I understand that this is a (ridiculously) long post. But please read it all – I actually have a point, I promise.

Walter Dean Burnham1

“This was an election of exceptional significance…. All the brakes are off.” Burnham said Bush has come close to achieving “realignment,” a lasting shift in the political balance that could put Republicans in control for a generation.

“I see no immediate prospect for the Democrats to recapture either house of Congress,” he said. “The question is: How long is he going to be able to maintain this majority coalition?”

“This majority isn’t huge, but it’s decisive,” Burnham said. “It looks pretty durable until some major impact hits the system — until something awful happens to sweep them out of office.”

Thomas Frank2

Like many such movements, this long-running conservative revolt is rife with contradictions. It is an uprising of the common people whose long-term economic effect has been to shower riches upon the already wealthy and degrade the lives of the very people who are rising up. It is a reaction against mass culture that refuses to call into question the basic institutions of corporate America that make mass culture what it is. It is a revolution that plans to overthrow the aristocrats by cutting their taxes.

The culture wars, in other words, are a way of framing the ever-powerful subject of social class. They are a way for Republicans to speak on behalf of the forgotten man without causing any problems for their core big-business constituency.

Thomas Friedman3

This was not an election. This was station identification. I’d bet anything that if the election ballots hadn’t had the names Bush and Kerry on them but simply asked instead, “Do you watch Fox TV or read The New York Times?” the Electoral College would have broken the exact same way.

Andrei Cherny4

The overarching problem Democrats have today is the lack of a clear sense of what the party stands for. For years this has been a source of annoyance for bloggers and grass-roots activists. And in my time working for Al Gore and John Kerry, it certainly left me feeling hamstrung.

Paul Krugman5

Does this mean that the Democrats are condemned to permanent minority status? No. The religious right – not to be confused with religious Americans in general – isn’t a majority, or even a dominant minority. It’s just one bloc of voters, whom the Republican Party has learned to mobilize with wedge issues like this year’s polarizing debate over gay marriage.

Bob Herbert6

Here’s my advice: You had a couple of days to indulge your depression – now, get over it. The election’s been lost but there’s still a country to save, and with the current leadership that won’t be easy. Crucial matters that have been taken for granted too long – like the Supreme Court and Social Security – are at risk. Caving in to depression and a sense of helplessness should not be an option when the country is speeding toward an abyss.

Roll up your sleeves and do what you can. Talk to your neighbors. Call or write your elected officials. Volunteer to help in political campaigns. Circulate petitions. Attend meetings. Protest. Run for office. Support good candidates who are running for office. Register people to vote. Reach out to the young and the apathetic. Raise money. Stay informed. And vote, vote, vote – every chance you get.

My mourning is over folks. Like Bob Herbert says, my sleeves are rolled up, I’m ready to rock. I’m not even angry anymore. I’m ready to clean house, I have a plan, and I feel confident. I couldn’t post on this blog right after the election; not because I didn’t have anything to say, but because it just felt too impersonal. I needed to be with friends, to talk to them on the phone, to email, to be assured of sanity in what felt like a time of surreality.

I did also write an email to friends around the world I have met on my travels as well as bloggers around the world who I still have yet to meet explaining my reactions to the elections. You can read that email at Thivai’s blog Dialogic.

Explicalo

Now of course Moreno is right. Rampant liberal humping is the surest way to win our country back. I would gladly offer to do more than my share, but I have promised my wonderful girlfriend to be more respectful on this here blog.

I have read all the same articles you have read. The voting machines, the 18-24 young person vote, the rural vote, fear-mongering, values, wedge issues, war time incumbants don’t lose – trust me, I’ve heard all the explanations. The only interest I have in those explanations though is how they relate to the change we must make.

Smart Marketing

A couple of years ago Apple Computers has an ingenius little marketing campaign. It was called switch and showed – in a series of print, TV, and web advertisements – real customers happy and grateful that they switched to an apple computer. The premise made sense – “we have the better product, but don’t take our word for it, look at them.” (Interesting aside here)

Now, anyone who has an Apple computer does know it’s better than any PC with Windows. Yet still the majority of us use PC’s and Windows because we just don’t know enough about computers and figure we should do what everyone else does. Same with Internet Explorer. I’m happy to say that the majority of people visiting this blog now use Mozilla Firefox (finally!), but let’s face it, you guys were hesitant to make the switch right? – because it was something unfamiliar, something you didn’t know too much about.

This is what I think we need, a giant political marketing campaign of people who make the switch. I mean come on, Michael Moore and a bunch of Hollywood actors simply aren’t cutting it. We need to hear from working class, middle America, worried about their families and we need to hear why they made the switch to Democratic.

How to Talk to a Republican

Looking back on all the thousands of blog, newspaper, and magazine commentaries that I have read this past year, the most important of them all probably came from a Washintonian playwright in the Christian Science Monitor. I wish I could somehow force every single American, every single human to read her piece. (I will copy and paste it below)

There is such a stagnant, ugly, smelly polarization between conservatives and liberals in this country because they don’t know how to talk to each other. All they do is yell, jeer, make fun, sigh, throw arms up, belittle, and condescend. Even humans – both liberal and conservative – now speak in sound byte cliches. Abogado, Moreno and I resort to it all the time on this blog because it’s easy and it’s funny. But it sure as hell isn’t going to change anyone’s mind.

