Politics: 2004 Post-Election Thoughts
I make no secret of the fact that I'm pretty liberal, and I freely admit that I am extremely saddened by the results of yesterday's Presidential election. I'm dismayed that my candidate lost, of course, but that's often the case. I'm even more dismayed that the other guy won, since I think his policies endanger my children's future on almost all fronts. But most of all, I'm dismayed by the way this election reveals this country's increasing polarization.
A quick look at the electoral map reveals the usual regional polarization. There's a strong North vs. South split, as well as a Coast vs. Interior split. That's clearly bad for the country. People in discussion forums are making understandable jokes about chunks of the country succeeding from the Union. There's always the rural/urban split, and the troubling white/minority split looms large.
More interesting, however, are the polarizations revealed by the exit polling. Right now you can look at some exit polls for the entire US at CNN. More than ten thousand respondants, so the data should be fairly clean. And it has some disturbing stuff.
19% of the country asays that "Terrorism" is the most important issue in this election, and (right or wrong), 86% of those people voted for Bush. Of those who said that "Health Care" was their most important issue, 77% voted for Kerry. Yet 93% of the country is "Very" (70%) or "Somewhat" (23%) concerned with the availability and cost of health care.
What does this mean? The numbers don't explicitly say this, but reading into the data from other things I've been monitoring, it seems clear that a lot of people that voted for Bush feel like they needed to choose between health care and safety from terrorists.
Think about that for a moment. Shouldn't it be possible for us to all live in a country where we have good health care, and safety from terrorism?
What's happened, of course, is the ultimate triumph of "wedge issue" politics. Both parties are looking, first and foremost, for voting blocks that they can count on. Both parties are countinually tuning their message to get those blocks, and looking for specific things that will glean them 51% of the vote. Once they have 51%, they're done. They don't need to include any more people, because building a larger block than 51% simply means they need to make more and more promises to a wider base, thus diluting their power.
Put another way, when the polls were looking like Bush at 55% and Kerry at 45%, the Dems were not looking for a way to convince that 55% that they were wrong. They weren't looking for a way to build any sort of national consensus on issues, problems, or solutions. They were looking for a single simple issue that they could use to split off 6% of that 55%.
There are issues like that, of course, but they are all inflamatory and inherently divisive. Most of them are binary, or can be presented as binary. You're either "for" or "against" legalized abortion, for instance.
Our country was founded on the principle that having a simple majority didn't make things right. The constitution offers explicit protection to those in the minority, in fact. But what's happening here is that the country has polarized into two camps of 45%, and a middle ground of 10% that both sides fight to claim so that they can have that simple majority, win an election, and claim that makes their position "the will of the people". The two party system is killing us, because it encourages and thrives on this polarization. Worse, if you vote for a third party in hopes of breaking this democratic death-spiral, you're clearly wasting your vote, so there's no clear exit from our dilemma.
President Bush, having finally won the popular vote, has already started to act as though he has a mandate. He's going to be able to act that way because his party controls both the Senate and the House. Bush's policies will not really need to take into account the views of the 45% minority, and so they aren't going to. The only recourse that our elected representatives will have is going to be politics of obstruction, meaning mostly filibusters in the Senate, I imagine.
The only incentive our system has toward consensus-building occurs when the executive, legislative, and judicial branches are not all in alignment along binary partisan boundaries. With the GOP clearly in control of the executive and legislative already, and with Reinquist's imminent departure, going to be in control of the judicial soon, the systematic disenfranchisement of the 45% minority is just about to get really rolling along.
That minority is already angry and frustrated, and that anger and frustration is only going to grow. Before the election, a lot of people were saying things like, "If Bush wins, I'm moving to Canada." Most of that was probably bluster, but some of it is real, and I can certainly understand why.
But things aren't all roses for the winners, either.
The winning majority, a great number of whom support fiscal conservatism, aren't going to be getting off clean. History has clearly shown that when the Legislative and Executive branches are in alignment, the government overspends. Since we already have skyrocketing deficits and a shaky economy, this isn't good news. Right or wrong, I don't think any more tax cuts are coming.
The only clear winners here are going to be the 18% of the country who voted for Bush, and for whom "Moral Issues" are the most important. They are going to get some of what they want, meaning a thinning of the barrier between church and state, and pressure against abortion rights and gay rights. But these are some of the most divisive wedge issues of all, and any changes here are almost certainly going to result in a marked rise in civil unrest and stress fractures within the GOP itself.
Get ready for a rocky four years.