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Being divided where it counts

Kamaria Porter | Wednesday, November 10, 2004

I must admit, after working on election matters full time in Portland, Ore. for the summer and part-time with campus groups in our community and swing states, I am only now acclimating myself to the fact that it is over. While I was highly disappointed with the results, I feel it’s time to move on, evaluate this event and get ready for the next fight. Yet, how Republicans and conservative pundits have described this election concerns me. Vice President Dick Cheney declared last week, “President Bush ran forthrightly on a clear agenda for this nation’s future, and the nation responded by giving him a mandate.” Much like the Republican platform, I find fault with every word of this statement.

First of all, President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign was anything but forthright. Anyone remember how Bush shirked questions, spouted ambiguous allusions to policy and continually resorted to Sen. John Kerry bashing and fear-mongering over answering questions in every debate? Even now, Bush has no definite plans for his next term’s policy focuses – Social Security reform, tax code reform and securing the peace in Iraq. On the infamous “moral issues,” Bush’s stance remains unclear. He ran with the promise of a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, yet a week before the election on Good Morning America, declared civil unions were fine by him. He said, “I don’t think we should deny people rights to a civil union.” This has some members of his Christian conservative base – who adamantly disapprove of any extension of rights to same-sex couples – grumbling. Even Bush supporters are unclear what the next four years will bring.

Enough of Bush’s incoherent campaigning; now let us turn to the extremely troubling “Bush-Cheney-Rove-vision” of Tuesday’s results. They claim to have received a “mandate” from the American people, chalk full with “political capital” to further their policy goals. Looking at the statistics, to declare a mandate is an exaggeration. Bush won on the narrowest margin of a sitting president since former President Woodrow Wilson. With a 51 percent to 48 percent edge over Kerry, the only thing Bush can claim this time is that he was actually elected.

I understand their thinking though. To go from what a New York Times article describes as “a one-term accident of history” to a real, but close win in the popular vote and electoral college must feel like a “mandate,” yet expecting the 48 percent of voters who stood against Bush to share their sentiments is folly. Furthermore, the illusive “political capital” Bush lacked these past four years did not stop his decisions to take unilateral and aggressive moves to invade Iraq or give tax cuts to the wealthy. Sounds like more of the same out of touch-ness with reality from the Bush camp.

Now to this warm and fuzzy talk of uniting America after the election. While it sounds nice to promise to bridge these gaps, it is neither realistic nor favorable. Blue voters and red voters, for the most part, are divided where it counts. We have dramatically different conceptions of policy remedies to national and international problems. The passion behind these convictions produced high voter turnout, volunteer participation and political dialogue. The surprising part, which caused great confusion and grief among Democrats, was that this division extends to conceptions of America’s essence. As New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote, “We don’t just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is.” That point of division will not disappear with “compassionate conservatism,” and I do not think we should brush it aside. Instead of grasping for empty prospects of unity, we need to broaden our discussion of political issues to find and reconcile the roots and values in these different conceptions of our nation.

I would like to see the passion and constructive energy behind this division on the left/progressive side to continue and grow. In the next four years, we could see massive changes to our constitution, continued consolidation of corporate power and elite wealth with tax reform, privatization of Social Security and further desecration of the environment. We who believe government must address the income and living standard disparities with progressive income tax code and social welfare programs, that preserving the Earth comes before economic efficiency and expediency and that America can not orchestrate democratic elections in Iraq and Afghanistan until we ensure each American vote counts, must not concede our positions for any reason. While our mobilizations to take back the White House fell short, we did amazing work and have much more to do. Division among citizens is our democracy’s last line of defense against narrow single-minded interests and factions from dictating to everyone what America is and does. Let us keep our division sharp and safeguard our democracy.

Kamaria Porter is a junior history major. She can be contacted at [email protected]

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