Monday, November 15, 2004

Election Reflections

OK, I've been back from Ohio for almost two weeks now, and I've reached the final stage of dying/grieving:

Stages of Grieving

Denial: Wah the fuh? What about the exit polls, cheating, Diebold, paper trails...?

Anger: The headline from the British Daily Mirror said it all: "How Can 59,054,087 People Be So DUMB?"

Bargaining: OK, OK, just give us the Senate, you can have the Presidency. OK, just a few more Democratic Senators. OK, just save Tom Daschle.

Depression: No, I'm not getting out of bed until October 2008. OK, maybe 2006. I don't care about my job. The kids can go to hell. The dogs can starve. Friends? I don't need no stinkin' friends. Just turn off the damn radio and hide the newspapers -- and sharp objects. Defeating George Bush was my life, and now it's over, gone....

Acceptance: OK, I'm up, I can see clearly now. I solemnly accept the fact that George Bush is President for another four years (barring impeachment)and I accept the fact that I must do everything I can to fight for the other half of this nation who believes that this is the most disasterous administration this side of Herbert Hoover. Just let me at 'em....


Going to Ohio was the perfect cure for Pre-Election Anxiety Disorder. I was working with my old union, AFSCME, talking to locals about making sure members vote, working on phone banks and canvassing door-to-door. It was great to be among union members again -- people who could see through the Bush B.S. and were willing to work hard to get that guy out of the White House. And then there were the thousands of people from elsewhere in the country -- working with their unions or with America Coming Together, taking time off work, away from their families -- because there was nothing more important than getting this crowd out of Washington.

Getting anti-Bush Democrats out to vote, making sure they knew where to vote, and what documents they needed was certainly worthwhile work. I have serious doubts, however, about how persuasive phone-banking and door-knocking is in terms of actually persuading undecided voters to vote for Kerry. People will talk to their family, friends, co-workers, and maybe even union reps about how to vote, but probably not a strange (probably out-of-state) voice on the phone or face at the door reading a canned script. Even having deep-sixed the script, one wonders...

In fact, the most useful "debate" I had with semi-undecided voters was when I visited by daughter one night at college and got into a two-hour debate with some of her Republican-leaning friends. (Unlike me, my daughter is capable of having friends of the Republican persuasion.) They were depressingly uninformed, hadn't watched the debates and had absorbed much of the anti-Kerry propaganda, and they were mostly voting as their parents did. But they were curious, open-minded and not at all unwilling to debate their esteemed elders. They're freshmen. There's hope there.

But I must admit that it was rather shocking while walking precincts to run across the occasional young African American family who had decided to vote for Bush because "we're Christians." The whole values voter thing has been debated up and down since the election. The general consensus seems to now be that "values voters" weren't much more important than economic issue voters (who went for Kerry), or "terrorism voters" (who went for Bush.) I must admit to having my doubts after looking at the turnout in the rural areas of Ohio (in the 80 percents) vs the cities (mid-60's), as well as reports from a colleague working in southern Ohio who reported that most of his "ones" (Strong Kerry) had turned to "fives" after church the Sunday before the election when all of the ministers threatened to resign if everyone didn't vote for Bush.

SEIU Education Rep Deborah Rosenstein wrote an interesting piece about her campaign work in West Virginia. Regarding the "values" issue, she writes:

In almost every conversation I had with Bush supporters -- be they strong or weak supporters-- they would quickly agree with and/or inform me that Bush represents rich people and that they guessed that Kerry would be better on the economy, healthcare, social security, union rights, etc. BUT-- they need to vote for the sake of the unborn babies, for the children who might be hurt by gay marriage, for freedom around the world and for Iraqi people in particular. They wanted me to understand how much they wished, for themselves and their families, that they could vote for Kerry, but they needed to vote for something bigger than themselves-- altruism, as they saw it.


The good news, I think, is that what the 'red' folks have in common, instead of some sort of shared 'culture,' is that they want to vote for something beyond what they perceive to be a narrowly defined self interest... it's our job (progressives, union organizers/educators, etc)-- it seems-- to stand up and say, yes, I vote for more than my paycheck as well, and here's how I define the greater good-- this is what social justice means to me/us, and here's how our values differ from those of Bush and his administration-- what our values are when it comes to children, to people in Iraq, etc. Instead of avoiding topics that aren't narrow union issues, we must do the exact opposite.

