BROOKLYN, N.Y.-7:30 a.m., Tuesday, Nov. 2, Hicks Street, Brooklyn Heights: Hamlet in the voting booth. My hand hovered over the Kerry lever as a small voice from within asked: Do you really want to do this?
In the end, I did, if only because I had indicated for Kerry in this space, and to have voted otherwise would have been hypocritical. The late Judith Shklar observed that hypocrisy is a small price to pay for a civil society, but there are times … well, I can think of few things in my life-attending night-school accounting classes during my first months on Wall Street in 1961 does come to mind-that I have done with less enthusiasm.
Why the hesitation? Off its record so far, by any conventional yardstick of success and failure, in whatever sphere of government you care to point to, the Bush administration deserved the sack. I don’t hate the President; I find him goofy, and sometimes ominously so, especially in his “George of Arc” iteration, but I truly, deeply loathe and fear Dick Cheney-with an animus that passeth all rationalization. These are good and plentiful reasons for flicking the Kerry lever without a second thought, notwithstanding that John Kerry’s campaign featured a good half-dozen of the most awkward, self-ridiculing, politically obtuse moments I expect to see in my lifetime: “reporting for duty,” for openers, but let’s not forget wind-surfing, the bicycle photo op in a helmet that made Michael Dukakis look like Patton by comparison, and the goose-shooting. Hang these together in a gallery and you have a regular Sistine Chapel of condescension.
Still, I pressed for the Dems, and then all day long felt like a complete butthead. Uneasy, wan and palely loitering?
How come? Not because the election might go this way or it might go that way, but because I was having trouble getting a handle on what was going on with me.
The next morning, when it was clear that Kerry had lost, I wasn’t devastated. I didn’t get on the phone and call my friends and proclaim my depression and that I was pricing expatriate accommodation in Goa. I wasn’t happy that Bush had won, mind you. For different reasons, as I saw it, neither ticket was that much the lesser of two evils; each, in its own way, was unspeakable. I do have to say that when I think of all the people who will not be getting jobs in a Kerry administration, and of all the media types who’ve had to shove their expertise back up where it came from, it brings a certain glow to the heart. This isn’t Schadenfreude talking-simply a considered opinion that the names one heard bandied about are as equally unfit to govern as the present lot, or as the purported successors of some of the latter.
And then I finally got it: I had voted for Kerry with my mind but not with my gut, and the latter subsystem-located on my anatomy just under where my Yale Phi Beta Kappa key would hang if I wore a watch chain-was letting me hear about it.
Here’s what I mean. The way I see it, people who checked “Kerry” were by and large voting for their man or against his opponent, for reasons of policy or personal animus. But it’s my belief that the people who voted for Bush were not only voting for their man or against his opponent for this or that reason, they were also voting their feelings. And I suspect that for those voters, it wasn’t about the two candidates per se or the issues; it was a vote against the sort of people they think of as supporting Kerry. They-including, it would seem, some three million middle-of-the-roaders and Democrats-were actively, awarely voting against Blue America.
That’s about 50 million additional reasons to pull the red lever. In a way, I sympathize. I can’t stand 90 percent of the people I think of when I think of Blue America-which is not to say that I relish watching the country turned over to a bunch of Jesus-freaking rednecks bearing AK-47’s, which is what Blue America’s condescending, self-congratulatory, knows-best interfering, cynical post-mortems claim has happened.
I have some idea of how Red America might feel. A month or so ago, I testified at a City Council subcommittee hearing in favor a plan that would place a new apartment building close to the Brooklyn Bridge. Brooklyn needs capital investment; this neighborhood needs people, because people create jobs, savings, commercial diversity. Capital transformed this neighborhood, and it needs all the capital it can attract to become dynamic and independent of Manhattan handouts. But sure enough, down they came from the Heights, with a thunderous rustle of twin-sets and a clanking of circle pins and a shimmer of petitions, the bien-pensant buttinsky brigade, cooing about threats to “DUMBO’s historic character”-which until a few years ago consisted of dark, dangerous, dirty streets lined with dilapidated warehouses occupied by squatters-moaning about “iconic views” and “the light on Water Street” (where I live) and so on.
This was Blue America at work, where butting in is the point of the republican exercise, where people routinely speak of someone else’s property in the first-person possessive. I don’t want to see where I live turned into Sag Harbor, that vicious little village where the notion of private property has been all but extinguished, but that’s what’ll happen if this continues.
Now this may be a point lost on, say, The Nation , which has followed up the election with a stirring summons to “Stand and Whine.” It may be lost on the folks we’re given to read about in the Styles section of The Times , to which I admit I turn first thing each Sunday-acting, I expect, on the same instinct that, when I enter a zoo, sends me straight to the reptile house. It may be lost on the crowd at Michael’s-which, if Allah is just, Al Qaeda is targeting as we speak. But it’s the impulse that I think drove a plurality of three and a half million Red America voters to vote for the President, in spite of all the perfectly rational arguments adduced by talking head after talking head that a Bush vote would be against their every material and physical interest. This time around, large parts of Brooklyn went “Red”-like the apple of the Duchess’ eye.
I think I get this-because it’s the way I feel 99 percent of the time when I listen to my gut. Then I loathe Blue America, too. If I put the “issues” to one side, I don’t want to vote for someone who preaches about economic justice from the seat of an $8,000 bicycle, who pays a lower effective rate of tax than people with a thousandth part of his family income while moaning in that saggy way of his about “unfair tax cuts,” and I don’t want to be lumped with those who do. Blue America’s all for moral laissez-faire and all against economic laissez-faire, at least as these pertain to the life of the ordinary man who can’t tell one cut of sashimi from another, and I don’t think that’s a workable formula for political success.
Of course, the beautiful irony in all this is that the post-election Blue America hand-wringing in effect is saying that 2004 is the result, politically speaking, of the dumbing-down of America. But who orchestrated that dumbing-down? Who puts the crap on the airwaves and in print and in the museums and on video screens? Who preaches that everything’s relative, that if everyone’s lying, no one is? Who worships the 18-34 demographic? Who supplies the in-and-out stock-market culture that rules the economy and gave us George Soros? Where’d the people come from who really did Enron or Arthur Andersen?
Blue America, that’s who, that’s where. And why not, they’ll tell you? Blue Americans have every bit as much a right to make a good living as some schlub in a pick-up truck. More right, probably-because they went to Harvard. And if dumbing-down and bottom-line kiting pay for the Hummer necessary to make the fraught journey from Lily Pond Lane to Citarella to pick up the baby bok choy, what’s the big deal? To the superior go the spoils.
And finally, there’s this to consider: Blue America is, of course, the seat of “Blame America,” the point of which, I guess, is that you reap what you sow. Well, take a look in the mirror, assholes.