“It’s kind of like watching someone make a really bad chess move and not being able to say anything.”
That’s how a friend described the results of the 2004 election. I would agree, except that it doesn’t seem nearly strong enough; to me, it feels more like an emotional breakup. On Nov. 2, the American people dumped us.
Let us not sugarcoat the bitter reality: If you are a liberal on this campus, your cause has just taken a body-blow. It is difficult to overstate the size of the Republican victory, or its impact. With the Democratic machine working in overdrive, with hundreds of millions of dollars pouring into swing states and groups like America Coming Together and MoveOn deploying hundreds of thousands of canvassers, with both the economy in the tank and Iraq heading there fast, Bush still carried 51 percent of the popular vote. Perhaps more appallingly, Democratic senate candidates went down in defeat across the country, vanquished by some of the most grimly conservative ideologues in politics. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, who wants to execute abortion doctors, and Jim DeMint of South Carolina, who favors banning gays and single pregnant women from teaching in public schools, are two examples of our fine crop of new Republican senators.
Some Republican students have recently suggested on this page that we liberal Yalies are elitist and out-of-touch with the country’s heartland, narrow-minded in our dismissal of Bush supporters. It’s an argument Republicans love to hurl at us, and it’s simply wrong. Many of us have respect for evangelical Christians and all other people of faith. We honor the way they choose to live — we simply ask that they allow us to choose our own. Fine, believe that abortions are immoral: You choose what to do with your own bodies, and we’ll choose what to do with ours. Fine, believe marriage is between a man and a woman — just don’t write that belief into a national ban that will affect us as well. Believe in and worship God, but don’t demand that the president, our leader as much as yours, invoke His name every time he opens his mouth.
Religion used to be a private affair. No more. On Nov. 2, the Republican Party mobilized its base with extraordinary success by appealing to its worst element: the reactionary Christian right, obsessed with imposing its own code of morality onto the rest of the country. While rising nations like China and India are modernizing and becoming progressive, the United States seems to be headed into a tragically opposite direction, injecting Christianity more and more into its government with all the energy of a monarch in the Dark Ages. Perhaps most frighteningly, this evangelical fervor does not stop at such domestic wedge issues as gay marriage or stem-cell research — it gets carried over into our foreign policy. Why does this president insist on casting something as complex as the war on terror into such a black-versus-white, good-versus-evil struggle? Because he knows that turning our foreign policy into a crusade appeals to the Republican base. The millions of Americans who voted for Bush because of his “values” believe that he looms tall as Christianity’s great champion, standing firm against whatever threatens God-fearing Americans, be it terrorism or, in Jon Stewart’s words, “homoism.”
Why is this happening? Why can’t Democrats win even when Bush’s record seems so blatantly abysmal? Why is the country buying the Republican snake oil of “values” instead of fairness, responsibility, moderation and other Democratic wares? Part of the problem is that the Democratic platform has become the status quo. Using the government to help people help themselves may be good policy, but the concept has also been around since FDR’s time, and people are tired of hearing about it. Our candidates go out on the campaign trail and talk about jobs and health care. Republicans go out and talk about the need to kill bomb-toting godless infidels and stop Sodomites. It’s not hard to decide which set of candidates has the more arresting message.
Some Democrats are worriedly saying that we need to act more like the Republicans, that we need to quote scripture until we out-Bible the Bible thumpers. Others are exclaiming that we need to stop pretending to be “Republican-lite” and instead swing out toward the Howard Dean left. Both are recipes for disaster: The country has clearly rejected old-fashioned liberalism, and imitating Republicans in order to win not only fails (Republicans will always be more Republican than Democrats) but is also a betrayal of our most fundamental principles. Democrats need to move not left, not right, but forward. We need to produce new ideas as compelling as those on the Republican agenda, and our ideas must actually benefit America’s working class. The country can’t afford four more years, but if we don’t get our collective act together, it might have to put up with 40.
Roger Low is a sophomore in Branford College.