Monday, November 01, 2004

A-ha, the election is tomorrow. I just want to say that I hope that, despite the dismal state of our electoral process, you find a candidate that you feel advances your interests, and that you vote for him. You may, however, rationally and reasonably choose not to vote. I respect that - I don't believe it is wrong for you not to vote, but at least have a good reason. Don't be lazy. At least claim you were hung over or something.

I have to admit that I really don't blame anybody for voting for Kerry as a "fuck you" to Bush, SO LONG AS YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU ARE DOING. Obviously, if you agree with Kerry's politics, that's a different matter, but if you find yourself largely siding with Kerry based on opposition to Bush, remember this: basically, what you are saying is that you have given up on the electoral process as a way to advance your interests. The only thing left for you to do is vote for whoever will harm your interests the least. You have no idea what Kerry will do - in fact, he will likely formulate similar policies as Bush on the so-called "War on Terror" (I hate that term because war IS terror, and because it sounds stupid) - but you know that it can't be worse than what Bush is doing. You have abandonded the concept that voting is supposed to be for the best man, and now you embrace the concept that voting is about choosing which poison is least damaging.

Unlike many libertarians, I do not say this contemptuously or sarcastically. This is a valid motivator of political action. However, it should be understood for what it is. All this hype about voting has made it appear that just filling out a ballot comprises your "duty" as a citizen. I am not so ignorant that I believe voting is some sort of moral or quasi-legal mandate, but I can at least safely propose that there is more to being an active citizen than simply showing up on November 2. Some honest reflection on your interests, your ideals, and your principles is warranted before choosing the most powerful man on earth.

And my fear is that many voters are going to the polls informed only by the opinions of Sean Hannity or Paul Krugman without doing the serious thinking about where they fit into the abstract politics. These issues are not just nuanced, as the Democrats repeat - the nuances of these issues break down into more than just two mutually exclusive sides, as many in the media would have you believe. Where you stand politically cannot be determined by simply reading a newspaper or watching Crossfire. You have to think about it, and sadly I think popular media does a better job of soliciting kneejerk politics than actually getting people to think. Those who have thoughtfully considered the options and made an informed choice seem to be the minority, but that could just be me being snobby. I don't know.

If you're in the Kerry camp on this basis, you should read these articles by Arthur Silber, a man whose thoughts I have come to admire greatly:

Why I Support Kerry, Part I: Fear and the Desire for Revenge Are the Primary Motivators of our Age

It is a superb article about the psychology behind the administration's politics these past four years. Particularly compelling is the cited Rolling Stone article where the author, Matt Taibbi, goes undercover to discover the true motivations of the Bush supporters. I like his reasoning:

These critics do a terrific job of mocking his mental deficiencies and dismissing his supporters as hapless morons, but they do not do a very good job of explaining the nature of his support. The few dissident commentators who bother trying to explain the Bush phenomenon seldom do more than reach for the nearest Marx-inspired academic cliche. They will tell you, for instance, that Republicans are a vast intellectual underclass cynically manipulated by the rich through a mesmerizing cocktail of yahoo enthusiasms, xenophobic fears and ancient superstitions -- and those same people will insist, if forced to offer an opinion on the subject, that one should feel sorry for most of them.

This is the wrong approach. As a professional misanthrope, I believe that if you are going to hate a person, you ought to do it properly. You should go and live in his shoes for a while and see at the end of it how much you hate yourself.

This was what I was doing down in Florida. The real challenge wasn't just trying to understand these Republicans. It was to become the best Republican I could be.

There's a sort of sad anecdote about "the black Republican" that always gets called to "start clubs", and I thought this tidbit was particularly interesting:
During my time on the campaign, I noticed an unusual phenomenon. The more involved a person was with the campaign, the more likely he was to be politically moderate. Most of the core group of our office -- Vienna, Rhyan, Ben, Don -- were quietly pro-choice or socially liberal in some other respect. It was the casual volunteers and the people whose only involvement was a bumper sticker who were likely to rant about liberals being traitors and agents of Islamo-Fascism who should be exiled from the country or jailed, etc.
Wierd, huh?

