In the weeks before the election, I would ask supporters of Bush or Kerry a question intended to reveal the degree of irrationality with which their support was held.  My question was: "If you alone could decide the outcome of the election, what would you accept in exchange for voting for the other guy?"  I placed no limits on demands; if you would give the election to the other guy for a lifetime of daily massages from Jude Law, well, I thought that was rather revealing.  I would always offer my answer: I would have easily countenanced a Bush victory if it meant that we could get rid of the Electoral College and go to a straight national popular vote in presidential elections.  Sometimes I would modify this with a pitch for Instant Runoff Voting, but only if my listener had shown a willingness to look at the election from a larger perspective.

In trying to come up with an answer to the corollary question, "What would you not accept in exchange for guaranteeing the election of your candidate?" it would probably have been helpful to have some suggestions, but I have no doubt I would have rejected a guaranteed Kerry victory had the price been that Kerry would have had, as Bill Clinton allegedly advised, to endorse the 11 state constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.  As dreadful as this election result is (generations will weep at what is about to happen to the Supreme Court), for Kerry to have endorsed these amendments would have amounted to a national rejection of the celebration of human dignity and common sense we witnessed last spring in Massachusetts.  Not only would this have been a soul-compromising betrayal of the first order, it would also have been a political failure; as Harry Truman said, "Give the people a choice between a Republican and a Republican and they will choose the Republican every time."

The outcome of the 2004 election was determined by many factors, some of which we cannot know.  Much has been made of reports that Bush supporters cited "moral issues" as a primary motivation for their vote, and I don’t doubt that these reports are more-or-less accurate.  I take issue, however, with the notion that Democrats should somehow accommodate such narrow-minded bigotry; trying to ape the manners of zealotry comes across as condescending at best and "flip-flopping" at worst.  If one needs further convincing of the folly "reaching out" to the Fundies, ask whether, had the election had the opposite outcome, the religious right would subject themselves to self-doubt, recrimination, and calls to accommodate their opponents.

But we don’t have to ask; this precise scenario occurred just six years ago, when this electorate—currently being reviled by the Dems as hopelessly intolerant—rejected the inquisition impeachment proceedings led by Tom DeLay and Ken Starr (and funded by Richard Mellon Scaife) and added to the Democrats’ number in Congress.  Did the Fundies ask themselves, How did we so misjudge the American people?  Indeed not; they were reinvigorated for the struggle ahead and persisted in fund-raising and organizing, often below the radar of the national media.

After Pat Buchanan gave his infamous "cultural war" speech at the 1992 Republican convention and Bush-41 went down to defeat, many on the left assumed that there was no longer a need to fight.  The Cold War was over and soon the Internet Boom was upon us; getting exercised over and becoming politically active in opposition to the Blue Meanies seemed so, well, Eighties.  My wake-up call came during the Starr investigations, when I read that Linda Tripp was motivated to assist the hunting of President Clinton not (primarily) because she thought capital gains taxes were too high, but because she was offended by White House staffers wearing jeans.  That’s when I realized how dangerous it was to ignore the Bluenose Right.

More important than refusing to pander to the Fundies is reclaiming the language of morality.  By accepting this "morality gap" at face value, the left surrenders perhaps the most revolutionary idea of the American experience: that we are a pluralistic society that tolerates, respects, and even celebrates diversity of values.  From the Bill of Rights to the principle of checks and balances, the U.S. Constitution is animated by the belief that no one value system should hold enduring sway over the national conversation.  Americans who demand that all branches of government agree with their positions on not only taxation and foreign policy but also private morality and religious affectation are disregarding our basic civic traditions.  These traditions are best exercised by remaining brazen, loud, and unembarrassed about our support for stem cell research, contraception education, and weddings for homos.

Regarding conspiracy theories of (another) stolen election, of course claims supported by evidence should be vigorously investigated.  The element of gravest concern to me has to be the widespread adoption of electronic voting machines that—for very suspicious reasons—were designed not to leave a paper trail for auditing in case of controversy.  Nevertheless, if one sincerely believes that such unaccountability endangers the integrity of the election, the only proper response is enjoin the election beforehand; permitting one’s candidacy to appear on the ballot forfeits one’s claims to a priori election fraud.  Of course, I have no objection to the scandal and litigation growing so noxious as to create an environment where the controversial voting machines are more likely to be banned, but that’s a different goal from trying to prove, without evidence, that Diebold stole the election for Bush.

Keep in mind that Bush’s margin of victory in 2004 was the second smallest in history (no guesses as to the first) and there’s an argument to be made that Rove & Co. wanted it that way.  Maps like this one flatter the religious right’s position in the culture wars and denigrate that of the left (both secular and religious).  On 12 December 2000, it was impossible to imagine the number and variety of catastrophes George W. Bush would wreak on the nation, but on 11 September 2001, it was obvious before the first World Trade Center tower fell how he would obscure them.  If one is looking for a name to assign to the region (of the spirit as well as the country) that preferred to validate the leadership of a calamitously incompetent executive and unabashedly supra-Constitutional bully, go with the simplest:  Cowardland.


Marching Orders

Shortly before the polls close, I plan to retreat to an undisclosed location, and I will likely be incommunicado for an indefinite period.  I have therefore compiled the following list of instructions to follow in the event of ElectoRupture:
  • Keys to the cabin are cached within the torso of our Halloween scarecrow, now returned to the back porch.  Avoid the ruts for the first five turns on Spur 12; the anti-tank mines have been armed.  If you’re approaching the lake by air, set your IFF transponder to CA41823.
  • Monitor aluminum prices.  If it rises above $1.15/pound, cease drinking anything other than bottled water (or Bushmills).
  • Credit no report of my death absent first-hand observation of DNA cross-matching with registered samples, including scanning for serial numbers to eliminate cloned tissue.
  • In the event of my verified death, I assign all authority and responsibility to Kevin Hamilton Bruce of Frederick, Maryland; he alone possesses the wisdom and resources necessary to prevail in the coming dark days.
  • Tell him "yes" on #1 and "no" on #2.
  • Under no circumstances summon intervention from Great Cthulhu.  It turns out that, when one factors in the impact on Pacific Rim trade, ushering in the Age of the Old Ones would actually be worse than a second Bush Administration.