There are many kinds of silence. There is the tranquil sort that lulls over one’s backyard in the last moments of dusk. There is the brief, pregnant type that occurs in the instant between a punch line and the laughter. There is the tedious, endless variety endured while waiting for a pot to boil.
And then there is the type that is best termed "foreboding". This is the ominous kind that is experienced whilst hunched in the stillness of the hurricane’s eye, peering out at the wreckage. It is accompanied by the cold sweat of anticipation and is fueled by the knowledge that the other half of the storm is still out there somewhere.
As I sit at my computer, with bleary eyes after a long night of watching returns, I must confess to just such an ominous sense of foreboding. The election has been called, the speeches have been delivered, and only the chirping of the proverbial crickets breaks the silence. Meanwhile, numerous storms churn slowly in our direction…from the menacing build-up around Fallujah to the ominous videotaped message of Osama bin Laden. Iran continues to stubbornly progress with its nuclear program. Yasser Arafat lies in Paris, slowly dying (already dead?).
While staring at the map, with its now-familiar blue and red blotches, "foreboding" is the only word that seems to fit.
For better or for worse, our collective fate now rests upon the mind and soul of one unpredictable man from Texas.
As I see it, there are two paths from here.
Perhaps President Bush now views his Iraq debacle as a bitter learning experience. Perhaps he recognizes that his intervention is a disaster that has blackened our reputation abroad, led to the deaths of thousands of innocent people, and has fueled the growth of fanatical hatred of us across the Muslim world. According to this line of thinking, perhaps he will be more cautious so as not to get burned again. Maybe he will be more skeptical of his neocon advisors when they begin agitating for the next invasion. Maybe he even sees the Iraq war as a calamity that almost cost him his reelection, thus prompting him to purge the neocons from his administration altogether (followed by a relatively quick withdrawal from Iraq).
Or, more ominously, perhaps he will see his reelection as a vindication. Maybe he will view his success as a sign that he should continue with his "resolute" plan to remake the Middle East. Lebanon must be "liberated" from Syrian occupation. Damascus must be transformed into a democracy. Iran must be disarmed and freed from the tyranny of the mullahs.
While I hope that Bush chooses the former path, I harbor considerable trepidation that he is preparing for the latter.
As I eat a little crow concerning by previous prediction of a narrow Kerry win, I must confess a certain scorn for the Democrats. Their loss was our loss, in a profound way. A Kerry victory would have repudiated the neocons and opened the possibility of a saner foreign policy.
An authentic opportunity was lost, one which we may all live to regret having let slip from us.
I have two explanations for Kerry’s defeat. One is from a "micro" perspective and one is from a more holistic, "macro" viewpoint.
The first reason lies with Kerry himself and the Democrats’ selection of him as their candidate. Their primary voters had to make a choice. Specifically, should they have followed the style of Barry Goldwater or Gerald Ford? Should the Democrats have selected a barn-burning antiwar candidate who would lay it all out there for the electorate…or should they have attempted to placate the nationalistic fervor of the masses by nominating a stealth peace candidate?
In other words, should they have mimicked Goldwater’s 1964 campaign in which he stood by his principles with ferocity, come what may? Or should they have followed the "me-tooism" of the Ford branch of the Republican Party?
I believe that they (and the country) would have been far better served by the nomination of an uncompromising antiwar candidate. By stating their case against the neoconservative wars in an unapologetic fashion, they would have at least given the people a meaningful choice in the election. The case against the war could have been laid out in a convincing way by a credible person in a consistent manner.
This strategy may well have ended in defeat, but like Goldwater’s attack on liberalism, it would have vividly shown the people an alternative path from the road to oblivion. It would have also deprived Bush of the "flip-flop" argument that was used so effectively against Kerry.
Instead, the Democrats nominated Kerry in a thinly disguised attempt to appeal to the pro-war sentiment of a large chunk of the electorate. They attempted to use his Vietnam "heroism" combined with his theoretical support for Iraq to blur the distinction with Bush’s militarism.
This reduced Kerry to vapid attacks on Bush’s prosecution of the war, but deprived Kerry of the ability to authentically dissect the case for the war in the first place.
Furthermore, Kerry seemed to intimate that he would continue to fight the war but would do so in a more "competent" manner. This eliminated his credibility as an antiwar candidate and deprived the people of a true choice.
In a broader, "macro" sense, the tale of this election can be told by studying the electoral map. Quite simply, the Democratic Party is no longer in touch with Middle America. The Heartland of this country voted almost unanimously against them. Kerry carried only the Eastern corridor and the Left Coast (and a few states in the upper mid-West inhabited by Scandinavian socialists).
It was a stunning repudiation.
The Democrats must now take a long, hard look in the mirror and ask themselves how this happened.
The underlying cause is, in my humble opinion, obvious. The Democratic Party has been imbued for several decades with a cultural and intellectual attitude of snobbish superiority over the people residing in Middle America. The folks in "fly-over" country have become aware of this attitude, and are rejecting the Democrats because of it.
The elites of American liberalism can be found on Northern college campuses, in the mainstream media, and in the institutions of popular culture (Hollywood, etc.). For quite some time now, these elites have harbored an increasingly obvious disdain for the culture, religion, and lifestyle of the people of "red state America".
They refer to Middle Americans as "trailer trash" at their dinner parties. They snicker at their religious beliefs. They scowl at their leisure activities (NASCAR, etc.).
In a nutshell, the Democrats are led by an intellectual and cultural elite that is in the grips of fevered bigotry. Dislike of "rednecks" is perhaps the last acceptable prejudice among our oh-so PC elites.
It is not that the liberals don’t like America…but rather that they don’t like Americans.
And thanks to talk radio and the Internet, the folks in Middle America have become aware of the situation. They know what the professors at Yale think of their Baptist religion. They are aware of Alec Baldwin’s opinions of their culture. They know what the editorial staff of The New York Times thinks of bass fishing.
I am not saying that the liberal elites need to adopt the lifestyle of the average Nebraskan farmer or West Virginian hunter…but if they ever want to carry a red state again, these elites need to learn to respect them. They need to put aside their class-based and culture-based prejudices and learn to appreciate Middle America as an authentic and unique culture worthy of the same respect accorded to any other. They need to give Pentecostals and Evangelicals the same tolerant esteem that they give to Buddhists and Wiccans. They need to accept that fishing should be just as socially acceptable as windsurfing and rock-climbing. These elites need to develop the same compassion for the poor of Mississippi’s trailer parks as they have for others who are impoverished in other locales.
But the gap has grown so large that even when these elites do try to bridge it, they appear insincere and condescending. The low point of the recent election campaign occurred when Kerry showed up in Ohio dressed in camouflage for a goose hunting expedition.
He was, he claimed, an avid hunter.
John Kerry is a hunter like Elton John is a Green Beret.
The major problem with this state of affairs is that the prejudices of our elites have degraded their ability to communicate with Middle America, even when such communication is vital to our collective security. The Heartland has become so resentful that they simply shut the liberals out altogether.
I am reminded of the old saying: What you are screams at me so loudly that I cannot hear what you say.
The left can deal with this problem in one of two ways. They can allow this election to deepen their contempt for Middle America, or they can honestly engage in introspection and address their attitudes. From what I’ve seen so far, they are tragically following the former path. To them, the reelection of George W Bush is a vindication of all of their negative stereotypes of red state America. They are allowing their prejudices to become even more virulent than before.
But either way, the die is now cast.
We are stuck with Bush and his merry band of neocons for another four years of fun and frolic.
And all I can hear around me is that dreadful, ominous silence that can only be called "foreboding."