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Dec./Jan.'05 Articles:
4 More Years of Fighting
3rd Party Demise
Silver Linings
The Balloon Pops
The Muddlemarch: 1
The Muddlemarch: 2
Banned in the UK!
(music reviews)

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Before everyone rises up to lynch me, let me explain: I didn't vote for Bush. I voted for Kerry, and of course I'm disappointed in the election results. I think that, by reelecting that quasi-Texan, no-good SOB, America missed the chance to have a good President–maybe even a great President–in the oval office.

Unfortunately, we'd probably never have gotten the chance to learn we had a great president.

Think about this: Our economy is a mess. The Middle East is a mess. Fundamental American freedoms are at risk. The electoral process is a disaster. Both the House and Senate are under Republican control, with neocons, religious extremists, and moderates all battling for control of the controllers.

One wonders why anyone in their right mind would want to preside over the current disaster, much less the ones on the horizon. In the next four years, the social security surplus–which has helped keep the nation afloat during the recent years of unprecedented government spending–is expected to dry up. The administration has continued to insist that its tax cuts have already stimulated the economy and begun to create jobs; the claim is a suspicious one, at best. Bush's foray into Reaganomics will likely end as successfully as Reagan's did–with stock market crashes and financial catastrophes like the savings and loan failures of the 1980s.

Had he won, Kerry would have inherited a legacy of abuse that took four years to build, and one that would have probably doomed his administration to failure. He would probably have ended up doing about as well as Jimmy Carter, who inherited a fragmented America wounded by Nixon's Watergate scandal.

A failed Democratic administration would have probably nixed the chance for another Democrat's election for another dozen years.

Second presidential terms are notoriously catastrophic, and Bush–and Republicans in Congress–already shows signs they plan to cater to their worst common denominator. Now that the Democrats are out of the way, the big government pissing match will have moderate Republicans against the more extremist neoconservatives and the religious right "base" that Bush counted on to counteract the MoveOn- and True Majority-style support.

The moderates want the administration and Congress to push a "broad brush" conservative agenda that will be relatively acceptable to the average American. Meanwhile, the neocons will promote a stricter, libertarian-influenced, capitalistic conservatism, heavy on business deregulation and short on environmental initiatives, while aggressively seeking to shove American-style democracy down the throats of the rest of the world.

At the same time, the religiosity-inclined Republicans will want to see the administration coming down hard against abortion and gay marriage, while promoting a pro-Christian agenda that blurs the line between church and state. The religious right is less inclined to hawkishness for its own sake, but being largely fear-driven and intolerant in their political attitudes, they need constant reassurance that the administration is doing everything it can to make sure terrorists don't start attacking small towns in Idaho.

So here's the bad news: The next four years are likely to be horrible. But as much as I hate to imagine what four more years under Bush will look like, the election probably turned out for the best, as far as Democrats are concerned.

With any luck, everyone but the Libertarians and hardcore Bible-thumpers will be so fed up with Republicans by 2008, we can get rid of most of them for a while. In the meantime, there is much we can do to use the momentum built up during the campaigns to create positive change and, hopefully, keep the Republicans from making matters much worse.

After the election, MoveOn held an "ActionForum" in which they brought progressives in to talk about their hopes for the coming years, and to focus their activities on the agenda their supporters most want. Afterward, they e-mailed their members with the list, in order of the issues of greatest concern.

The forum determined what issues they thought most important:

(1) election reform;

(2) media reform;

(3) the war in Iraq;

(4) the environment;

(5) the Supreme Court; and

(6) civil liberties.

They also committed to working toward "our progressive vision for a free and just America that is once again a model of peace, liberty, and prosperity to the rest of the world."

Election reform should be the Number One issue, I agree. No liberty should be more sacred than the right to vote, and to have the vote counted fairly. The embarrassing disaster that occurred during the 2000 election should have motivated a sincere reform of the electoral system. However, politicians seemed mainly to pay lip service to the need for reform.

This year, in Florida alone, there were allegations that state troopers intimidated black voters registration activists in Orlando. The infamous felons list, which was used to unfairly influence the 2000 election, was reprinted for this election with the names of Hispanic felons mysteriously omitted; Hispanics in Florida typically vote Republican. Finally, touch-screens in South Florida were said to have recorded votes for Kerry as votes for Bush, and exit polls didn't match results at many precincts with touch-screen voting and no paper record.

Chances are, many of the allegations are untrue. Even if they're true, the errors probably wouldn't change the results. However, whether or not the accusations are true and whether or not they would have changed the results is irrelevant. It is critical that Americans be able to trust the democratic process.

It is absurd that, in 21st Century America, we can't rely on fair elections. There is only one reason we don't have fair elections now: the parties use unfair tactics to influence the outcome, and they don't want to give up their advantages.

Consider the paperless touch-screen ballot machines, for example. It is hard to imagine an accounting procedure larger, more complex, and with more ability to rend the fabric of democracy than accounting for the votes. It is absurd to think that an accounting procedure that vast and complex can be performed fairly without a paper trail, yet Republican elections officials insisted it was safe, despite concerns.

We need to pressure elected officials to overhaul our elections system, to come up with a plan that will make elections operate fairly and equally throughout the country. The plan needs to have real teeth in it, too. If there's another Jeb Bush/Katherine Harris situation, where elected officials seem to deliberately influence the outcome of an election, they need to face serious consequences. The first time a governor and secretary of state were sent to prison for tinkering with an election, others in potentially similar situations would certainly sit up and pay attention.

Many advocates of voting reform will undoubtedly argue for reform that will open the process to more third party participation. However, I'd settle right now for the return to a two-party system. I've long felt that conservatives and progressives need each other. Any good organization, be it a small business or a giant corporation, needs both visionaries and bean-counters in order to move forward and meet its mission while maintaining its ability to survive.

