So I voted Nader four years ago. I did this because of youth, and the associated combination of cynicism and naïveté; I cynically believed that the system was so broken that a major-party vote would make no difference, and naïvely believed that it couldn't get any worse. At least on the second point, was I ever wrong. Remember 2000? Remember when we thought that the only important issue facing the country was Roe v. Wade?
By my best guess, what Bush means by an "Ownership Society" is a rollback of the New Deal and a return to the 1920s, and if he's reelected he'll probably get to do a lot of it. I won't even start with the administration's insane foreign policy; there's an infinite amount to object to on moral grounds, but their domestic policy is what's going to affect our lives here. All those familiar faces from the last four years will continue to gut the social safety net, regress the tax code, red-shift the judiciary, poison the land, empty the treasury, erode civil liberties, and generally work to establish a society which is libertarian in its economics, evangelical in its values, and fascist in its law enforcement. There's a limit to what can be done in four years, but I have the uneasy sense that one good push on the toboggan could send it skidding down the slope for a long time.
Kerry, at the very least, will replace this cadre that wants to continue remaking the United States. Given that Republicans are likely to come out of this with a Senate majority, I don't know how much of the extant damage he'll be able to fix. You know and I know that there is no real solution to the Iraq mess and nothing there is going to change any time soon, other than a possible increase in European troops and the outside chance that domestic protest will rise to the point that Kerry will have to shrug his shoulders, bring our boys home, and let Baghdad implode. Maybe some of the Bush tax cuts will get rolled back too. But I can't see any scenario for substantive change. Gay marriage? Not this decade, and maybe not the next one either. Universal health care? Ha! The federal piggy bank is empty. There's no point in even discussing, as Nader would like to, Kerry's or his wife's extensive ties to the octopus-tentacled business world; if there was ever a period in our history where you could get elected to the presidency without a lot of help from the tentacles, it's long past. The point is that even if Kerry wants to effect any change in the deep structure, he won't be able to. The best-case scenario is four years of damage control.
It's one thing for the country to be divided. It's entirely another for these divisions to be eroding faith in the electoral process itself. This election stands a very good chance of ending up in the courts again; unlike 2000, everyone knows it in advance this time. The degree of arbitrary power held by the judiciary, from issues like the poll challenges all the way up to that 5-4 Supreme Court decision, uncomfortably reminds me of certain episodes in Latin American history. I do not think that this is a fraudulent show election, or anything like that. I do think that when the margins of victory are so thin, people are inclined to dispute gray areas in the voting process that in better times everyone can pass over. This incessant talk of a divided nation reminds me of the 1850s, and while the fuzziness of the geographical divide rules out another civil war, I wouldn't be surprised if we start seeing violent protests and a resulting government crackdown that will make the sixties look like a cakewalk. Maybe not this time around, but 2008 and 2012 look to be just as bad. These divisions aren't going away.
I'm going to go out and vote now. I know you're all doing the same. And tonight we'll turn on our televisions.