Four More Years. What Now?
Election Day 2004 was bleak for liberals and progressives. Rumors of ballot-tampering aside, we weren’t even robbed this time; we got beat. Their machine drummed up more voters than ours did. So we’re stuck with “four more years" and whatever comes with it.
But let’s face it. “Anybody but Bush” was irresponsible. Kerry was attractive enough; he might even have been a good President. But where were the powerful reasons to vote for him? Kerry lost because he did not have, and therefore could not articulate, a persuasive program to meet the needs of the people he was offering to lead.
Neither candidate said much; but more Americans liked Bush than liked Kerry. So they voted for empire, strong-arm solutions, less taxes, decidedly un-Christlike “Christian values,” going it alone at whatever cost. The weeks since have been like the lull before a storm; but Inauguration Day is now past, and the storm is upon us. What to do now?
The answer is we’ve got to get serious about being and building a political opposition in this country. To do that we have to learn to take the Republican majority seriously, as fellow-citizens and as political opponents.
That means quit thinking of them in caricatures. Seek every opportunity for honest dialog with Republicans. Look for the odd patches of common ground on which to work together. Listen carefully when they talk; learn what we can from them.
Republicans are serious about politics. Their principles are explicit. They’ve stayed the course since 1964, while most grassroots Democrats dithered on principle and sought the quick fix. Now they are so firmly in power that they can draft the Democrats’ platforms as well as their own. It will be hard work to catch up. But since their program is both bad for most Americans and unsustainable, by persisting we can certainly prevail. Here are ten suggestions for progressive action in 2005:
1) Quit hoping for a candidate to set things right. It won’t happen. Turn off the TV and start reading. Get well informed, and stay informed on the issues that matter most to you. Look for opportunities to discuss those issues with others and hear what they have to say.
2) Join with well-informed and thoughtful friends to sketch up planks for the New Democratic Platform for an America to be Proud Of, an America that is truly safe because it works for all. Talk the planks up; write letters about them; organize around them. Help frame the political discussion. Next time, every Democrat candidate should know what we expect all of them to work and speak out about.
3) The Platform we need is radical, not “moderate.” It goes to the roots of each of our serious problems, and draws on the best available thinking about them. It proposes concrete, reasonable, understandable changes -- even where they do not yet seem feasible. Bubbling up from the grassroots, it can change our political discourse and sense of the possible, rather than adapting to them as party platforms have done up to now.
4) Forget third parties and independents. Join the Democrats; form progressive caucuses; network with others. Take back the Party, little by little, from the Republicrats and the fat cats.
5) Quit beating up on other liberals, leftists, and progressives. Be a peacemaker. Seek alliances; join and help build coalitions. Support trade unions and all other movements for justice and equality. Write letters; join picket lines. Where progressive officials have already been elected, engage them. Make concrete suggestions to them rather than waiting to be “led.” Write frequently to thank them for good work, or to offer constructive criticism.
6) Recruit smart, articulate new candidates who support the New Democratic Platform at every level: women, people of color, working people. Join with them; help them to do the right thing and stay the course. An effective opposition looks different, talks different, and can win elections on the strength of its Platform alone.
7) Take the concern of most Americans with “moral values” seriously. Read George Lakoff, Moral Politics: How Conservatives and Liberals Think (Chicago, 2002) & his Don’t Think of an Elephant (Chelsea Green, 2004). We all live by moral values. Let’s talk about them openly wherever there’s a chance.
8) Live simply; practice voluntary self-taxation for peace and justice. Every group working for a better America and world needs our money.
9) Shun conspiracy theories. Conspiracies are sometimes real enough; but ranting about them is a dead end. We seldom learn the truth; and when we do, the media ignore it. Talking conspiracy spreads fear and despair. Our message is confidence, determination and hope.
10 Talk hope where others talk fear. Put hope into practice. We invite others to join in tackling the hard work it will take to make our sick country safe, just, egalitarian, well-educated, healthy, strong and free. We intend to keep at this work over the long haul. We have to keep at it – for the kids, the grandkids, and all who are yet to come.
David G. Sweet
1322 Laurel St.
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
Prof. Emeritus of History, University of California, Santa Cruz; founder & editor, http://www.mbeaw.org; board member, Santa Cruz & Northern California ACLU, Women’s Empowerment Network & Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County.