I can't believe that this enlightened commentary is coming from Rolling Stone. Hats off to Matt. If we do for some reason witness increased turnout from voters my age, I think Stone's coverage of the election should get some of the credit. And you'll love the conclusion he comes to as a result of his experience:

One of the great cliches of liberal criticism of the Christian right is the idea that these people are wrongheaded because they profess to know the will of God. H.L. Mencken put that one best, and perhaps first: "It is only the savage, whether of the African bush or the American gospel tent, who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely."

These criticisms sound like they make sense. But I think they are a little off-base. The problem not only with fundamentalist Christians but with Republicans in general is not that they act on blind faith, without thinking. The problem is that they are incorrigible doubters with an insatiable appetite for Evidence. What they get off on is not Believing, but in having their beliefs tested. That's why their conversations and their media are so completely dominated by implacable bogeymen: marrying gays, liberals, the ACLU, Sean Penn, Europeans and so on. Their faith both in God and in their political convictions is too weak to survive without an unceasing string of real and imaginary confrontations with those people -- and for those confrontations, they are constantly assembling evidence and facts to make their case.

But here's the twist. They are not looking for facts with which to defeat opponents. They are looking for facts that ensure them an ever-expanding roster of opponents. They can be correct facts, incorrect facts, irrelevant facts, it doesn't matter. The point is not to win the argument, the point is to make sure the argument never stops. Permanent war isn't a policy imposed from above; it's an emotional imperative that rises from the bottom. In a way, it actually helps if the fact is dubious or untrue (like the Swift-boat business), because that guarantees an argument. You're arguing the particulars, where you're right, while they're arguing the underlying generalities, where they are.

Once you grasp this fact, you're a long way to understanding what the Hannitys and Limbaughs figured out long ago: These people will swallow anything you feed them, so long as it leaves them with a demon to wrestle with in their dreams.

And the next article by Silber:


Silber makes a great point about the administration's willingness to disregard reality in order to pursue their policies. In fact, you should read this Suskind article to get a really good journalistic feel for what is going on here:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn't like about Bush's former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House's displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn't fully comprehend -- but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide said that guys like me were ''in what we call the reality-based community,'' which he defined as people who ''believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.'' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. ''That's not the way the world really works anymore,'' he continued. ''We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.''

Who besides guys like me are part of the reality-based community? Many of the other elected officials in Washington, it would seem. A group of Democratic and Republican members of Congress were called in to discuss Iraq sometime before the October 2002 vote authorizing Bush to move forward. A Republican senator recently told Time Magazine that the president walked in and said: ''Look, I want your vote. I'm not going to debate it with you.'' When one of the senators began to ask a question, Bush snapped, ''Look, I'm not going to debate it with you.''

And here's a great excerpt that deals with his "strong leadership":
A few months later, on Feb. 1, 2002, Jim Wallis of the Sojourners stood in the Roosevelt Room for the introduction of Jim Towey as head of the president's faith-based and community initiative. John DiIulio, the original head, had left the job feeling that the initiative was not about ''compassionate conservatism,'' as originally promised, but rather a political giveaway to the Christian right, a way to consolidate and energize that part of the base.

Moments after the ceremony, Bush saw Wallis. He bounded over and grabbed the cheeks of his face, one in each hand, and squeezed. ''Jim, how ya doin', how ya doin'!'' he exclaimed. Wallis was taken aback. Bush excitedly said that his massage therapist had given him Wallis's book, ''Faith Works.'' His joy at seeing Wallis, as Wallis and others remember it, was palpable -- a president, wrestling with faith and its role at a time of peril, seeing that rare bird: an independent counselor. Wallis recalls telling Bush he was doing fine, '''but in the State of the Union address a few days before, you said that unless we devote all our energies, our focus, our resources on this war on terrorism, we're going to lose.' I said, 'Mr. President, if we don't devote our energy, our focus and our time on also overcoming global poverty and desperation, we will lose not only the war on poverty, but we'll lose the war on terrorism.'''