However, the current batch of Republicans aren't conservative so much as they are reactionary. Further, they have essentially created a one-party system hell-bent on perpetuating itself forever into eternity. Ironically, the government they seem to want at home has more in common with Communist-style dictatorship or Islamic theocracy than the American-style democracy they claim they encourage elsewhere in the world.

Media reform would help break through the Republican antidemocratic barricades. The MoveOn forum was motivated by the "free pass" the media gave Bush following the war in Iraq. However, there's much more to it than just putting news organizations' feet to the fire over reporting. We need to give serious attention to "unfair and unbalanced" reporting, of course.

But we progressives need to find the guts to stand up and face off against the Republican labeling, to overcome the vilification of Democrats with the "liberal" characterization, but also to point out that Republicans get elected by catering to the greedy, the fanatical, and the fearful.

The war in Iraq is a serious concern. We're going to lose that war, and it will be an ugly failure.

Curiously, both neocons and the religious right overlook the fact that New York City and Washington, D.C.–the two cities in the United States that have actually been attacked by terrorists and are highest on the list of likely future attack sites–voted for the Democrat.

Kerry was right when he said Bush had made us less safe when he invaded Iraq. Unfortunately, knowing that doesn't make us safer.

Iraq is just one cog in two larger related issues, national security and foreign policy. It would be a mistake to press for withdrawal from Iraq without considering the bigger issues. Iraq is a losing situation, and we are going to be fighting this war for a long time. We need to pressure elected officials to stop kowtowing to the neocons on foreign policy matters, and come up with a realistic, long-range answer to the question, "What role should America play in the world?"

The Supreme Court and civil liberties are two sides of the same coin. The religious right and the neocons can use both the courts and reactionary measures like the PATRIOT Act to repress freedoms. We need to let our leaders know that we want to be safe, but we also want to be free.

Meanwhile, we need to counteract the notion that a person with "moral values" equals an antiabortion, anti-gay-marriage religious nut. The term "moral values" includes concepts like tolerance, equality, and truthfulness–each of which the Bush administration has lacked.

Incidentally, The New York Times pointed out that a British publication, The Economist, looked at the exit poll statistics and determined that the percentage of American voters who based their decision on "moral values" is actually dropping. Thirty-five percent of us voted based on morality in 2000, and 40 percent cast "morality votes" in 1996. ("The Great Indecency Hoax," The New York Times, November 25, 2004.)

But the president isn't the only elected official we need to worry about. Now that the presidential election is over, progressives are likely to return to their usual voting patterns; fewer will pay attention to local politics and fewer will vote in lower-profile elections.

This is a huge mistake. Elected officials can exert much more pressure against each other than we can. Also, we shouldn't underestimate the degree to which the politics in even tiny town can affect the big picture. In my county, for example, there's a city of fewer than 3,000 people that has helped slow the rapacious assault of larger, more growth-oriented cities on the area's environment.

During the early days of the PATRIOT Act, city commissions throughout America voted to protect the patrons of their small town libraries from Federal invasions of privacy, essentially refusing to comply with the act's provisions that libraries open up readership records for inspection.

Continued activism is important. However, it's essential we take the high road.

After all the emotional hum around the election, progressives and moderate Democrats are more upset than they would usually be after a defeat. Progressives are pissed off–and no wonder. To the slightly-less-than-half of us who voted for Kerry, it looks like the lunatics have taken control of the asylum. Or worse, in a strategy reminiscent of the Third Reich, the Republicans used a combination of fear mongering and dirty-trickery to take control.

If the Bush administration were to take a few serious steps to court progressives, or even moderates, they could go a long way toward smoothing a lot of ruffled feathers. However, that would require them to step aside from the confrontational and often insulting stance they have held for the last four years and make a sincere effort to understand and address the complaints of their progressive constituents.

Unfortunately, that's damned unlikely to happen. Instead, Bush seems committed to showing his gratitude to his most vocal supporters, and will no doubt fuel the fire of progressive discontent in the coming months by catering to the GOP's extreme sides.

Consequently, America may well be a powder keg just waiting for a spark. Hopefully, we can keep our heads and work for change without a return to 1960s-style riots. If demonstrations and activists turn violent, that will provide all the justification the right wing needs to further repress the left.

The fear-mongers and hate-mongers in the Republican administration and Congress may continue to behave arrogantly and continue to play their divisive games. However, someone needs to rise above that, and I propose that the progressives insist on reaching across the aisle first.

My oldest and dearest friend is a hardcore neocon with libertarian tendencies. I abhor his politics, and sometimes even think he's delusional. However, he's still my friend. I know he loves his children, as I love mine. I know he, too, wants his family to live in a democratic society and have the freedom to elect their representatives. I know he wants his children and grandchildren to have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. He wants his family to be free to express themselves without fear of repression, he wants them to prosper, and he wants them to live in a safe world.

Therefore, while we may disagree on the means, and even on the order of priorities, conservatives and progressives want essentially the same things. As we go through the next four years, we need to remember–and to insist that our elected representatives remember–that conservatives haven't cornered the market on moral values.

We need to stress that the environment, civil liberty, and fair elections aren't "progressive" values. They are American values.

Morris Sullivan is a free-lance journalist living in DeLand, Florida. When he's not writing features for the local daily newspaper, he's working on four books: a novel about witches and false memory syndrome; a biography of a civil rights lawyer; a rational-humanist-existentialist view of the Dharma, and the compiled and annotated "Notes from the Cultural Wasteland: Comments on Culture at the Turn of the Millennium."

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