A little disunity, please. Let’s get divisive, gang. No national healing-raw wounds, anger and resentment. This is the moment for accusations and recriminations.
As per the routine used by countless other defeated politicians, John Kerry wrapped up a quavering call for unity and oneness inside his tardy concession speech. “In the days ahead, we must find common cause. We must join in common effort,” quoth the fallen leader of the failed effort. Yeah, yeah, yeah, link arms with George W. Bush and … and what? Mr. Kerry’s answer was forget politics and take it up with the local divinity.
“I leave this campaign with a prayer that has even greater meaning to me now that I’ve come to know our vast country so much better thanks to all of you, and what a privilege it has been to do so,” he said. “And that prayer is very simple: God bless America.”
Unity and prayer. I cannot think of a less helpful farewell sentiment to leave the many thousands of first-time Democratic volunteers with. Let’s talk about unity and prayer.
First, unity. If you are a professional Democratic politician, “unity” translates into making the best deal for yourself with the other side, double-talking the volunteers who busted their butts for Mr. Kerry and refusing to tolerate, whatever else may come, any kind of looking back on Mr. Kerry and the kind of campaign he ran.
The party leaders-such as they are-knocked out Howard Dean and swung behind Mr. Kerry because they thought he could win. Think back to last winter and early spring, when that argument was repeatedly used for the longtime, non-standout Senator from Massachusetts. He could win and the crazy cuckoo-loco from Vermont had no chance. Pick John Kerry because, the pros said, John Kerry could win-except they didn’t know what they were talking about.
Nevertheless, thousands upon thousands of ardent idealists, out of overweening fear of a second Bush term, went to work for Mr. Kerry. They gave money they often couldn’t afford and time they could have usefully employed in their own strapped private lives. Seldom have so many worked so hard for a candidate so little admired and so greatly unloved. But they were told to put all the doubts aside: Don’t listen when he said things that made his own supporters grind their teeth-just keep your head down and work for him because, said the sleazeheads who run the party, he can win.
Except he didn’t.
Since his winning was the sole and entire raison d’être for Mr. Kerry’s candidacy, his losing has left Democrats and their fellow travelers with a hole in the ground, with nothing. John Kerry was not the champion of a cause which orators can say will go on after him. His cause was beating George Bush and so making sure a clump of hideous, faith-based horrors do not take over the Supreme Court. Duh? This is not a Democratic version of the famous 1964 Goldwater campaign, in which the Republican candidate got skunked but left the G.O.P. with a cause, a goal and a high purpose which would animate hundreds of thousands for years and victories to come. Not the Kerry campaign: It has left us with the hole in the doughnut.
No legacy here save the very dubious political practice of-well, not quite lying, but employing the magician’s art of misdirection and illusion. It was typified in the campaign by the photo op of John Kerry in brand-new hunting togs against a country background, carrying a shotgun, accompanied by a flunky holding a dead goose. I am second to none in my low estimation of the American public, but not even our morons are going to be fooled into thinking the man in the center of that picture is not a liberal on gun control. Shoot the goose, carry the goose. Such pathetic, embarrassed, inept deception.
Democratic candidates like John Kerry hide and run away from the word “liberal.” Sometimes they will do it by substituting the word “progressive,” but more often they do it by donning G.O.P. clothing, which does not become them. Personally, I am not above some outright lying, but only if it gets me where I want to go. If you are going to kid the public, at least win the election. Otherwise, you have your reputation as a liar and nothing to show for it. In this campaign, the candidate and the major politicians fled from being called liberals, which the Republicans did in abundance-except if the heart of the Democratic Party is not liberal, then what the hell is it? Tell us. Who are you? The anti-Bush party. We know what that gets: defeat in the Presidential campaign, losses in the Senate and the House.
From time to time during the campaign, I would blunder onto Ralph Nader talking on C-SPAN. I didn’t listen long: Too much of what he was saying I agreed with, and that was too painful because I was backing Mr. Kerry. Now that it’s over, I wonder what the election and the aftermath would have been like if Mr. Kerry had spoken Mr. Nader’s lines. He would not have won, but the loss would have meant something, just as it would have had Howard Dean been the candidate. Do you remember Mr. Dean’s telling line: “I am the candidate of the democratic wing of the Democratic Party”? Instead we are left with the Bob Shrums, the Terry McAuliffes and the other modern-day smokeless equivalents of the mythic, cigar-chomping backroom bosses of yore. In short, we are left with a small pile of mouse dust.
Unity and prayer. Unity in our situation means endorsing aggression, invasion, torture and assassination. It means indifference to the working poor, the fastest-growing major segment in our population. Small wonder that calls for unity and backing George Bush are coupled with the imperative to pray-but, fellow liberals and lefties, God doesn’t answer Democratic prayers. God is a Republican.
The Christian clergy of the United States was either pro-Bush or silent. When Mr. Kerry was condemned by a group of bishops in his own church, there was no countervailing group of bishops stepping forward to defend him. Organized Christian religion is either controlled by the other side or indifferent, or too weak and spineless to defy Republican godliness. Mr. Kerry, having to deal with the hostility of organized religion, chose to play the other side’s game. You cannot blame him for going publicly pious in self-defense: No significant Democratic voice took on religion. The major figures, as much intimidated as Mr. Kerry, shut up and played pious, too. Mr. Kerry was reduced to telling the world that when he was fighting in Vietnam he carried a rosary in his pocket. How undignified is that? But given how he was left out to dry, he cannot be fairly criticized.
Taking on religion, and the superstition and obscurantism which characterize it, is not the job of somebody running for public office in America. Somebody else had better start fighting back, however, before a new species of the Dark Ages is upon us, and faith-based mobs begin breaking into scientific laboratories and smashing the test tubes. If the Republicans want to talk values, then let us talk values, because some of their values are pretty damn ugly.
Let us talk about religion and reaction in America, now and then. The alliance between the Republicans and the churches is no new thing: The Christian clergy has a long history of siding with the big money and the powerful. Be meek and get your butt kicked. The job of taking on organized religion should not be left to well-meaning but ineffectual groups working on keeping church and state separated. This is much bigger, more insidious and more dangerous than dragging a stone with the Ten Commandments on it in front of the courthouse.
From defeat, if we can take nothing else, take disunity, division and a refusal to shut down the liberal spirit. And one more thing: The next time you hear a politician call for prayer or give a “God bless,” boo!
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