I’ve personally probably convinced about 10 conservatives to become liberals. But I didn’t do it Michael Moore style by telling them they’re stupid and greedy and that they don’t tip at restaurants. It’s about patience. Respect. Listening to their arguments and figuring out how they came to their conclusions. It’s about using their own arguments and values against them and doing it without anger and with compassion. (Even Abogado‘s girlfriend used to be a Republican!)

A sort of revelation came to me while riding my bicycle yesterday. If every democrat were able to help one single republican make the switch … well, it would be overwhelming. And unrealistic. But even just 10% of us, that would be enough. Each one of us needs to make a four year commitment to help at least on Republican see the light. It’s not an easy task – it requires reserves of patience, time, the steady chipping away of stone to find the David inside.

So this is my idea; consider it training. I would like to invite an intelligent conservative Republican who voted for Bush to guest blog with us for a month. And I want us (I’m guessing the readers of this blog are 90% liberals) to try to convince him of his error. But I want insist demand the highest level of respect and thoughtfulness. I only want you leaving a comment on his posts if you have read the Christian Science Monitor article and if you can come up with well thought out, respectful arguments.

Tell me what you think. Is this something we should do?

Now here’s that article:

From the October 20, 2004 edition

By Carla Seaquist
Gig Harbor, Washington

We are, as polls tell us and pundits reinforce, Polarized Nation.

A positive development, however, can be seen in this polarization: Partisanship at the grass roots can be seen, after a long sleep of apathy, as a political awakening. The wake-up call, of course, was 9/11. Not surprisingly, we find ourselves – newly awake politically, yet beset with complexities of mortal urgency – not in a debate but a brawl.

How do we even talk?

We might take a cue from … the French.

The French way of conversation – fueled by a love of ideas – might ease the present impasse and lead to a more nuanced way of thinking necessary in today’s volatile world.

While some Republicans mock Democratic nominee John Kerry for “looking French” and the “surrender monkeys” in Paris for refusing to join our Iraq war, the French way can instruct.

My own instruction, year-long and total-immersion, came in grad school at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Italy when I roomed with a young woman from Lyon. As we ventured into ideas, opinions, just shooting the breeze, I noticed Florence invariably responded to my input with: “That’s interesting. Why do you think that?”

Not to be rude, and because conversation suddenly got fascinating (the ego adores attention), I’d return the favor and ask Florence the evolution of her thought. Et voilà, we were off – to a Year of Living Verbally (as our landlady could attest).

Thought, thinking, the idea: As Florence explained, French conversation stresses the idea, not the speaker or the feelings in play (“It’s safer that way”). Though when we got a good volley going, feeling crept in – to animating effect, not derailing.

Premises were questioned, counterarguments posed (to avoid a false either/or choice): The point being that an idea’s inner logic was to be pursued, rigorously, no matter where it led – ideally to a synthesis – nor how long it took, for it was time bien rempli, well filled.

In pursuit, we’d search for le mot juste. Terms and labels were examined (I can hear Florence now: “Please, what does it mean, ‘surrender monkey’?”). Any idée fixe was flagged.

In this idea-fest, my contribution was the American idea of individualism and fighting Fate. In sum, it was a year well filled.

Too cerebral for americans? I’ll confess I faded occasionally at yet another “Why?” from Florence, especially if late at night.

But for 35 years, our friendship has proved knowing and warm, because it began with – and is maintained by – those crucial words: “That’s interesting. Why do you think that?”

Respectful of thought and thinker, the French way is complexity made pleasurable, fun – in a word, it’s so inviting.

We polarized Americans might adopt it to our benefit – and so might our politicians. Because, think about it: When was the last time your polar opposite asked the evolution of your thought and, fair’s fair, when did the reverse occur? (Time’s up.) “That’s interesting,” focusing on the idea, is far more inviting than the conversation-stopping “That’s stupid,” which focuses on the person, i.e., idiot.

Who knows, that “idiot” might pose a good counterargument.

To find out, let’s assume each other’s patriotism and intelligence, drop the idiotic name-calling and the meaningless labels – what does “latte-drinking liberal” or “right-wing wacko” mean, except lazy thinking? – and ask the scary but key question, “Why do you think that?” (If only our Vietnam veterans, wounded again in the swift-boat “war,” could ask one another this question.)

In turn we need to ask ourselves: Why do I think what I do? Are my opinions received unexamined – from family, peers, political party, the media, the Internet, because “it’s cool”? Because of fear? Or do I examine them, rigorously, from premise to conclusion? Doing so, we’d acquire the habit of self-critique (fine French word) – a habit the entire world needs to learn.

Were we to reach a neutral place, beyond blue-red, we’d engage better the questions of this election and could reexamine our post-9/11 premises: What constitutes “strong” leadership? What is our role in the world – domination or cooperation? How do we combat terrorism – by muscle, preemptive war, diplomacy?

“Debated” in our present polarized state, however, these matters – vital to our survival – have become inflamed.

The importance of rationally engaging policy and premises in a time of fear is clear enough.

What’s also at issue is how we relate to each other – countryman to countryman – and to the world, including notably France. In defense of our old ally I’ll note: Antipathy toward the French “surrender monkeys,” taken to its logical conclusion, is a killing idea.

America, the 9/11 commission states, is in a war of ideas with Islamic extremism. We’re also in a nasty war of ideas with ourselves.

In these struggles we Americans, a people compelled more by energy than logic, could learn from the French, a people compelled by ideas – and history.

Because: To avert tragedy, we need every clear-thinking American head. And the idea we need to address is the greater good.

What do you think?

• Carla Seaquist, a playwright, is author of ‘The Washington-Sarajevo Talks’ and the new play ‘Prodigal.’

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