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The meaning of defeat.

How agonizing it was to see George Bush gloat. Agonizing, no doubt, for John Kerry on a personal level, but profoundly more agonizing for his supporters and those on the left who threw in their lot with him in hopes of ridding the White House of the gang of reactionaries who took it over these last four years.

This was never about John Kerry.

It was always about the hope of establishing a semblance of sanity in our foreign policy, decency in social policy, and respect for the basic tenets of our democracy.

That's why virtually the entire left half of the spectrum--from DLC Democrats to radical intellectuals, from Joe Lieberman to Noam Chomsky--sided with Kerry. (Nader, as predicted here, was an asterisk of an asterisk.)

Even still, Bush prevailed, and we must examine why.

Part of the answer rests with Kerry himself.

While he had a good final month and performed well in the debates, he was a weak candidate overall. Remote in manner, convoluted in speech, he had anything but a common touch.

Compounding that, he squandered precious time after winning the nomination and foolishly flaunted his elitist credentials by going snowboarding in Utah and windsurfing off of Nantucket.

Amazingly, he failed to learn the lesson of the Dukakis campaign, which was to fire back immediately upon being attacked. Instead, Kerry for weeks failed to answer the slanders of the Swift Boaters.

On the Iraq War, his position was incoherent and disingenuous. He never explained adequately why he voted to authorize Bush to go to war in the first place, and for some baffling reason, he said he would still have done it again even knowing that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

Then he delivered a huge present to the Bush campaign by making the ludicrous comment about being both for and against the $87 billion appropriation for the war.

Not until the last sixty days did he discover the argument he needed most: that the war on Iraq was making us less safe.

Kerry also played too nice.

At the Democratic Convention, he and other leading Democrats barely mentioned Bush's name at all. Or Cheney's, or Rumsfeld's, or Wolfowitz's, or Ashcroft's.

And the Kerry campaign never took Bush down two notches for being asleep at the wheel before 9/11.

You can bet the farm and all of Old McDonald's animals that Karl Rove would not have let such opportunities slide by.

In a pivotal election like this one, the candidate owes his supporters more discipline and more toughness.

Kerry never let his supporters down during the campaign so much as he did at his concession speech. He essentially told them to cave, to act like good little boys and girls and eat their spinach and work with George Bush.

As Americans, Kerry intoned, we all have an "obligation. We are required now to work together for the good of the country, In the days ahead, we must find common cause, we must join in the common effort, without remorse or recrimination, without anger or rancor."

Without anger or rancor?

Common cause with George Bush and Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld?

No sale.

Leftists who supported Kerry are going to do everything they can not to "bridge the partisan divide," as Kerry also admonished, but to mobilize opposition to Bush every step of the way. And that's for the good of the country.

Most unforgivably, Kerry said, "We must stand together and succeed in Iraq and win the war on terror."

A whopping 87 percent of Kerry voters oppose the war in Iraq.

How dare he tell them now to support it.

And how dare he blur the line between the Iraq War and the war on terror.

But to blame the defeat solely on Kerry himself would be to miss some of the larger forces at play and would lead to foolish options next time around.

Deep in the psyche of the American mind is the myth of exceptionalism: that we are the greatest country on Earth, a shining beacon on a hill, placed here by God himself. This is the American superiority complex, a profound affliction that distorts our perceptions and enables manipulative Presidents to give the marching orders.

And after 9/11, Bush proved better at reciting the myths of America, including the John Wayne myth of the tough guy.

Plus, America is a deeply religious place, and Bush's messianic militarism has fallen on receptive ears. About 40 percent of Americans identify themselves as born-again Christians. In this election, 23 percent of the electorate was made up of white evangelicals, and 78 percent of them voted for Bush.

And little wonder. Bush and Rove did everything they could to make Election Day a religious occasion. That is why, in one of the debates, Bush signaled (with a mention of the Dred Scott case) that he would appoint anti-abortion justices to the Supreme Court. That is why he came out for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and why Rove helped engineer referendums in eleven states on the issue. In each one, the referendum to ban same-sex marriage won by a lopsided margin.

