TCS Daily


Bitterness Abounds

By Pejman Yousefzadeh - November 19, 2004 12:00 AM

Everyone has heard the old story about the candidate for public office who comes to meet his supporters on election night. Things have not gone his way, his opponent is the clear victor, and while the losing candidate wants to be gracious, he just cannot summon grace from his bitter heart. So he goes to the podium and announces "The people have spoken." And then he adds "The bastards."

Denial and anger precede acceptance, which helps to explain why the joke works. It also helps to explain the palpable fury of those who wanted to see George W. Bush lose this election, and are now frustrated. Perhaps Republicans and pro-Bush voters would have been similarly upset if John Kerry were elected President -- although of course, in a counterfactual situation, one cannot tell for sure. But what is most interesting about the post-election reaction from anti-Bush voters is that instead of looking inwards to try to figure out how best to recalibrate their message for future elections, they have taken instead to condemning -- in bitter and virulent terms -- those who voted to give President Bush a second term in office.

Thus, we have a website telling a large region of the country that it should go and perform anatomical impossibilities upon itself. Another website has resolved to apologize to the rest of the world for the results of the Presidential election (this latter website has naturally led to derision). Apparently, the idea of moving to Canada is more appealing to some of those put out by the election results than slogging it out any further in the current political climate. For those who don't want to go to Canada, but can't abide the thought of "four more years," secession is being openly talked about as an option -- with this geographic arrangement being one of the more popular ones in quasi-serious secessionist corners. Columnist Jane Smiley helpfully informs us that the so-called "red states" are "unteachably ignorant," and that the re-election of President Bush "reflect[s] the decision of the right wing to cultivate and exploit ignorance in the citizenry." It is columns like Smiley's that prompted Mark Steyn to point out that "Bush Derangement Syndrome is moving to a whole new level. On the morning of Nov. 2, the condescending left were convinced that Bush was an idiot. By the evening of Nov. 2, they were convinced that the electorate was." Perhaps the second part of Jane's Law is being proven right all over again.

The rage may be an understandable human reaction when one is at the losing end of a very hard-fought political contest. But that doesn't make the wholesale condescension and the secessionist talk any more acceptable. Color me naïve, but I have a hard time understanding the wisdom of the talk coming out of Democratic circles -- talk that is reaching at least a semi-serious level of resonance. Whatever their fervent hopes, secessionists will not be successful in creating "The United States of Canada" to stand opposite of "Jesusland." The condescension towards the red states is not only childish and gratuitous, it is also wholly unwarranted.

And even if the condescension were warranted, in two years for the midterm elections and in four years for the next Presidential elections, Democrats will need to go back to the red states and ask for votes. So before the anti-Bush contingent tells red-staters that they are ignorant, and before they tell an entire region of the country to go and perform anatomical impossibilities upon itself, would they care to explain how this turned into this within eight short years? Is it simply because a number of states suddenly got stupid? Or is it because there is a serious problem with the way the Democrats run campaigns nowadays? Additionally, is the anti-Bush contingent going to explain away the very close margins in traditionally Democratic states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pennsylvania by saying that the residents of those states are increasingly getting stupid and could very well cross the threshold of stupidity in the next few years by voting for a Republican Presidential candidate? Or is there something more complicated -- more "nuanced," if you will -- afoot?

Beyond the fact that all of this fury and condescension isn't exactly recommended in How To Win Friends And Influence People, the problem with the post-election meltdown is that it deprives us of the ultimate luxury in a democratic republic; the existence of a viable and coherent opposition party. I know that Democrats may be unwilling to take advice on winning elections from a libertarian-conservative Republican like me, but is it too much to ask that the gnashing of teeth give way soon to the emergence of a positive agenda from the Democrats? My party may have control of the White House and Congress but I still want it to be challenged and kept on its toes. Democratic-republicanism thrives and flourishes when there exists a healthy and vigorous national debate. We're being deprived that kind of debate now with one party looking for all the world like it wants to take its ball and leave -- but not before calling the other party and its supporters unworthy of even having a discussion with. This behavior is not constructive, to say the least.

Democrats should take comfort in the fact that politics generally runs in cycles, and that means that Democrats will find themselves on the winning end of elections eventually. When they do, I hope that my party will eschew talk of secession, condescension towards voters whose votes will be needed in the next campaign, and idle talk about emigrating to distant shores. You may think the voters are bastards for not agreeing with you, but those are the breaks in a democratic republic. And they'll never agree with you if you spend your time berating them instead of wooing and persuading them.


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