a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Where the buck stops

Posted by Thomas Nephew on November 22nd, 2004

Near the end of Timothy Burke’s review of reactions to his earlier polemic — “The Road To Victory” — he writes some very true words:

Bush voters, the buck stops at your desk. You’re in charge, collectively, and your representative is in charge of the reins of government. You can bitch and moan all you like, sometimes justifiably, about the sins of the other side, about Michael Moore and bad liberal blogs and so on. The fact is that in some crucial sense, none of that matters now. I charged you collectively with responsibility for what happens next, good or bad, because you are responsible. I blamed you, harshly, and I’m sorry if that offends you. Make it a positive charge rather than a negative accusation. You are responsible, and so you must be better than your perception of those you oppose. If you want to live up to the decision you have made, then you have to respect evidence more than they, you have to be bound by facts more than they, you have to be more gracious and tolerant than they, you have to reach out more than they, you have to concede more than they. Don’t come whining that little Jonny hit you first: you just became the grown-up in the room, so act like it. You have the power now: you cannot hide behind a cloak of marginality, you cannot complain about liberal media and liberal Hollywood and liberal professors. Nothing is keeping you down. You are the Man now, no longer an underdog in any sense. If you do not hate and you do not preach divisiveness and you have the interests of all at heart, if you do not aspire to dominate your fellow countrymen and if you pursue a particular foreign policy in the tempered, justifiable, rational belief that it will produce better results, now is when you must prove it.

The ongoing “beleaguered right” theme really is a little ridiculous and whiney at this point. Mark Schmitt points out one example, a friend whose blog sports pointers to “TGWW” stickers — a “thank God Dubya Won” secret handshake for your blue-state Bush voting brethren — and whose blurb promises “vital information about Euro-snobbery.” I’m also reminded of Glenn Reynolds’ post before the election, recommending a Bush vote if only to stick it to the French and Germans (if I recall correctly).

Unless something drastic happens to the European subcontinent — and academia and “activist” judges and Hollywood, etcetera — such folk may have a nice, permanent grievance to nurse into their old age, quite independent of Bush’s actual, you know, performance over the past and next four years. It would be nice if they’d try governing instead of bemoaning their opponents’ characters, or setting aside their remaining ethical scruples. But I won’t hold my breath waiting for it.

Burke on the election
Timothy Burke has been writing some very good reactions to and analyses of the 2004 election; see also “Six Degrees of Condescension,” and “And another thing.” That’s not to say I agree with him 100%, although I gave his arguments far too short shrift in a “buck up” kind of post of my own. I have to rely on Burke’s account of the book, but I suppose I’m more in the Thomas Franks (author of “What’s the matter with Kansas?”) school of “give ’em something to vote for you for” red-state/county outreach. That is, I don’t agree with Burke that

…The red-staters are the people who have stayed behind while everyone else has left because they do not want to or cannot live the blue-state way, because they have an idea of moral economy that scorns getting ahead, rejects meritocratic values.

…and that therefore they are immune to outreach along the lines of my “Wal-Mart” notion (however unpromising that particular notion might turn out to be). These people, Burke seems to say, are made of sterner, uncompromising stuff — mere economic blandishments will be met with rejection and scorn.

And well they might be, if there’s simply an implied quid pro quo “deal” for votes. But if it’s a matter of solidarity within those communities, the story might turn out differently. People have often supposed westerners, mountaineers, or farmers aren’t capable of progressive politics, and they keep forgetting how and why they’ve often been wrong.

Some of the bitterest sustained union fights in American history happened in the West (Cripple Creek, Ludlow) and the Appalachians (Matewan, Blair Mountain) — peopled “though” they were with often deeply religious, generally highly independent, decidedly non-urban folk. Some of the most progressive impulses in American history came from or found strongholds in the farming heartland — abolitionism, the Chautauqua movement, the Progressive Party itself. I’m a poor enough student of this kind of American history that I can’t better support these contentions. But I’m a good enough one to suspect Burke hasn’t quite got his “red-staters” right — if history is still a guide.

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