Bush replied that that was why America needed the leadership of Wallis and other members of the clergy.

''No, Mr. President,'' Wallis says he told Bush, ''We need your leadership on this question, and all of us will then commit to support you. Unless we drain the swamp of injustice in which the mosquitoes of terrorism breed, we'll never defeat the threat of terrorism.''

Bush looked quizzically at the minister, Wallis recalls. They never spoke again after that.

You don't know whether to laugh or cry, do ya?

Here is an excerpt from Silber's conclusion, which while regrettable for the hopelessness it conveys, is at least logical:

According to Blair, we act out of motives arising from and for the sole benefit of the ideas in themselves -- ideas as Platonic Forms, existing in some ethereal dimension, with no connection whatsoever to actual human beings, whether they are free or not, and whether they are alive or dead. This kind of mentality -- this inability to connect ideas to reality or to facts, or to tangible results in this world -- makes unimaginable horrors possible. If the number of dead do not matter -- which they do not, by this method of calculation -- no pile of corpses, no matter how high, and no amount of devastation no matter how horrifying will deter zealots like Blair and Bush from continuing on their path of destruction. And if they are undeterred, that destruction could easily encompass large parts of the globe before they are done.

As I said at the outset of this essay, I see no evidence that Kerry is devoted in this manner to fracturing the necessary connection between ideas and the facts of this world -- and I see no evidence that Kerry has, on principle, rejected facts, logic and evidence. But Blair and Bush have, as they have repeatedly demonstrated, over a lengthy period of time and over a range of issues. For me, that is a profound, unanswerable argument for opposing Bush's reelection in every way imaginable. I repeat: this kind of psychology, one which explicitly refuses to take note of facts, of human rights, of human happiness, and of human life, is dangerous in a way that cannot be tolerated -- not if we wish civilization to have a chance of surviving.

So I will vote for Kerry, simply because I hope for Bush to be defeated, and to be defeated in even a crushing manner. I do not expect that to happen, and it is even possible that Bush might win. Under other circumstances, I would vote for Michael Badnarik, the Libertarian Party candidate. His positions on many issues, including foreign policy, are infinitely preferable to Kerry's in my view. But the danger Bush represents is not a common danger: it is the danger of a devoted, completely sincere zealot, who has intentionally and explicitly renounced the value of reality and of human life. For Bush, the ideas he has chosen -- which should not properly be called "ideas," since they are only notions he has absorbed by means of "instinct," "guts" or "faith," but certainly not by means of thinking -- could lead him to destroy the world, believing he is fighting for "freedom" every step of the way. I acknowledge that others might disagree with me about the wisdom of voting for Kerry. But there is one disagreement which I do not view as acceptable, or justifiable, not in human society: a vote for Bush is a vote for the possibility of ultimate destruction, and a vote for a methodology which makes such destruction far too likely, since it is explicitly grounded in the renunciation of thought and the value of facts.

I can't blame anybody for feeling like the ideals of our democratic republic have been wholly corrupted. I can't blame anybody for voting for the lesser of two evils in the midst of SO MUCH EVIL over the past four years. I can, however, at least shed a little light on your own decision making process, and maybe mine as well. I want us all to feel as if our voices count, but I also want all of us to speak with clear voices. There has been so much distortion, nonsense, and fluff in this election that I can only trust in each of my readers - yes, all two of you - to do what you think is right, and to act on emotion only after a sincere look at your own interests. There are too many people throwing away their power, not by voting, but by taking their positions on issues according to the dichotomies set up by the elites on both sides of the political game. Make your decision from a place of reason and true, informed love of your country and that for which it at least once stood.

And with that, I conclude the longest blog post ever. Shout out to all the BP peeps who made the Halloween show so much fun. I dressed up as Captain Murphy from Sealab 2021, but we also had a Master Shake from Aqua Teen Hunger Force. That's mah word! Now vote or P. Diddy will KILL YOU!!!

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Written on Monday, November 01, 2004