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Anti-Bush bracelets – so 2004

Observer Viewpoint | Friday, January 21, 2005

During my time abroad in London, a recurring joke among my friends was how easily one can spot an American tourist. Primarily based on the clothing (ski jackets with bright colors) and general demeanor (smiling or drinking or both), one could inquire if they were indeed American and receive the invariable answer “Yeah, how’d you know?”

If one steps outside the boroughs of tourist trap restaurants and bars, the difference of appearance is so pronounced that an American walking into a locals’ pub elicits inevitable glares, dull whispers and perhaps even a snide comment or two.

I can only imagine the week after Nov. 2, when the election results struck the old world with shock and awe. Particularly among young European students, the venomous anti-Bush stance is even more prevalent than one might find at the average Berkeley coffeehouse or sociology department lounge.

So how must one travel or study abroad when Americans can be spotted a mile away and the election results gave President George W. Bush the largest percentage of the total popular vote since 1988? Several enterprising young Americans have developed the idea of blue bracelets, Lance Armstrong “LIVESTRONG”-style, that advertise to the world that the wearer is, in fact, not some wacko resident of “Jesusland” who was inspired by Bush’s glaring stupidity. But I digress; the time for pointing out the overreactions of the “Anyone But Bush ’04” crowd has come and passed, and the world must focus on the next four years of Dubya leading the free world.

The bracelet inventors hope their product can insulate American tourists from foreign hostility, spitburgers and improperly poured Guinness pints, or simply help foster solidarity among Democrats at home. Their efforts deserve praise, at least from the insecure Americans who no longer have to resort to sewing the Canadian flag onto their backpacks. Media attention has made them so successful and profitable that red bracelet Republican equivalents have popped up as well.

The bracelets, rapidly approaching the “tipping point” level of popular attention and discourse, only fuel the over-hyped red-state/blue-state ideological tale both parties have grasped. Sure, America was divided in the last election, but the road to healing the rifts both at home and abroad does not lie in clothing campaigns that hearken back to the glory days of middle school conformity. I hesitate to make a “MoveOn” joke, but even the most strident liberals still reeling from the election results should brainstorm ways to avoid perpetual loss at the polling booth. Three simple steps can guide Democrats to greater political relevance when the odds are against them.

Step one: Leave the blue bracelets, blue headbands and blue Soma at home before venturing out into the American public sphere. I’ll be more impressed if you engage me in civil discussion and debate than if you wear the bold statement that, yes, you did in fact vote against Bush.

Step two: Be self-constructive and acknowledge the Democrats presented a platform so unimpressive that one of the least popular incumbents in history won reelection with a larger percentage than former president Bill Clinton could ever muster. As comforting as claims about the bigotry, stupidity or inability to vote in their “best interests” may seem for explaining why Republicans win, the way forward is to alter the platform, not to mince words or hire a better cheerleader. William F. Buckley helped modern-day conservatives more than any non-elected figure of his era when he mustered forces to marginalize and eventually jettison the far-right John Birch Society from mainstream conservative ranks. Could Democrats benefit from a similar purge or at least distancing themselves from the Michael Moore wing?

Step three: Never lose your pride in being an American when traveling abroad. The perceived loss of American prestige was so prevalent that I wonder if the infamous “court of world opinion” already declared us unfit to rule until we elect a linguistically gifted Democrat as president to placate the postmodern European masses. Ironically, the greatest fuel for international condemnation of America is the lack of confidence and overstated self-flagellation displayed by its very own citizens. The more we allow dissenting world opinion as the source of policy change, the more active their voices will become in condemning American institutions until we curb them to satisfy our foreign counterparts.

Had Sen. John Kerry squeaked out a win in November, every passionate critic of Bush would have claimed victory, in some small part, due to their efforts. Thankfully, no foreign critics can convince themselves the protest marches through Trafalgar Square and fair-weather allies turning their backs were just what America needed to realize that Bush should get the boot. Bracelet symbols of solidarity only pay homage to the false deity of “world opinion” that produced more heat than light in guiding our election toward its desired end.

Bill Rinner is a senior economics major. His column appears every other Friday. He can be contacted at wrinner@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.