November 05, 2004

The Long March

I've written, and deleted, a hell of a lot about the election. It's hard for those of us in the reality-based community to know what to do, when we don't know why we lost. For instance the "moral values" story everyone (including me) has been buying seems to be wrong, or more exactly incapable of explaining the difference between 2004 and 2000. The many eloquent and outraged words written in condemnation that story has inspired are still valid, because the idea that a sixth of the electorate can look at the moral values of Abu Ghraib and extraordinary rendition, and like what it sees, is an abomination. But it may not be much of a basis for strategy. Given that my ideas and feelings are sloshing around from hour to hour, I won't subject you to them.

Even if we'd managed to get the administration of Abu Ghraib out of office, there was no way we were going to win a Congressional majority. At best a Kerry administration would have been able to bind up some of the wounds Bush inflicted on the body politic, and limit the ability of DeLay, Hastert, and the rest of the Congressional GOP to open new ones. Either way, there was only one path forward. We need to organize, and persuade, and organize, and win over the young, and organize. This will be slow, difficult, and often ugly. In the long run, the social and demographic trends are favorable (as Timothy Burke says, in a very good essay whose conclusions I don't accept, we are stealing their children), but social shifts don't automatically translate into political effectiveness.

Power grows from collective action, which in turn depends on institutions rooted in social interactions. The other side has more invested in politically-mobilized institutions, and has quite systematically worked to suppress some of our most effective institutions, such as unions. We need to build new ones, expand the ones we have, and make them all more effective, and more independent of financial interests who are at best ambiguously tied to our interests and values. (By which I mean not so much Mr. Soros as K Street.) I think that's happening (so do some people with actual knowledge of the subject), but, again, it's not automatic, because nothing is automatic. Maybe (as Yglesias has suggested) blogs and on-line organizations like MoveOn can be useful here; we'll see. But we have to organize, and reach out (where we can without dishonor), and organize some more.

I'm bad at this kind of work, not least because I hate it. I've been salving my conscience by giving money to support the people who actually do it. But right now the alternatives look awful; I can imagine watching the United States of America turn into Iran with global military hegemony. Of course I don't know that will happen if Heartlandia prevails over Bicostia. Nobody knows what will happen, not even conditionally. The mark of a false prophet is that he pretends to foretell the future, while the true prophets remind us that what is required of us is to do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly. Right now, that means organizing.

When I had no roof I made
Audacity my roof. When I had
No supper my eyes dined.

When I had no eyes I listened.
When I had no ears I thought.
When I had no thought I waited.

When I had no father I made
Care my father. When I had
No mother I embraced order.

When I had no friend I made
Quiet my friend. When I had no
Enemy I opposed my body.

When I had no temple I made
My voice my temple. I have
No priest, my tongue is my choir.

When I have no means fortune
Is my means. When I have
Nothing, death will be my fortune.

Need is my tactic, detachment
Is my strategy. When I had
No lover I courted my sleep.

(Robert Pinsky, "Samurai Song")

The Continuing Crisis; The Beloved Republic

Posted at November 05, 2004 19:00 | permanent link

Three-Toed Sloth