2004 presidential election is over, and the conservatives,
neo-cons, evangelical Christians and other Bush
supporters are celebrating their victory over John
Kerry and the forces of evil liberalism. Whether
sixty thousand voter registration forms went missing
in Florida, whether African American voters were
threatened and intimidated in more than one state,
and whether voting machines were rigged is really
not important. The right wings long-time dream
of controlling all three branches of the U.S. government
has come to pass. God, according to Mr. Bushs
followers, has spoken. It is time to get on with
the business of overturning Roe vs. Wade,
time to send the Marines into Iraqi cities where
they will destroy the Iraqi resistance, time to
dismantle Social Security, Medicaid, and other programs
that may serve ordinary working class Americans,
particularly the poor.
the aftermath of the election, pundits will ponder
why a politician who lied to the American people
and the world about the reasons for attacking Iraq,
a man who skillfully dodged the Vietnam War, a man
who presided over the loss of millions of American
jobs, a man who seems to hate the environment and
who appears determined to initiate a new arms race,
could garner so much popular support. The progressive
movement will ring its, our, proverbial hands, trying
to understand how anyone could believe that Mr.
Bush stands for anything but arrogance, cruelty,
and imperial wars.
fear that the progressive movement will fail to
ask how we contributed to the election of a man
who has so little to offer our nation or our world.
For the past two years, progressives have gone on
a veritable binge of hatred for Mr. Bush, calling
him stupid and evil, writing books in which Mr.
Bush is portrayed as a fool and a criminal, making
films in which Mr. Bush appears befuddled, ignorant,
and dumb. We have scoffed at Mr. Bush and the born-again
groupies who seem to applaud his every move. Those
people, we said, are dumb and getting dumber. They
watch too much television, theyre brainwashed
by Fox News, they dont read the New York Times,
they never listen to Amy Goodman, theyve never
read Noam Chomsky or Howard Zinn, they arent
impressed by Michael Moore, they are rednecks, boonies,
sports nuts, Bible thumping throwbacks to the Puritans
who first landed on North Americas shores,
proclaiming that God sent them here, then massacring
the Indians who had helped them survive in the wilderness.
these cheese heads dared to attack us with similar
language, we were shocked, appalled, even horrified.
After all, we werent like talk show host Bill
OReilly and other right-wingers who make up
facts and figures, insult their guests, and earn
millions urging people to hate first, think later.
Mr. Bush, we told ourselves, deserved our contempt.
We had a right to call him stupid because, we said,
he really is. We had a right to call Dick Cheney
evil because, we were certain, he really is.
we failed to realize is that calling Mr. Bush retarded
would only raise the ire of people who feel inadequate
and, even, stupid themselves. We failed to understand
that insisting that we support the working class,
while labeling ordinary people dumb and getting
dumber, is not the way to build a broad based movement
for peace and social justice.
Orwell, a great writer and dedicated socialist,
wrote about socialists who would walk into coal
mining towns and announce that when they came to
power there would be no more of beer drinking and
soccer watching nonsense. Orwell marveled at the
lefts extraordinary disconnect between its
own rhetoric and daily lives of working people.
It seems to me that in the aftermath of the 2004
election, the progressive would do well to stand
down from its self righteous soap box and spend
more time listening to people who do not attend
ivy league colleges, may not read The Nation,
do like to drink and go bowling and watch Fox News.
do I dare say these things? A short bio might help.
I grew up in a poor working class family in the
Middle West. My parents were victims of the Great
Depression and never managed to transcend their
fear of losing the small gains they had made. My
kin all lived in tiny houses, little better than
shacks. When he died, my coal miner grandfather
left 19 dollars and a gold watch. My first job out
of high school was cleaning toilets at the Iowa
State fairgrounds. Ive dug ditches, waited
on tables, driven a truck, worked on high-rise construction,
you name it. My three college degrees are from state
colleges, my extended family in the Midwest are
still hard-core working class, with Bush-Cheney
stickers and American flags plastered on their cars.
They are not born-again Christians and they are
not stupid, even though they wouldnt know
Howard Zinn from the mailman.
tens of millions of Americans and, Im sure,
people throughout the world, Im frightened
and discouraged. Not simply because a group of ideological
fanatics has managed to take control of all three
branches of the American government, but because,
I fear, the progressive movement will console itself
with rhetoric and platitudes, rather than doing
the kind of soul searching that we need to do in
order to build a world that works for everyone.
The truth be told, the right wing knows the American
people far better than we on the left do. Mr. Bush
and friendswealthy, elitist, arrogant, self-serving,
anti-democratic men and womenunderstand the
hopes and dreams and fears of ordinary people, and
they have no qualms about lying to and manipulating
good, hard working, Americans. If the progressive
movement hopes to reclaim our nation from Mr. Bush
and company, we will need to spend more time listening
to, rather than talking about, and all too often
down to, the working class.