I wrote the piece below after Bush defeated Kerry in what some might argue could be thought of as his only legitimate election. I'd gone to Missouri to work on turnout and to vote, and had to endure the longest plane ride home I'd ever had (the plane was filled with Bush campaign workers).
I haven't read it since then. And in as much as I voted for Obama this time around it doesn't quite have the sting it did. But it still holds up.
The Day After
As of 10:19am CST the numbers aren’t in all the way. We don’t know about Iowa, we don’t know about Wisconsin, we don’t know about New Mexico. Most importantly we don’t know about Ohio.
But while it is important that Kerry fight to make sure every ballot is counted—regardless of what the pundits say—it appears at least that Bush carried the Electoral College and the popular vote. Legitimately—whatever that means given the archaic methods with which we normally conduct elections. Bush increased percentages among African Americans, among Latinos, and in some instances among white women. Turnout was high—some think it might eclipse the 1960 election as having the highest turnout of the modern period. But whereas the line was that turnout would aid the Democratic Party, it looks like turnout helped both parties. The GOP specifically was able to use their machine to turn out evangelical Christians in significant numbers. Ten or eleven states had referenda on the ballot dealing with the issue of gay marriage—and in each state the proposal went down. While too early to tell whether the two dynamics were connected, I am willing to bet that those states with hot button cultural ballot issues experienced much higher turnout among evangelical Christians in general, and white evangelical Christians specifically. And that this turnout probably aided Bush.
But all of this will be analyzed to death.
What is of central importance to me as an academic question, but also as a real life question is, what should black people do now?
The answer is simple really—do the same thing they would have had to do had Kerry been in office.
Now don’t trip—Bush is not planning to go anywhere near the middle. He didn’t have to during his first four years when he won illegitimately—why would he have to do it now? And as a result people are going to have to fiercely protect the shards of progressive government regulations (in civil rights, worker’s rights, the environment, and other areas) that remain—activity that probably would not have had to happen if Kerry were elected.
But there was absolutely no way Kerry would have taken the House or the Senate back. The GOP still controls most of the governorships. The GOP still controls many state legislatures.
Furthermore, our metropoles—the places where blacks and leftists on average are still crumbling, leaving many people out in the cold, unprotected. Our public schools—at one time regarded as some of the best institutions in the world—are still in shambles. It is not clear to me that a parent of three making the decision to pull their children out of public school for either private options or for homeschooling, would have better immediate options under Kerry than under Bush.
Also, take a look at the electoral map. Now I know there are problems with the winner take all model that smooths over differences in states. Missouri isn’t all red, as both Kansas City and Saint Louis turned out heavy for Kerry, just as New York isn’t all blue (I’m pretty sure that Kerry won NYC while Bush won upstate). But yet and still, with the exception of the Midwest, the Northeastern Shore, and a few states out west, the bulk of the country is blood red. And in as much as we live in the same country, breathe the same air, and drink the same water, at some point we are still going to have to cobble together policy and legislation with the red state denizens.
Finally, the Democratic Party at the elite levels adheres to a neo-liberal ideology at best, expressing a strong belief in the power of markets while acknowledging the need to “tinker around the edges.” While black people are capitalists and support capitalism by and large blacks also acknowledge that an unfettered market usually leads to subjugatory outcomes. Not just discriminatory outcomes, where some people “get stuff” and some people “get less stuff” based on race. Subjugatory outcomes, where some people end up with stuff and with their foot on the necks of people without stuff. Some members of the Democratic Party elite get this, but many don’t.
So even if Kerry would have won, these challenges would still exist. We would still have work to do.
So wWhat next?
People within the Democratic Party are already tossing names out into the ring for the next go around. And at the same time they are having discussions about how to turn the party around. The centrist/conservative wing is already blaming the flaming liberals for deserting the middle, whereas the liberal/leftist wing slices and dices the Republicans in sheeps clothes for abandoning the principles that made the party successful. Usually an even handed account would say something like “both sides have their point.”
Oh hell no.
