On Totally Losing Perspective

I had this turly over-the-top article from Mark Morford in SF Gate forwarded to me via email, with the forwarding comment "This about sums it up..." After today, I will return to more business topics from politics, but this article gives me the excuse to write my own post-election recap.

Its hard to do this article justice in excerpting it, so I encourage you to follow the link above and read the whole thing, but hear are some choice highlights (bold emphasizes some particular passages I will comment on)

And now Kerry's conceded and the white flag has been raised and we are headed toward the utterly appalling notion of another four years of Bush and another Republican stranglehold of Congress and repeated GOP chants of "More War in '04!"

Which is, well, simply staggering. Mind blowing. Odd. Gut wrenching. Colon knotting. Eyeball gouging. And so on.

You want to block it out. You want to rend your flesh and yank your hair and say no way in hell and lean out your window and scream into the Void and pray it will all be over soon, even though you know you're an atheist Buddhist Taoist Rosicrucian Zen Orgasmican and you don't normally pray to anything except maybe the gods of really exceptional sake and skin-tingling sex and maybe a few luminous transcendental deities that look remarkably like Jenna Jameson.

It simply boggles the mind: we've already had four years of some of the most appalling and abusive foreign and domestic policy in American history, some of the most well-documented atrocities ever wrought on the American populace and it's all combined with the biggest and most violently botched and grossly mismanaged war since Vietnam, and much of the nation still insists in living in a giant vat of utter blind faith, still insists on believing the man in the White House couldn't possibly be treating them like a dog treats a fire hydrant....

This election's outcome, this heartbreaking proof of a nation split more deeply and decisively than ever, it simply reinforces the feeling among much of the educated populace: It is a weirdly embarrassing time to be an American. It is jarring and oddly shattering and makes you rethink what it really means to be a part of this country. The answer: It doesn't mean much at all. Not really. Not anymore...

Maybe we're not all that sophisticated or nuanced or respectable a nation as we sometimes dare to dream....

Maybe, in fact, we're regressing, back to the days of guns and sexism and pre-emptive violence, of environmental abuse and no rights for women and a sincere hatred of gays and foreigners and minorities. Sound familiar? It should: it's the modern GOP platform....

So then, to much of Europe, Russia, Asia, Canada, Mexico, the Middle East -- to all those dozens of major world nations who want Bush out almost as much as the educated people of America, to you we can only say: We are so very, very sorry. We don't know how it happened, either. For tens of millions of us, Bush is not our president and never will be. That's how divisive. That's how dangerous. That's how very sad it has become.

We are not, with another four years of what we just endured, headed toward any sort of easing of bitter tension, a sense of levity, or sexual openness, or true education, or gender respect, or a lightness of spirit and of step.

It is important to recognize that this article is insane. Not slightly over the top or humorous exaggeration, but a truly insane loss of perspective.

I say this not because it is critical of Bush "“ over a few beers we could spend quite a while discussing my problems with this administration. I mean insane because it represents a total freaking loss of perspective. America is not heading into a new dark age. Our government is cleverly set up to prevent one man from doing so. For example, with the NRA in the 1930's, we actually abandoned free markets in favor of command and control socialism (in a very equivalent form to national socialism and the corporate state in Nazi Germany at the time); however, the Supreme Court struck it down, and the US, like it often does, eventually adopted the best of this act and other New Deal legislation (collective bargaining and the safety net) while leaving the "president as economic dictator" aspects in the dustbin of history.

This election is about a flawed Republican defeating a flawed Democrat, after replacing a flawed Democrat in office four years ago. I wish I had my email from 1996 archived "“ I received 3 or 4 emails just like this one, including the sky-is-falling end-of-the-world tone from conservative friends flabbergasted that that perjuring-philandering Clinton could be re-elected (and who, ironically, by passing NAFTA, welfare reform, and a balanced budget, was a much better fiscal conservative than either Bush). Maybe I am able to retain some perspective through all of this because, as a libertarian, my guy NEVER wins; and sometimes, like this year, my guy is a total loony. I learned long ago how to find "levity" and "lightness of spirit and of step" when politicians I don't agree with hold office. I mean jeez, get a life.

So each election I make the best choice I can. Often I vote for the libertarian guy, but this year I just couldn't vote for the wacko who was running, and I felt it was time to protest my usual protest vote "“ why can't the Libertarians, at a time when third-party candidates have been doing pretty well, produce a decent candidate? Anyway, I disagree a lot with the Democrat's economic and tax policy and a lot with the Republican's social policy. In voting, I decided the economic and tax policy affected me more than the social policy, so that's how I voted. Yes, I have an IQ above room temperature, I am reasonably well educated and informed about the world, I am not religious, and I ended up voting for Bush, or maybe more rightly, not-Kerry. Kerry has chosen to make class war on me through tax policy, and Edwards has declared war on me as a small business owner through litigation, so I decided to vote Bush, despite the issues I have.

