More Prozac, please!
18-Nov-04. Well, the election is over, and I feel compelled to say a few words about it. Unfortunately, most of the words I'd like to say are unsuitable for polite company.
A lot has been said and written already by the commentariat, most of it pernicious rot. It is amazing how quickly the media superimposes a "story" on events to "explain" them — whether or not the story bears scrutiny or not.
Values voters. As the story goes, a gazillion people thronged to the polls to vote for George Bush because of their values. This is perhaps the biggest canard of them all. People! Everybody votes on values! Ultra-conservative, right-wing Republicans are not the only ones with values. Democrats voted on their values, too!
This is a great example of the way words get co-opted and politicized. The Republicans are extremely skillful at this, but in the case of "values voters" the term seems to have been coined by the media rather than GOP marketing pukes.
"Christian" is another word like that. When last I checked, Christian simply referred to religions based on the teachings of Christ — such as Catholic, Episcopalian, Methodist, Unitarian — but it now connotes the "born-again," fundamentalist crowd.
Similarly the word "liberal" used to refer to a political philosophy based on ideals of progress, human goodness, and the protection of individuals' political and civil liberties. It has now been corrupted into a dirty word said with a sneer, as in "John Kerry is the most liberal member of the Senate."
Narrative vs litany. The Republicans won because they had a simple "story to tell" ("The world is full of evil-doers and we'll keep you safe"), whereas the Democrats only have a litany of things they support (healthcare, education, environment, etc.). There are two problems with this. First, the "story" is pure fantasy. Over and over again Bush told a story completely out of touch with reality ("freedom is on the march," "the economy is strong and getting stronger," "cutting taxes makes more jobs," etc.). Second, most of those states that voted overwhelmingly for Bush are among the least likely to be attacked by terrorists. The people in Kansas don't need Bush to keep them safe!
Front page of London's Daily Mirror. Don't you just love that proper, understated English reserve? (Click to enlarge)
It's the stupidity, stupid. The voters in all the "red states" are just uneducated ignoramuses, or so the storyline goes. Now, it's only anecdotal evidence, to be sure, but my experience traveling about the country has been that idiocy is pretty normally distributed. The people living in "blue states" are not all geniuses, nor are the people living in "red states" all morons.
Mind you, I enjoyed the front page of the Daily Mirror (see right) as much as anybody, but dismissing 51% of the population as stupid is terribly arrogant and just a little stupid in its own right.
Unless someone is truly crazy (deranged), what looks like irrational behavior is only irrational if you don't understand what the person wants and how they believe the world works. Simply put, people voted for Bush because they believed that Bush would help them get something they want (and conversely, Kerry wouldn't).
Bush won. Kerry lost. Get over it.
But! After the 2000 election, Democrats wasted too much energy fretting about how the election was stolen. And after 9/11/2001 Democrats let themselves get steamrollered into going along with all sorts of insidious things, like most of the Patriot Act and giving Bush authority to use force against Saddam. This time Bush really did win, and if the Democrats roll over and play dead again, there will be a long reign of consolidated Republican political power.
The electoral system is obviously broken, and reforms are needed. I'll suggest three.
- Endless campaigns. Politicians should be doing "the people's work" and not spending all their time campaigning. Some countries strictly limit the length of political campaigns, and the US should do so as well. I propose one month of campaigning. In these days of television, radio, and the internet, if you can't get your message out in one month, you don't deserve to be elected.
- Redistricting. Letting those holding office draw the lines for election districts is putting the fox in charge of the henhouse. Thanks to massive databases and powerful computer software, redistricting has become an exercise in blatant gerrymandering to create "safe" districts for the incumbents. Although the House of Representatives stands for re-election every two years, only a handful of seats is ever really contested. Of the 435 members of the House, only 41 new members were just elected for the next term; 30 of the 50 states have no change in representatives at all (list of new House members (PDF)). This encourages extremism, not moderation and centrism.
- National standards. People in different states had different choices in the presidential contest (Nader, for example, was not on the ballot in all states). If it's a national office, everyone in the nation should get to chose from the same slate of candidates. The counting of provisional ballots, a reform instituted after the last election, was handled differently in different states. That shouldn't be. If we can figure out standards so people can use their ATM card with confidence at any machine anywhere in the country (and the world!), surely we can figure out how to let people vote in a standard, efficient way.
There will also be a kerfuffle about the 527 organizations (MoveOn.org, SwiftBoatVeterans, etc.) and their participation in elections. I'm of two minds. On the one hand, I think that some of them engaged in scurrilous tactics and should have been gagged. On the other hand, I think if ordinary people want to pool their money to run ads, apart from the establishment parties, they should certainly have that right.
Since my reforms don't have a ghost of a chance being enacted, I say "Hillary in '08!"