Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Silver Lining

Watching the aerial shot of John Kerry's motorcade wind its way to Faneuil Hall where Kerry is to make his concession speech is plaintive. It looks too much like a funeral; and in many ways it very much is one. After promising it’s supporters that all the votes would be counted, the Kerry Campaign has conceded the election before all the provisional and absentee ballots have been counted. A passage from a Yeats poem seems apt: “The ceremony of innocence is drowned; the best lack all convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

The red states and the demographic dynamic appear to be an insurmountable impasse for a Democratic party that seeks to articulate a socially progressive platform. Wedge issues like abortion, gay marriage, and gun control still resonate well for the Republicans and their socially conservative base in the heartland of America. The electoral lopsidedness and strength of the Plain states, the Midwest, the Deep South, the Bible belt, and the West, with the exception of California, make the likelihood of a Republican win of the popular vote a structural inevitability. In fact, the Dems have only won the popular vote once in the last 40 years.

The only solace one has—a partisan hack like me—is in the understanding that theses past four years of tumult have damaged the brand name of the Republican Party. Iraq is George W. Bush’s war, and, though one hopes it stabilizes more quickly, the reality is that it may soon get worse. The next four years is an opportunity for the Bush administration to repair the wounds it has inflicted on the American psyche, to move America in a new direction. If the past four years are any indication, the times ahead will be heady.

A win for the Republican Party may not necessarily be a bad thing for the United States; however, a win for the Bush administration may be an incredibly fateful end for the Republican Party. Here’s why: In an August opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, Niall Ferguson, esteemed Historian, posited that a Bush win may have unintended and detrimental consequences for the Republican Party specifically, and the Conservative movement in the US generally.

I would agree with such an assessment because as well functioning as the Republican machine is, at some point, social issues that play so well for the heartland voters will attenuate in their potency. Those motivated by wedge issues have voted against their own economic interest for far too long and have begun to slowly see the threadbare seems of a false Conservative argument.

Ferguson says:

It is a mistake, however, to conceive of each presidential contest as an entirely discrete event, a simple, categorical choice between two individuals, with consequences stretching no further than four years.

To be sure, there are many tendencies in American political life that will not be fundamentally affected by the outcome of November's election. For example, contrary to what Mr. Kerry claimed in his convention speech, there are profound structural causes for the widening rift between the U.S. and its erstwhile allies on the European Continent that no new president could possibly counteract. And regardless of whether Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry is in the White House next year, the U.S. will still be stuck with the dirty work of policing post-Saddam Iraq with minimal European assistance other than from Britain--which, by the same token, will remain America's most reliable military ally regardless of whether Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry is in the White House.

Nor would the election of Mr. Kerry have the slightest impact on the ambition of al Qaeda to inflict harm on the U.S. Even if Americans elected Michael Moore as president, Osama bin Laden would remain implacable.

In geopolitical terms, at least, what happens on Nov. 2 will change very little indeed. Yet in other respects--and particularly in terms of party politics--the election's consequences could be far-reaching. It is not too much to claim that the result could shape American political life for a decade or more.

Ferguson adds:

But then what? The lesson of British history is that a second Bush term could be more damaging to the Republicans and more beneficial to the Democrats than a Bush defeat. If he secures re-election, President Bush can be relied upon to press on with a foreign policy based on pre-emptive military force, to ignore the impending fiscal crisis (on the Cheney principle that "deficits don't matter") and to pursue socially conservative objectives like the constitutional ban on gay marriage. Anyone who thinks this combination will serve to maintain Republican unity is dreaming; it will do the opposite. Meanwhile, the Dems will have another four years to figure out what the Labour Party finally figured out: It's the candidate, stupid. And when the 2008 Republican candidate goes head-to-head with the American Tony Blair, he will get wiped out.

So all is not lost, things happen for a reason, one door closes and another one opens, insert the insipid clich├ęs here. One scary thing to note is that Republicans have the presidency, both houses of Congress (the House of Reps and the Senate), a majority on the Supreme Court, a majority of the Governorships, and all the dogcatchers in every county. So all may really be lost, but the upside is that all responsibility lies with the Republicans. In the end, governing parties are more prone to beating themselves than losing elections.

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