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5 Nov 2004 00:42:04 daniel hellerstein.

Subject: Election2004    
What now?

So perhaps the nation didn't want to give Mass-a-two-shits a trifecta: superbowl, world series, and a president... all in 1 year. And though, in retrospect, I woulda swapped the first two for the last, that trade wasn't being offered.

So what now?

It would appear that progressives, liberals, or whatever groups ally with the democrats, need to rethink their strategy. There just isn't enough votes going our way, and its not getting better. In consideration of so what now, we need to think about basics. Lots of basics.

One basic is: what direction to go? Perhaps that is too naive, perhaps there are more fundamental questions. Nevertheless, one can identify two basic directions.

  1. Go to the center. Heck. go to the right-of-center, in an Eisenhower sense.
    The argument behind this is that the US electorate really has become conservative. Not blow-up-the-new-deal conservative, but mighty skeptical and/or uninterested in detailed government response to broad social concerns. Since this viewpoint is deeply held by the majority, it is pointless to hold out for a revival of interest in something like the Great Society. By moving hard to the center, at least the democrats can preserve the basics of welfare and regulation; and avoid the risk of true takeover by the robber-baron revivalists.
  2. Move to the left. The problem with the democrats is their fear of being labeled as liberals, as effete experimenters with the lifes of the hard-working/god-fearing/white "middle" class. This fear has led to a spineless and ultimately unprincipled inability to advocate meaningful programs for this middle class. Has lead to the democrats being so similar to the republicans, that a significant chunk of the white working class has seen little reason to vote for them. More precisely, the costs of entertaining their cultural conservatism (hence accepting the relatively worse social program package of the republicans)have been slight. By going left, and widening the gap between what the republicans offer, entertaining this indulgence will become costly, and a big chunk of this cultural conservative block will come to their senses.
Plan 1 is depressing. At best, it consigns American politics to a realm of scant effectivness. At worst, it merely hastens the slide toward reaction, it plays into the republican strategy of redefining the terms of debate in an ever receding direction.
Plan 2 is risky. It assumes that a significant chunk of republican voters, or non-voters, really can be motivated by the promises of a robust welfare state. If that's not true, and if a chunk of moderates might decide that they don't like these nanny-state socialist ideas, then the current republican slight advantage could become a rout.

Since McGovern's loss of '72, plan 1 seems to be operative. And it seems to have failed in just the way predicted: it has led to a continual rightward drift of the center.
In addition, plan 2 is more conducive to a coherent workd view. Plan 1 yields endless compromises, all within a constrained and bloodless language. A rhetorical style that just doesn't excite the imagination of the casual voter, that leaves the casual voter emotionally unimpressed. Plan 2 is much more flexible, and thrives in a coherent world-view of the government correcting the venality and corruptions that our inevitable in a society driven by distant corporate powers.

Really? Really? Is this move-to-the-left really going to attract those culturally conservative working/middle class voters into a progressive coalition. Or is something more needed? Do the cultural liberals have to give up something, to compromise something of real importance.

Let's consider issues where compromises might be made.

The core ethics of support for abortion is that human life forms, from fertilized zygote to somewhere short of the third trimester, are not babies. That ending the existence of such a life form is not ending a human life, hence is not murder. And this is not some smarmy technical point -- the level of development (lack of nervous system, say) really means there is a difference.

This argument is especially convincing in the earliest stages, such as within the first 60 days where all you have is a mass of undifferentiated cells. Where the only uniquely human attribute is the genetics of the cells. At the extreme, say the third trimester, it becomes extremely unconvincing to claim that the fetus is not human -- it can survive (with difficulty) outside the womb.

So the compromise is this: can we limit when abortion is permitted, below the current third trimester cutoff? Say, no restrictions in first 10 weeks, and major restrictions until week 16.

Would this satisfy the life-begins-at-conception crowd? At least in the sense they get something? Probably not, but who knows.

The alternative is to swallow hard and ban abortion, even though its just wrong to do so. That would require one heck of a commitment to social justice, etc. by a significant fraction of the right-to-lifers. I'm dubious that enough of them really exist (otherwise progressives who now are single-issue anti-abortionists).

Prayer in school
Seperation of church and state is real important, for who can trust these rambunctious fundamentalists? And yet, does it really matter? We had prayer in school for years, and it didn't seem to run out of control. And on some level, you have to sympathize with a community that can't exercise the desires of many of its members.

Perhaps there is a compromise: randomly chosen prayer/philosophy, where the set from which it is chosen is determined by all the parents (of kids). Thus, on any given day one might hear a catholic catechism, or something from the torah, or the koran, or the wiccan lore, or a secular humanist speculation on the meaning of relativity. The key is that no minority is actively discriminated against -- they get a fair (relative to their population) shot at having their philosphical/religious ideas advanced in a public setting. And the majority get to hear their prayers/whatever discussed fairly frequently. The point is that the majority can not force their wishes down the throats of the minorities. I can live with this.

Are there other "compromises" possible?

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