Thursday, November 04, 2004

The Left Shift

PoppiesThe talking heads of the mainstream media are echoing the refrain that President Bush - having won by a significant margin in the popular and electoral vote, as well as significant gains by his party in Congress - should recognize the bitterly divided nature of the electorate, and promote healing by adopting a conciliatory philosophy of governance. This presumably would include the appointment of liberal federal and Supreme Court justices, avoidance of controversial policy initiatives such as reforming Social Security, increasing taxes, and reaching out to our aggrieved-but-eager-to-help allies such as France and Belgium.

Can we have a reality check here?

First of all, if Kerry had won, would anybody be saying such things? Would we expect a Kerry administration to promote pro-life issues, or submit conservative (or even moderate) judges for appointment, to help salve the divisive wounds of the nation? Why do only conservatives and Republicans have to change to reduce the bitterness? Will there be no turning down the volume of vicious rhetoric by the Michael Moores, the Moveon.orgs, the Hollywood loonies? Will CBS and the NY Times stop their hit pieces and look for common ground for the good of the country? Don't count on it. What the liberal Democrats and their supporters in the mainstream media could not convince the majority of Americans to support in the voting booth, they will attempt to impose on the electorate through guilt, media assault, judicial fiat and coercion.

Secondly, that's just the way it goes in a democracy: the winner gets to set the agenda. In any national election, a whole bunch of folks - slightly less than half the voters - are very unhappy with the outcome. Conservatives were stunned and depressed when Clinton won in 1992 and 1996. Tough cookies - suck it up. Your options in this uncomfortable dilemma are straightforward: try to get more people to agree with your party, policies and candidate the next time around, and in the meantime you get to block or alter the governing party's policy initiatives through the Congress, which directly represents the people. Staggered elections provide another outlet - some House and Senate seats come up for election every 2 years. The opportunities to change the system on a frequent, regular basis are legion. Furthermore, the courts serve as the final check, when one party dominates both branches and moves too far outside the lines.

The problem for the Democratic Party is that they have been drifting farther away from the mainstream of American thought - or, perhaps more accurately, the majority of Americans are moving away from their ideas. Bitch-slapped into reality by watching 3000 Americans die in horror on 9/11 - ironically shown to them in vivid detail by a media which still fails to grasp the implications of this seminal event - many Americans have been reassessing their priorities. The environment, health care, racial inequality, day care and school lunches are important to many, but don't mean squat if bin Laden or some other Islamic fanatic slips a nuke into Boston, or crop-dusts anthrax over Atlanta.

The pundits are correct: there is a sharp divide in America, and like shifting tectonic plates, there's a lot of heat at the interface. But what is striking is where this division occurs: it has shifted sharply to the left.

When I first discovered the blogsphere, I was struck both by its depth and resources, but also by its tendency to be an echo chamber. You could surf to a dozen like-minded blogs, and find the same links and quotes discussed. I began to seek out diversity of opinion, but found that on the left, the same was true - albeit with far more emotion and vituperation, and far less reasoned thought or plausible alternatives for the realities of the post-9/11 world. As I continued to read, however, I noticed that many writers who understood the harsh realities of a global terrorism war would have been my political and philosophical opponents in the 9/10 world; we would disagree on a host of issues, from abortion, to stem cell research, to the role of faith in the public square, to the size and involvement of the federal government in our lives. Yet these individuals, by and large, were supporting Bush and the war on terror - albeit often with spirited differences on its execution and priorities, some with clenched teeth and near revulsion at the thought.

The center has shifted, and the division between opposing views of America lies farther to the left than ever before. The majority of Americans - Right, Center, and Center-Left - understand that the paradigm has changed. Despite misgivings and fears of the journey into preemptive war, the murkiness of non-national enemies, concerns about balancing civil rights while unmasking lethal enemies who hide behind them, despite our enmeshment in the hornets' nest of the Middle East, a growing majority now understands what is of prime importance. Increasingly marginalized are those on the Left who could be tolerated when it mattered little, but who today often undermine our national integrity and align themselves with those committed to destroying us. They are a diminishing minority, yet they have become the financial and philosophical heartbeat of the Democratic Party. It is only through the amplification of the media megaphone, screeching at rock-concert decibels, that the increasingly marginal supporters of the current Democratic Party can pretend to represent anything like a significant portion of voting America.

How long this realignment lasts, and whether the Democrats have the wherewithal to divorce their fringe and return to the mainstream, remains to be seen. Republicans and conservatives have an opportunity in the meantime to tackle a whole host of recalcitrant national problems: the entitlements, the tax code, a failing public education system. To tackle these third-rail issues will be noisy, and heated, and stormy, and will require a courage heretofore lacking in the Republican Party. The outcome may or may not be satisfactory, but it will surely require input from widely varying perspectives. And if it does not turn out well, the American people can choose an alternative philosophy of governance. I for one welcome a strong, engaged Democratic Party, willing to persuade rather than demean, to construct rather than condemn. Perhaps from our common roots in opposing and destroying the merchants of terror can such a Phoenix be resurrected.