The centrist/conservatives have been wrong for a while for a number of reasons. The central fact is that the policies of the conservative elite that now dominate political discourse, and every major wing of government at the federal level and at most state levels, has decimated the middle. The “middle class” has no job security. Many of the “middle class” do not have health care. In more and more places the “middle class” are priced out of houses, and in other places the “middle class” have overspent their means in order to buy their way into good schools for their children. Combine this with a strategic campaign to alter the relationship regular citizens have with their government, and fuse this with an apocalyptic twist cribbed from the Left Behind series and what do you get? You get the reverse of a Bell Curve, with the majority of the population placed at one extreme or the other and a thin slice placed in the middle. Given the choice between a real Republican and a fake one, and the average citizen with conservative leanings will only choose the fake one if she has reason to believe that the real Republican is racist. Add in black Republican operatives placed prominently in government, and you take away this fear. The end result is Republican victory.
But the more important result is Conservative policy. So even if the centrists are able to convince people to vote for them instead of Republicans, the policy arena is still tilting towards the right. And that bodes ill for working class citizens of different backgrounds, and it bodes ill for black people of different class backgrounds.
Along this line, It it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that our struggle should not be centered on individual candidates or on some mythical idea of electability that leads to moderate Democratic candidates. I do not even think that our struggle should be centered on political parties. Black people have given their support to the Democratic Party time and time again, and what do we really have to show for it in the way of policy options? Ok, they’ve protected Affirmative Action. That and $3 won’t even get you a cab in NYC. Ok, they have made some black appointments when they’ve gotten in office. Hell, I believe that the more black operatives and appointees the better off we are. But again, going to that family of five making the decision to exit the public school system, what have black appointees done to stem that tide? The Democratic Party is a more natural vehicle for black citizens given our interests in using the government to ameliorate suffering, granted. But it is not the only vehicle, or possibly even the best vehicle. Now in as much as the Democratic Party provides a ready infrastructure at the local level we need to be intimately involved at the block level. But we need new institutions from which we can educate and mobilize citizens, create policy alternatives, and figure out how to build majorities to support them.
In fact, I don’t think our struggle should be centered on parties at all.
The Democratic Party is a useful vehicle, because even though the Democratic Party elites are centrists, the vast majority of Democrats believe in the same ideas of activist government. And the DNC infrastructure is pre-existing and strong in our metropolitan areas. But the central war we are waging now is not an electability war per se, but a policy war with cultural overtones.
Thirty-five years ago conservatives looked at the success of the Anti-War Movement, of the Civil Rights Movement. They looked at the creation of (and success of) the Great Society programs. They believed their country was going to be taken over by the socialists.
They thought there was no way in hell they could retake it. They planned exit options straight up. Trying to figure out which countries they could flee to, which countries had the most opportunity to give them a conservative, racially exclusive, pro-capital environment from which to live, breed, and die.
But a few believed otherwise. They believed that through creating institutions that could emit media messages that could retake the hearts and minds of citizens over time they could not only stem the trend they could reverse it! So they planned. They created organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. They created student publications like the Dartmouth Review and the Michigan Review. And instead of talking about what person was the best hope for them in ’76, and in ’80, they first began to think about innovative policy designs that would take advantage of the existing political context. How for example a tax revolt could be started using popular referenda (see Prop. 13 in California). Then they thought about how the policies could be packaged using terms that resonated with a majority of Americans. And then they thought about how those policies fit in turn with other policies.
Then they thought about what party and what candidates were the most likely to win office and put those policies into place.
Under this strategy, parties become a means to an ends, with the ends being changed government policies as opposed to elected official X, Y, or Z.As per usual it is a bit more complicated than this.
But their blueprint has been highly successful. And it is one that can be duplicated. One that should be duplicated.
The conservatives readily recognized this some thirty years ago. Not all of them of course. If you want to know the truth, thirty years ago most of them were planning straight up exit options. They believed their country was going to be taken over by the socialists and they thought there was no way in hell they could retake it. A few believed otherwise. They planned. They created organizations like the Heritage Foundation. They created student publications like the Dartmouth Review and the Michigan Review. And they began to put the pieces toghet