Long days, little sleep-- just what the doctor ordered. The bonus was that thanks to some good old friend with whom I stayed, I had excellent dinners instead of the traditional fast food and pizza that we generally subsist on during these campaigns.


I worked with Election Protection on election day. These were the attorneys that would make sure that people -- especially new voters -- weren't harassed and challenged by Republican operatives. The Republicans had been planning to challenge tens of thousands of new voters. Although after much back-and-forth, the courts finally allowed the challenges to proceed, nothing much came of them because some of their pre-election challengers had been threatened with jail for making unsubstantiated accusations.

I was charged with dispatching attorneys around Columbus where voters were having problems. The main problem, however, was not Republican challengers, but long lines in the rain. It wasn't uncommon in the African American parts of town to have two to four hour waits -- in the rain. While we received inspiring reports of voters who were going to vote -- come hell or (literally) high water -- it is clear that many voters with small children or less flexible jobs were not able to vote. How many, no one knows.

One of our attorneys walked across the street to ask a Franklin County Board of Elections official why they weren't better prepared for the predicted high turnout. "Oh, we knew we were going to have a huge turnout, but we didn't have money to buy more voting machines."

The only thing I could think was $200 billion and counting to allegedly bring democracy to Iraq, but not a dime for democracy in America.

Democracy in Gambier...

As I mentioned above, my daughter is a freshman at Kenyon College in Gambier, OH. Aside from being a great school, Kenyon is now nationally (and notoriously) known for having the longest voting lines in the country. My daughter got in line at 11:00 a.m. and voted at 8:00 p.m. The last vote was cast in that polling place at 3:55 a.m.

Politics in Washington

Things here look pretty dreary. But oddly, I'm not as pessimistic as I could be. True, George Bush, who just won one of the closes elections of this century, thinks he has a mandate. But he thought he had a mandate when he lost the last election. More important than what George Bush thinks is whether Democratic Senators -- and most particularly Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) -- believe he has a mandate. (The House is a lost cause, and was a lost cause before the election. The Republicans might as well have all 435 seats for all the effectiveness the D's Tom DeLay allows the Dems to have.)

Ideologically, the Senate isn't that much worse than it was before. Zell Miller was more Republican than Bill Frist. Breaux and Hollings were no great shakes. (Both of them, along with Zell, voted to repeal the ergonomics standard.) Edwards, Graham and Daschle are certainly serious losses, but we gained Obama in Illinois and Salazar in Colorado.

And then there's this analysis by the New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg:
In Thursday’s Times, a front-page news analysis argued that “it is impossible to read President Bush’s reĆ«lection with larger Republican majorities in both houses of Congress as anything other than the clearest confirmation yet that
this is a center-right country—divided yes, but with an undisputed majority united behind his leadership.” That is certainly true in institutional terms.

But it is not true in terms of people, of actual human beings. Though the Republicans won nineteen of the thirty-four Senate seats that were up for grabs last Tuesday, for a gain of four, the number of voters who cast their ballots for Republican Senate candidates was 37.9 million, while 41.3 million voted for Democrats—almost exactly Bush’s popular-vote margin over Kerry. When the new Congress convenes in January, its fifty-five Republicans will be there on account of the votes of 57.6 million people, while the forty-four Democrats and one independent will be there on account of the votes of 59.6 million people. As for the House, it is much harder to aggregate vote totals meaningfully, because so many seats are uncontested. But the Republicans’ gain of four seats was due entirely to Tom DeLay’s precedent-breaking re-gerrymandering of the Texas district lines.
It is clear that our only hope lies with Senate Democrats -- with their ability to use the filibuster to safeguard the rights of the minority. So, as soon as you're finished reading this, dash off a letter or fax to your Senator(s) if they're Democrats, as well as a copy to Harry Reid (D-NV). Four words:

No Mandate. No Honeymoon.


(One of the 57,123,038 people not represented by George Bush)