Democratic Underground

Ask Auntie Pinko

November 11, 2004
By Auntie Pinko

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I am writing to you to ask your sage guidance. Ever since the results of the election were made clear and Kerry delivered his concession speech, I find that I am filled with an overwhelming sense of sadness. I am finding it difficult to concentrate on my work, and cannot seem to muster up any energy for anything. Every time I start a task at the office, I find myself worrying about the Supreme Court, or fantasizing about moving to Canada.

Can you offer a glimmer of hope, as to how the country may come to its collective senses? Do you see a way in which the country can be freed from the stranglehold of gun-toting, gay-hating, evangelicals? What has to happen in order for people to wake up? Please suggest how I can look on the bright side. I really need a silver lining to this enormous grey cloud.

Thank you,

Chicago, IL

Dear John,

Let us start with a perspective check, shall we? One poignant element Auntie sees in my liberal friends' grief over this election result is the horror and disbelief that "a majority" (however slim) of our fellow citizens actually voted for Mr. Bush. The thought of this "majority" fills them with sorrow, anger, and wondering incomprehension.

For whatever small measure of comfort it may offer, Mr. Bush did not win "a majority." What he won was two minorities. These two minorities, combined with the Democratic Party's inability to get across an effective message about keeping Americans safe from terrorism, gave Mr. Bush the margin he needed to eke out his electoral success.

Neither of these minorities was sufficient in themselves, but together (combined with the issue of domestic security, this election's contextual wild card) they did the trick. We can take hope from the knowledge that these minorities have considerable philosophical differences, and it will be terribly difficult for Mr. Bush to continue to please one, without alienating the other.

The danger lies in the temptation to dismiss or misunderstand these minorities, something that the Democratic Party has been obstinately doing for upwards of thirty years, now. When we had electoral victories, we have ridiculed and/or ignored them; when we have been defeated, we have vilified and demonized them. And the longer we continue making these errors, the longer our winter of discontent will last.

Respecting and accommodating the beliefs of someone with whom you have deep philosophical differences is never easy, particularly when you are feeling like the wronged party with a legitimate grievance. Principled, inclusive opposition is not capitulation. It is not "giving up the fight." It is not "compromising our values." It is rebuilding a nation shattered by misunderstanding, mistrust, and fear.

Let's take the easiest target first. The grotesque pathos of a man whose "God" cannot permit him to stand in front of naked Justice and uphold our Constitution in equity, dignity, and compassion, has become our symbol of those now being dismissed as "values voters." We, no less than the GOP, are guilty of using our little codes and labels to stereotype neighbors whose sincerely held beliefs about marriage and the nature/sanctity of life shape their political decisions.

I have read, several times in the last week, the scornful lashing out of those who see such voters as "choosing a single fertilized egg in a clinic freezer over millions of children with diabetes and grandparents with Alzheimers." I have heard my fellow liberals automatically and dismissively equate a vote to legally define marriage as a heterosexual relationship as the worst kind of callous homophobia, hatred, and intolerance.

Keep thinking and talking that way, and the handbasket will only pick up speed on the downslope. Am I suggesting that we "cave in" on denying a woman's right to control her own body? On permitting the pseudo-"science" of "Creationism" to be taught to our children as a credible theory of the development of life? Please. I hope you know Auntie better than that.

We may never be able to entirely win the hearts and minds of these "values voters." But a willingness to listen respectfully to their concerns, to discuss them seriously, and to make sincere attempts to find and share common ground where possible, could pay off in other ways.

Right now, the GOP has been able, with our willing complicity, to convince these neighbors that we Demon Liberals are an evil so great that nothing the Republicans can do - not total economic incompetence, blatant disenfranchisement of millions, criminal indifference to the quality of the air they breathe and water they drink, or the dismantling of a safety net that enabled our whole society to live the Christian values of caring for the sick, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, etc. - could possibly outweigh the horrific result of a Democratic victory. No one can change this perception but us.

The second minority, the "opportunity" voters (resist, oh resist the temptation to call them "opportunistic") is both tougher and easier to reach. These are the individuals whose economic anxieties are enabled by denial, fed by fear, and exploited by hope. This is the group who have been taught to regard us Demon Liberals as the greedy, conscienceless bastards who will swoop in to "tax away" their hard-earned money or their lottery windfall, should the luck they have so long deserved ever actually show up.

These voters do not see, and do not believe us when we show them, the connection between a government focused on raising the floor, patching the cracks, and adding rungs to the ladders, with their own economic security and hope for upward mobility. The raised floor, to them, makes the ceiling look closer, hemming in their aspirations to prosperity and achievement. The GOP's indifference to the cracked and sinking floor, and their deliberate dismantling of some ladders, seems insignificant next to the hope-filled vistas opened by the holes they are punching in the ceiling.

Unless we can find a way to overcome this denial, we have lost these voters, which is a shame, because many - maybe most - of them are really Democrats at heart. They just don't know it, because they no longer know what "Democrat" really means.

Auntie is no political strategist, but I do know there are some things that offer us definite hope:

First, Mr. Bush and the GOP are now standing in a cesspit of their own making, with no one to blame and no one to rescue them. The collapsing economy, the worsening crisis of Americans without health care, the ghetto of our international pariah status, the bloody, tragic quagmire of Iraq - they are all Mr. Bush's problems to solve. And he must solve them in a way that pleases both his "values" voters and his "opportunity" voters.

I think it is entirely possible, after four years of his attempts to do so, that there will not be another GOP administration or legislative branch elected for thirty years. This is no consolation for the pain Americans (and the world) will suffer until the messes are dealt with, but it at least offers hope of a chance to deal with them firmly and unequivocally.

Second, this exile in the wilderness, like so many before it, gives our Party the opportunity to unify and strengthen itself. If we can use this opportunity to generate a consensus around some bold, intelligent ideas for change, we will be able to use the chance a disintegrating GOP will offer us.

In short, liberals are now, (more or less) where the ultraconservative wing of the GOP was back when Mr. Goldwater was defeated in 1964. They did not give up, but planned long and carefully, and worked hard and continuously, to come back and overwhelm the GOP, recast our cultural understanding of political, economic, and social realities, and impose their vision on the world.

I suggest we learn from their experience, and repeat it. Without all the unconstitutional stuff, of course. It may not be much of a silver lining, John, but it's what we've got, and the sooner we get to work, the sooner we'll succeed. Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!

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