These issues were a great distraction from the issues of the Iraq War and the economy. In Ohio, Bush prevailed in the county with the greatest unemployment, even though his policies contributed to that unemployment.

The churches played a huge role in driving their followers to the polls. Look back forty-four years to JFK's famous speech about religion and politics, and notice how far the nation has slid since then: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote, where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference.... I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant, nor Jewish, where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches, or any other ecclesiastical source, where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials."

In this election, the churches did everything they could to impose their will on the general populace. And when people weren't getting the message in church, they were fed it intravenously by Rupert Murdoch's Fox TV and by talk radio. This diet of misinformation was not good for the brain.

To a large extent on November 2, not reason but doctrine prevailed. Some rightwing evangelicals claimed that God paved the way for Bush in the White House. "God has given us a reprieve," said James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family.

Such comments suggest we are entering the dusk of the Age of Reason.

Bush did not win by a huge margin, however. Spare us the talk of a mandate. He won 51-48, hardly a landslide. But he is already behaving as though he had one. He's been behaving so for four years, actually, even before he claimed a majority of the popular vote.

And so it is the task of the progressive movement to be an effective force of resistance by demonstrating in large numbers against his policies, by pressuring liberal legislators to hold the line, and by regrouping to fight another day.

Fortunately, the broadly defined liberal and leftwing community in America is more impassioned, determined, organized, and united than any time in six decades. Almost everyone is rowing in the same direction for once.

There is a grand coalition--unionists, civil rights groups, environmentalists, 527s, activists of all stripes, from the old school and from the Internet. People know the stakes, and will keep pulling together.

In addition, the alternative media is stronger than ever before. We can now exchange our messages on websites like Common Dreams and Buzzflash and Truthout and MoveOn. Progressives now have the capacity not only to communicate instantaneously but to organize that way, as well. Democracy Now! and Air America are reaching tens of millions of citizens. And media activism is at an all-time high, with a new mass movement tugging at the trunks of the conglomerates.

On the cultural front, an insurrection is under way: from Michael Moore to John Sayles, from Margaret Cho to Jon Stewart, from Bruce Springsteen to Eminem to Ani DiFranco and the Dixie Chicks.

The defeat in November demands extra measures, however.

In the mainstream media, it is long past time for a progressive TV network to go toe to toe against Fox. Some leftwing groups such as Free Speech TV, have taken pioneering strides. But the financing to compete against Fox is not there yet.

As far as organizing goes, progressives must reinvigorate efforts locally: door to door, in the community, by people who reside there. This is what the Republicans did so effectively. By contrast, the

Kerry forces and the 527s tried to parachute organizers in, just as Howard Dean attempted in Iowa. But people are less likely to be persuaded by total strangers than they are by their neighbors.

And those on the left who are people of faith must speak to their fellow believers in a language they understand. This is the moment for our friends like Jim Wallis of Sojourners and the editors of Commonweal, The Christian Century, and the National Catholic Reporter, who are trying valiantly to persuade others that there is more to the Bible than homophobia and sexism.

Nowhere in the Bible does it say to give alms to the rich and bread to the gluttons. Nowhere does it say to beat ploughshares into swords.

"Moral values" are not the preserve of rightwing evangelicals. Nor are they the preserve of believers.

Those of us on the secular left must insist that we are as moral as anyone in Focus on the Family. We believe in truth and justice and peace and equality and a preserved environment. We practice kindness and compassion. These are all moral values. And we must stand up and claim them.

Black Tuesday was a sobering day. But no one is rolling over dead. In fact, there is a seriousness of purpose, an urgency to gain power, that is amazing to behold.

We will not sulk.

We will not give in to paralytic depression.

We will not leave the country.

We will stay and fight.

And as we do so, we--and well-meaning people the world over--may once again recite the line from Neruda, "America, I do not call your name without hope."
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Title Annotation:Comment
Publication:The Progressive
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2004
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