I opposed the war in Iraq, not because I believed that it was Saddam Hussein's and Michael Moore's kite-flying idyllic land, but because I didn't think it was our job to spend our lives and our treasure to clean up, by force of arms, all of the world's bad guys (see "cleaning the Augean Stables"). That being said, my disagreement with this war does not drive me into a mode where I can't give Bush his due on other things. For example, as wars go, the war in Afghanistan strikes me as justified and well-fought. Life is clearly better in Afghanistan now than before, and terrorists are clearly weaker for our presence there. (One of the problems with the war in Iraq, by the way, is that I don't think you can make either of those statements unequivocally about Iraq. I do, however, hold out hope for the Iraqi people, and do not, as I bet the writer of this article does, hope for failure and chaos there just to embarrass George Bush.)

Why is it that even those of us who opposed one or both of these wars can't acknowledge the bright side "“ that millions of people have a chance to be freed from totalitarianism. Freedom from dictatorship used to be something all of us in this country supported. For example, we all continue to cheer blacks being released from apartheid in South Africa. Today, South Africa has horrible economic and crime / security problems (21,000 people were murdered last year), but no one suggests it was a bad idea to end apartheid because there is now chaos and insecurity. Islamic women, such as those in Afghanistan, had much fewer freedoms than blacks in South Africa "“ why don't we cheer their victory? I know that today in this country, the term "women's rights" is generally a euphemism for abortion, but it strikes me that free speech, assembly, voting, owning property, standing up to your no-account husband, showing your midriff, not getting stoned for adultery, etc. are all women's rights too. While I admit that abortion rights in the US may come under fire in the coming years, can't we also admit that women's rights have had a substantial boost in Afghanistan? Why in Afghanistan and Iraq are security problems used as an excuse to say that the country is not ready for democracy, when these same critics would never be caught dead saying that blacks in Africa are not ready for democracy? My point is, ironically, that the situation is indeed nuanced: Good things can still come even from a war we shouldn't have started.

The writer of the article apologizes to the whole world for the US. If the war in Iraq turns out to be a failure, then I would think the first apology we owe is to our own people, for the treasure and lives we spent, and then to the people in Iraq for playing God to no effect. However, do we really owe the people of Afghanistan an apology, particularly the women who are voting and going to school for the first time ever? Do we owe France an apology, given their near ally status with Saddam Hussein, their willingness to subvert UN sanctions, or their obstructionism in trying to end the genocide in Sudan? Do we owe Britain, Australia, Poland, and Italy an apology for somehow tricking them into being our allies in Iraq? Do we owe Pakistan an apology for threatening them into cooperating for the first time ever to root out terrorists in their country? Do we owe Mohammar Qaddafi an apology for playing hardball with him? How about Kim Jong-Il, for calling him evil? Does GWB owe an apology to the signatories of the Kyoto treaty, or should that apology come from the 95 Senators, including John Kerry, who voted against the treaty in its current form?

Continental Europe has been pissed off with the US before and it will happen again. They hated us and Reagan in the 80's for gearing up the cold war with Russia, right up to the point where it worked and they enjoyed huge benefits from the fall of the iron curtain. Granted that GWB's personality accentuates our diplomatic problems, but the fact is that trying to achieve anything meaningful in the world will make some number of countries mad. Most of the world likes us best when we are isolationist, until of course when they need our help, and then they want us strong and powerful and interventionist as hell.

From time to time, I tend to isolationism. But that approach is just not supported by history. As the richest, strongest nation in the world, we have got to play a role. In fact, I think the world is well and truly screwed if the US does not actively involve itself in making the world a better place. Since the cold war ended, the US has the luxury of intervening in world affairs and conflicts solely based on its values, such as promotion of democracy or end to genocide, rather than merely to check Soviet power. No longer do we need to support jerks like the Shah of Iran because we feel we must have allies in a particular area. GWB has outlined a fairly clear foreign policy for using American power to unseat dictators using whatever force is necessary. It is fair for us to oppose this policy for being too violent, too dependent on the military, too unilateral -- but shame on us for ceding the moral high ground of promoting democracy and opposing totalitarianism, as Democrats and many libertarians have. You can't oppose spreading democracy (or set a low priority to it, as Kerry explicitly said he would) and win with the American people. Heck, this is the Democrats' issue "“ how can they give it up to Republicans? When did pragmatic amorality rather than idealism become the hallmark of Democratic foreign policy? Where is the party of Kennedy and Truman and Roosevelt? Democrats have no one to blame but themselves for not clearly outlining a foreign policy alternative to GWB's for using the US's strength to do good in the world.

Domestically, we get a bit less detail from the article, but we do get perhaps the most outlandish statement of all: "some of the most well-documented atrocities ever wrought on the American populace". Hmmm. Not exactly sure what those are, or where the victims are buried, unless he is one of the Bush-and-Rove-are-behind-9/11 wackos. Maybe the Patriot Act? Not sure it can be that, since both Kerry and Bush supported it at the time, and much of the act was recycled from the proposals Clinton wanted in 1995 but were opposed by the ACLU and cut by Congress (more here and here - if you want irony, the point person in the Senate opposing these initiatives in 1995-1996 was.... John Ashcroft).

