. Very few voters vote on individual issues and the chance of acquiring a perfect mapping of issues between the Party position and the individual voters’ position is diminutive. This is a losing proposition.

Seventh, realize that only about 30-35% of voters are completely unreachable (http://dneiwert.blogspot.com/2004/11/home-is-where-hate-is.html ). That is Religious Right, the White Supremacists, the lifelong GOP operatives, and the Multimillionaire CEOs. Do not even think about trying to appeal to them. Even if the Democratic party adopted 100% of the Republican platform, these guys will still vote for Republicans. The others are quite reachable, though (http://neogaidaros.blogspot.com/2004/11/levering-away-moderates.html).

Eight, do not be afraid to go to the Red states and rural areas an say what you mean withou mealy-mouthing. For many of the people in your audience, that will be the first encounter with progressive ideas. Some in the audience will like what you tell them.
Read this:
Lecturing to the choir
http://preposterousuniverse.blogspot.com/2004_11_01_preposterousuniverse_archive.html#110019158615197249

But one young woman in particular was very effusive in her thankfulness for the
talk I had just given. It turns out that she was an undergraduate student there.
As she explained it, for a long time she had been having doubts about religion
and the existence of God, but had been reluctant to talk to anyone about them on
this devoutly Methodist campus. She said that hearing my talk had been a
revelation for her, as it put into words many of the ideas that had been
floating around in her head. More importantly, it gave her courage to hear
someone actually stand up and say them out loud in a public forum.

Ninth, reach people one at the time. Move to a Red district if you have the guts and wherewithal to do so, and start working on your neighbors: show them you are a nice person and that your Democratic friends back home can do something to help them in their little perssonal problems as they arise. Call it nepotism if you want, but you can actually buy one voter at the time this way.

Tenth, think of ballot initiatives that we can put on the ballots. Be careful how you phrase them. Decide what you want passed, in order to have more voters for the future (e.g., lowering voting-age to 16), and what you want there just so you can energize the base. Pick which initiatives to put up in Blue states, which in Red states, which in battleground states. Pick which initiatives will be more useful in 2006 and which ones in 2008. Think strategically. Here are a couple ideas: http://neogaidaros.blogspot.com/2004/11/ballot-initiative-tactic.html.

Eleventh, think big. Yes, liberal worldview has won many battles over the centuries, but that does not mean that no battles remain, or that war is almost won. All the battles we won are under siege again anyway. All the progress we made is about to be rolled back. It is a gigantic battle, and we can be open that we understand this to be the case. This is not about universal health care (ELEVATOR TALK: http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/archives/individual/2004_11/005161.ph; THE NARRATIVE OF PROGRESSIVE VALUES: http://lawandpolitics.blogspot.com/2004_11_01_lawandpolitics_archive.html#11005807176408951). This is about survival of Enlightement and, by extension, survival of America as we know it. Now put a positive spin on it. Ask Barack Obama and John Edwards how to do that (http://sciencepolitics.blogspot.com/2004/08/john-edwards-myths-and-misperceptions.html).

Twelfth, forget Hillary.

Cross-posted at: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2004/11/26/32125/233

Comments

  1. #1 Heather
    September 22, 2008

    Wow. I believe you are right, when you originally posted this in 2004, I (as a native American) don’t think I would have really believed much of it. “Sure, sure, Bush is no good for us, but how much harm can he really do?” (As I suppose many Americans thought) But now, it’s like you were forecasting the future. And it’s scary. Here’s hoping that there is still time to turn ourselves around…

  2. #2 themadlolscientist, FCD
    September 22, 2008

    Watch it, dude. You’re in danger of becoming my favorite political commentator. :-)

    Oh, and I’m ROFLingMAO at “Twelfth, forget Hillary. [Period. End of statement. Not even worth discussing.]”

  3. #3 Coturnix
    September 22, 2008

    Ha, used to be four years ago? Feel free to dig through my Politics and Ideology archives/categories, as I don’t feel I have such interesting political posts in me right now.

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