Friday, October 31, 2008

Four Years

On November 04, 2004, two days after George W. Bush was elected to his second term, I sat down and wrote this open letter. And it took those two days for the numbness to subside before I could finally get directly at the emotion of the moment. I circulated the letter among my like-minded friends who were also feeling the sting of another election lost and submitted it as editorial commentary to a couple of the local papers at the time.

Looking back, I realize now that my vote in 2004 was more a vote against Bush than a vote for John Kerry, but I can honestly say that this year I am casting my vote for a candidate I believe in.

I dug this letter out and am posting it now because I don't want to forget that experience four years ago, and maybe someone who wasn't going to vote will read it and remember what it felt like and be motivated to vote this year.

I am disappointed. Disappointed in my state and disappointed in my country with the outcome of this election.

I tried to be cautious in my optimism about John Kerry's chances at election. I really did, but deep down inside I think I was more confident than I wanted to admit. Like so many (although apparently not a majority of) Americans, I am embarrassed and disgusted by the Bush administration's bizarre mix of jingoistic foreign policy, messianic governance, and cowboy bravado. Somewhere along the way, despite the pain of the 2000 election fiasco, despite the squandered good will from around the world following September 11, 2001, despite the lies that led us into Iraq, despite the jobs lost across Ohio and the country, despite the economy in shambles, despite the fear- and war-mongering, the country turned a blind eye to this and decided to sign up for another four years.

My heart sank watching the election results being reported on November 02. I was hopeful for a reality-based electorate... one that would vote based on policies rather than made-for-TV values, and that John Kerry would prevail in our state and in our country. However, in a curious turn, instead of the war on terror and homeland security dominating the voter's mind, exit polls reported that one-fifth of the electorate thought moral issues were the dominant issue of the day. These code words from the Right point to the gay marriage bans that passed across the country. It represents the anti-abortion stance of Bush's future Supreme Court. It points to the zealous faith worn on the sleeve of a president aligned with the Religious Right of the South.

We seem to have no regard for the world beyond our borders. The Middle East is a mess. Our occupation of Iraq is looking more and more like the Vietnam War-coined "quagmire" the peaceniks on the Left were predicting. Our faith-driven president has naively and foolishly referred to the war on terror as a Crusade. Do the president and his handlers not realize how offensive that must be to the Muslim community? Or does the administration just not care? I can only imagine what the Arab nations think of our decision to reelect Bush -- perhaps it appears to them that the American people now share Bush's views, which could help garner support and legitimize their attacks on American interests.

And then there is Europe, which has, to this point, always been careful to distinguish its dislike for our president from their feelings about our citizens. But now, in convincingly reelecting Bush, it is likely their anti-Bush sentiment will now turn anti-American.

So where does the Democratic Party go from here? Or does it even survive this? If anything could have motivated the base, shouldn't the mess of the 2000 election have been enough -- let alone the mishandling of foreign and domestic policy across the board by this administration? Shouldn't, by all accounts, losing all three debates and waltzing through choreographed campaign stops have chipped away at the incumbent's veneer? We heard all along that undecideds break for the challenger, that more people were registering to vote than ever before, that election turnout would set records. And yet, apparently those who were content with the president's first four years did decide to vote. And vote in droves. They were the ones standing in line for hours right beside all those young voters who deified Howard Dean and then had to half-heartedly channel their efforts behind the Kerry campaign. And the 18 to 29 year-old demographic -- all those kids with their Michael Moore-promised Fruit-of-the-Looms and ramen noodles -- still proportionally represented the exact same percentage (17%) of the electorate that they did four years ago. How does the Democratic Party keep those kids from feeling like they don't make a difference and that they shouldn't give up on the value of politics just because their first experience was a negative one?

I think to survive the Democratic Party needs to take back a state in the South or in the West. They need to target an Arkansas or Missouri or Colorado or Nevada, and pour vast amounts of time, energy, and resources into it. I think to survive the Democratic Party needs to find a personality it can throw its efforts behind. Be it Obama or Hillary or Ken Salazar in Colorado or Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas -- there needs to be an emergence of identity. I think to survive the Democratic Party needs to learn from the Republican Machine that successfully demonized the word "liberal" and effectively uses the media to destroy its opponents with seemingly no consequences whatsoever from the American public. Too often the Democrats have rolled over when they should have gotten their hands dirty.

I suppose the disappointment and sadness that the results of this election have evoked are really as much for my son and his generation as they are for me. Because his generation is the one which will be paying for this decision for years to come with the Supreme Court appointments, an incredible deficit, and a near-universal animosity towards America outside of our borders. Incredibly, the administration got what it wanted. Unfortunately, the people of Ohio got what they deserved. The Bush Backers will say I am whining and a sore loser and should suck it up or move to France, but I think we're all better off to not surrender the country and continue to work towards a better future. Besides, someone is going to have to keep them from finding a way to elect Bush to a third term.

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