I won't spend too much time on the domestic front "“ I said before I voted economic and tax policy because this affects me more than social policy. If I were gay, I would likely have voted differently. Perhaps like the author of this article, I was surprised at how vehemently gay unions were rejected in the recent election, but I can't portray this as turning back the clock "“ merely as a slowing of progress. Social questions are seldom settled definitively by governments anyway -- they are settled by time and the march of generations, and I am pretty sure that future generations will have different answers to this and other such questions. Remember that 35 years ago, inter-racial marriage was opposed by a solid majority in most red states. Two generations later, legal barriers to inter-racial marriage would stand no chance anywhere in this country.

You conservatives out there, stop burying your heads only in the National Review and Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and the Free Republic. Go to a hemp festival or tag along to a libertarian fund raiser. You liberals, stop reading just the Atlantic Monthly and Michael Moore and the Daily Kos and Atrios. Go spend some time in flyover country, or go watch a NASCAR race from the infield. You moderates out there, get used to the fact that our nominating process is set up to produce candidates from the extreme end of each party. And you Libertarians out there, get used to deciding which freedoms you care about most before you vote. Everyone, get out of the echo chamber you live in. Go have a Margarita.

UPDATE

Here is the Daily Mirror's way of expressing the same sentiments as Mr. Morford, but more concicely, via Professor BainBridge

UPDATE #2

Found link to original article.  Eliminated full posting of email in favor of exceprts - because copyright rules apply even for crazy people.

UPDATE #3

Nice article on similar issues from Virginia Postrel.  Key quote:

I don't expect other voters to think like I do. They never have and they probably never will. I don't therefore conclude that I live in a country full of wicked, stupid people. I don't think the Westside of Los Angeles is a cesspool of idiocy and evil because it's full of people who vote over and over for Henry Waxman, whose hyperregulatory policies, demonization of various businesses, and love for ever-expanding Medicare entitlements I detest.

Also, AtlanticBlog does a roundup of other post-election "end-of-America" sky-is-falling commentary.

  • http://jimbursch.com Jim Bursch

    Right on.

  • http://laboringattheinstitute.blogspot.com/ Phillip Wilson

    Brought tears of joy to my eyes. This is without doubt the best post on the election I have seen yet. You are my hero.

    Unlike you, I voted for Badnarik (how ironic is it that his name starts with "bad"). I had to write him in since here in Oklahoma we like to exclude just about anyone we can from our electoral process. But I totally agree with your decision calculus. If forced at gunpoint to pick one or the other, I probably would have voted for Kerry, but only on the theory that (barring hell freezing over - errrr - a libertarian winning) the country runs best with a democrat in the white house and republican majorities in the house and senate - total gridlock is about the only other way to slow down the growth of government.

    Thanks for your post. Now, where's that margarita?

  • Max Lybbert

    Personally, I thought that "some of the most well-documented atrocities ever wrought on the American populace" should include Asian internment camps in WWII, the suspending of habeus corpus in parts of the country during the Civil War, slavery and Jim Crow. While I don't particularly like all of the Patriot Act, I really wonder if it comes close to some of our larger embarrassments.

  • http://www.gimpysoft.com Ryan O.

    Why do people still pay attention to anything Mark Morford says? He's been over the top like this for years. It's his schtick.

    Ignore him and he'll go away. Keep being outraged every time he writes another column, you'll keep him employed.

  • stillshaking

    Thank you for your post. It helps. For a lot of people, the results of the election are truly heart-wrenching.

    It's not really the results, come to think of it. It's the feeling of powerlessness and alienation. It's the feeling of hopes for the future crashing to earth.

    I don't exaggerate to simply say that it feels much the way 9/11 felt to me. It really doesn't matter if this feeling is justified or not (and I know it is objectively not the same situation at all), but so be it. You can't get rid of this kind of insanity by judging it harshly. You gotta accept it and talk it through if you find yourself indulging in it, ignore it and offer what compassion you can when it comes from others.

  • http://www.coyoteblog.com coyote

    Ryan, if I had gone trolling through the Internet looking for the most outrageous piece to get upset about, I would agree with you. But this came to me. Twice. From two different, intelligent, generally reasonable people in emails saying things like "this sums up where I am". There are three or four variations landing in my mailbox every day as well (I went to not one but two Ivy League Schools and married into a Boston family, so I get more than my fair share of post-election angst)

  • WarriorMentality

    >>if I had gone trolling through the Internet looking for the most outrageous piece to get upset about, I would agree with you. But this came to me. Twice. From two different, intelligent, generally reasonable people in emails saying things like "this sums up where I am". There are three or four variations landing in my mailbox every day as well (I went to not one but two Ivy League Schools and married into a Boston family, so I get more than my fair share of post-election angst).< <

    lol...as a fellow former memeber of the elitist hamster wheel, i must concur. i dunno how it makes you feel, but to me, these kinds of reactions are extremely disheartening, and in a sense, even maddening, becayse they cheapen the value of the word that supposedly sets us apart from other academic and social enviroments, namely, "intelligence." i mean yeah, i know all of us experience a bubble bursting at some point in our lives, but does it have to be so utterly devoid of perspective? as my people and i say in da 'hood, "gettin' hot like dat, you just playin' yaself."