Over the past several days I have spent a fair amount of time talking my Democratic friends down off of ledges. I don’t think that it is that they lost so much as it is that they are surprised that they didn’t win. As Ronan’s recent post indicates several of them expected their understanding of how to view Bush to become the mainstream view once people did their research. As Stuart’s recent post indicates many people failed to do just that (come to the Democratic understanding, not do research…at least, I think so). Why?
I think I have part of the answer. A common Democratic complaint is that Bush is using the war as a smokescreen to distract the country from his real agenda. Similarly, I have been told that the administration has adopted a “religious” agenda in an effort to distract voters from the issues that it really cares about. In both cases the implication seems to be that the religious and martial stances that have been taken are ridiculous, unworthy of serious consideration. Thoughtful reflection on these stands, is seems to have been supposed, would reveal their inadequacy. It simply didn’t occur to most Democrats that their arguments could be considered and then rejected.
Part of this is due to the tenor of the age. When one’s chief critics are Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, it is possible to assume that no-one is seriously considering your arguments. But if the response, ultimately, is to come up loud-mouth pundits of your own (albeit funnier ones), you have failed to make your point. Hoping that the public will treat your opponent’s hare-brained ideas with some incredulance, while assuming that they will naturally consider all of your ideas thoughtfully is arrogant. Kerry, ultimately, in establishing why we shouldn’t believe in Bush, never established why we should believe him. In a time of crisis, people seem to have preferred the cretin they know to the enigma who says he can do better.
Then again, perhaps people considered the issues. I read an article in Time before the election, one of the thousands of point-counterpoint issue statements that is supposed to distinguish the candidates. In more than one, I found Kerry’s assertions naive and occasionally dangerous. Certainly his assurance that he would protect Social Security was just as far-fetched as Bush’s reliance on tax cuts to close the budget deficit. I found no compelling reasons to vote for Kerry (as opposed to against Bush, for which there are several reasons) and, therefore, did not vote for him.
Recently, I read that some Democrats want the party to become more overtly religious. The argument could go that Bill Clinton was nothing if not religious. This all seems to be missing the point. The “Moral Value” voter voted for Bush not (necessarily) because that thought him more moral. They voted for him because they felt that the Democrats were trying to force a “progressive” social agenda down their throats in the same way that Bush’s neo-cons are using his religious stances and his wartime agenda to smokescreen attempts to reduce environmental standards and corporate regulation. As the elections have shown, the majority of people are worried about the social implications of “gay marriage”. Even Clinton understood the political expediency of this issue, which is why he signed the Defense of Marriage Act. The question is were Democrats exploiting a dubious presidency to put forward a candidate who would push their social ideals? Honestly, I doubt it. But for the “Moral Values” people, this seems like a real possibility.
Coming from the South, I have learned that you cannot enforce morality. Jacksonville, FL, that bastion of political correctness, is still significantly segregated some fifty years after Brown vs. Board of Education. I suppose that it is good that segregation is no longer enforced by law, but people seem to have self-selected it. The reason that the Democrats lost is that they have self-selected in the same way. If you never take your opponent seriously, you will always lose. And you will never take your opponent seriously until you seriously consider what they have to say. Why were the Democrats surprised? They never stopped to think that it was possible that people might think they were wrong.