Friday, November 10, 2006

Red, white, and mostly just blue

I don't know if I've expressed it here in this blog before, but despite the stereotype of evangelical Christians, I am actually a registered Democrat. Not that my official party registration necessarily means much, since I didn't vote for any Democrats in 2000, and the next time I voted Democrat was in the California gubernatorial recall election (is that the proper way to say that?) in which I voted to keep Democratic Governor Davis and, should he be recalled, to put Democratic Lieutenant Governor Bustamante in his place. That was largely on principle, though, as I thought the whole recall process was a bunch of crap. No matter, I'm going too far with this tangent.

As a Democrat, and even someone who has felt a lot more affinity for my official party pretty much since we invaded Iraq, I've got to say once again despite expectations that I'm a little worried about the overwhelming results. On election night, I heard on television that this election was unprecedented. Never before (since the Republican Party formed in the mid-1800's I assume; I hate statistics in a vacuum) has there been a national election in which Republicans did not gain a single seat. While as usual, the majority of the offices up for a vote ended up going to incumbents, six seats in the Senate switched party, around 25 seats in the House switched, and seven state governorships switched, all from Republican to Democrat, not a single one the reverse. After what certainly seems to many like a long period of either a very incapable and/or corrupt Republican rule of this country, we're swinging back Democratic. Given my party affiliation and general disdain for the way the country's been run lately, you'd think this would be positive news.

I worry nonetheless. Part of it has to do with the situation. Because of how badly the GOP has been handling things of late, the strong shift to the left may be far less an indication of nationwide support for liberal policies than a nationwide rejection of conservative policies. The thing is, the two are not tantamount to the same thing, but we live in a country with a political system that has come to so often endorse the concept.

How many of you heard in 2004 that "A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush!"? Bush and Nader didn't stand for much of any of the same things, if any at all, but the idea is that any vote that went to Nader as a third-party candidate (and yes, I know he was technically independent in 2004) was one vote less that Kerry would get. Perhaps more aptly, but showing up what's so offensive to this idea in my view, a friend of mine said that if your second choice was Kerry, then a vote for Nader was like a vote for Bush, but if your second choice was Bush, then your Nader vote was in that case a vote for Kerry!

You understand the idea, and that is that there is no possible way that a person could get elected in this country unless he or she is a member of one of the two main political parties, despite the fact that we actually have Libertarian, Green, Constitution, Natural Law and Reform candidates that have real plans on how to make this nation great, and they might even be good plans. In 1996, The Simpsons aired their annual Halloween episode with a political bent to it. (YouTube clip) In the story, Clinton and Dole get abducted by aliens who take their places so that no matter the outcome of the election, they will take over the Earth and enslave humanity. On Election Day, Homer finally manages to reveal this plot to his fellow citizens, unmasking the two aliens:

Homer: America, take a good look at your beloved candidates. They're nothing but hideous space reptiles!
Kodos: It's true, we are aliens, but what are you going to do about it? It's a two-party system. You have to vote for one of us.
Man in the crowd: Well, I believe I'll vote for a third-party candidate!
Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away!

Sure enough, the next day Kang is declared the winner. The disturbing thing about this episode is that every time I see it again in reruns, I think to myself that while I find it unlikely that aliens with superior technology would try to infiltrate our government in such a manner, I can totally believe Americans would vote for an unsavory candidate because they thought they had no choice. Let the Democrats run Stalin for President, and the Republicans run Hitler, and Perot and Nader would still get less than 10% of the vote it seems.

Then again, maybe there is hope. After all, defying everyone's expectations including my own, after Joseph Lieberman refused to drop out of the race after losing the Democratic primary, he managed to win Connecticut as an independent. Also, the Vermont Senate seat up for a vote was kept by independent candidate Bernie Sanders who, I have been told, is pretty much a socialist. (That was, however with no Democrat opposing in that race.) But third party candidates, while an interesting subject, are not the only subject that concerns me here.

Back in 1994, there was a similar upheaval in which the Republicans managed to gain control of both houses of Congress. At that time, some amazing things happened. Thinking that their substantial gains in Congress indicated widespread approval of their conservative issues, they proceeded to go wild and push through legislation at an impressive pace. There seemed to be no stopping them. And then before long, Congress went back to the Democrats. Why? I think political parties these days are often getting high on their own sense of power. We're not a nation of people represented by politicians anymore so much as a nation of political parties. How many people vote for candidates anymore rather than voting for parties? If we see this election as a victory for the Democratic Party rather than as a victory for several politicians many of whom happen to be Democrats, then the country comes to be run not by 500-odd human representatives of their constituencies, but by two grotesque, inhuman creatures battling over who gets to feast on the carcass of representative democracy.

Will the Democrats take this opportunity to make real changes and make this country better, or will they see it as a chance to take their power and gloatingly use it to their own selfish ends? Note that I'm not saying this is characteristic of the Democratic Party, but characteristic of politicians in general. I think to a great extent this happened to the 1994 Republican Congress and to the Bush administration, despite lack of a strong victory in the latter case. As Jon Stewart asked DNC chair Howard Dean the day after the election, "How long...before power corrupts you absolutely?" Dean shrugged it off as a joke, but I tend to think it's a question every politician should ask themself and their party.

Maybe nothing in particular will come of this election. Maybe only real change will occur once a new Presidential administration is in place, whatever political party it may be. I don't know. Sometimes I weep for this country. I don't believe that there is a political party out there that has a better chance than any other to make this nation great. All they need is to stand up for ideals rather than the quest for money and influence. What kind of a Congress will the 110th be? As every year, I look to my government with hope for the best, but little expectation for great things.

No comments: