What If Bush Wins?

As I type this entry up, the little timer on the right side of my blog is ticking down to Election Day. We have 5 days and change until the polls close on the West Coast and the decision about who’s going to be President for the next four years is finally made.

Although I feel very optimistic about Kerry’s chances to win, I think that this is the perfect time to take a realistic look at what it might mean for the next four years if Bush does win.

Frankly, I don’t think that it can happen unless the GOP cheats and scams and steals on a grand scale, which is a real possibility. Republican election strategies in the swing states have produced a string of stories that are at best shady, at worst blatantly corrupt. Greg Palast reports on the latest example:

Two e-mails, prepared for the executive director of the Bush campaign in Florida and the campaign’s national research director in Washington DC, contain a 15-page so-called “caging list”.

It lists 1,886 names and addresses of voters in predominantly black and traditionally Democrat areas of Jacksonville, Florida.

An elections supervisor in Tallahassee, when shown the list, told Newsnight: “The only possible reason why they would keep such a thing is to challenge voters on election day.”

And strangely, it’s crap like this that just makes me feel more optimistic. In the four years since George W. Bush was elected, we’ve become much more alert to and intolerant of fraudulent tactics. In 2000, even Democrats and progressives were ready to roll over and let Bush take the election just so that we could all get on with our lives. No more. People are angry and frustrated and will not stay quiet. The news media has abdicated its traditional duty to “comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable,” but people have found ways around them, chiefly through the Internet. We no longer need Dan Rather to legitimize our anger.

Most importantly, I’m even optimistic about how we would fare under another four years of GWB. I don’t think that it will be the disaster that most progressives think. From the perspective of the Right, it might even be considered a Pyrrhic victory. In the past four years, the Left has built up a fantastic grass-roots movement and gotten thousands of people engaged with the political system who were previously apathetic and out of the loop. Among “likely voters” as the talking heads put it, there’s a rising amount of disgust with Bush and his autocracy, and it seems every day you hear about a new batch of defectors from his traditional base. Whether his reign ends in January or in another four years, his power has obviously peaked. He will never again return to the level of credibility he had just after the 9/11 bombings, and if he becomes President, the decay of his power base will spread deeper into the structure of the GOP.

Bush became as powerful and as dangerous as he did because after 9/11, nobody knew what to say, everyone was terrified, and there was an overwhelming need to believe that even if we disagreed with our leaders, they had our best interests at heart. The real tragedy of 9/11 is that, when we were given a chance to show our true greatness as a nation, we allowed ourselves to believe that our ugliest qualities were our best. The legacy of this self-delusion is torture, paranoid politics, thousands of dead, and the rise of fundamentalism in both the Middle East and America.

If Bush wins, he cannot maintain that delusion. It’s dissolving before our very eyes because people of good conscience are no longer allowing themselves to be cowed. The fantasy that the Bush Administration continues to sell is just too painfully separated from everyone else’s reality. Even the press is beginning to give up its sycophancy and acknowledge this. If the GOP is forced to continue defending the Bush Administration’s version of reality, it will just look more and more absurd. No matter who’s elected, I think we’ll win in the end.

The question is, of course, whether the patient can survive the cure. Another four years of Bush would probably break the back of the Right, but those four years would also involve thousands more dead in Iraq and Afghanistan (although many will still die under Kerry), possible appointments of Supreme Court Justices guided by a Religious Right agenda (Rehnquist has been diagnosed with thyroid cancer), and more autocratic fanaticism by Bush’s cabinet. That’s why I’ll be voting for Kerry and hoping for his victory, but if Bush wins, I don’t think that’s a good reason to give up hope.

What I fear even more than Bush winning is to be betrayed by Kerry and our own complacency.
One of the things that truly disgusted me about the Clinton years was how so many liberal and left figures (e.g., Gloria Steinhem) bent over backwards to avoid criticizing a man who was essentially governing as a moderate Republican. Kerry really isn’t that different; he comes from the bosom of the DLC, which pushes privatization and free-market economic policies, and he’s been an outright coward on the issue of gay marriage. It’s going to take organized rage and struggle on the part of the Left to keep him from screwing us over.

We’ve got a good grassroots going; after all these years, it seems like the Left is finally finding its voice. Our silence is the only thing that can kill us now.

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