Thursday, November 16, 2006

On happy gray areas

Okay, so following the spectacular drubbing of the Republican party in this year's midterm elections, all of the commentators who'd been calling it for the neocons since back in August are now falling all over themselves to assure us that Democratic voters weren't really voting for Democrats - they were voting for the center, and that's just where the Dems happened to be. See, the Dems knew that they could never win on their own merits, so they all moved right, which pushed the Republicans even more right, and the Republicans got pushed out of the center and the Democrats took their place and that's where all the voters were and... what? What?

The Repubs are having a hard time accepting the fact that the Democrats won because they ran better candidates. And when I call them better candidates, I do mean by their constituents' standards, because I don't know if I'd consider a candidate "better" who voted for the Military Commission Act, Sherrod Brown. But, speaking of Brown, that one vote notwithstanding, he tends to fall under the umbrella of "progressive," as do John Hall and John Conyers.

Voters gave Congress to the Democrats because they were sick of the way the Republicans were handling things and didn't feel that Republican values, if I may borrow that word, were really in line with their own personal values. They put Bush in the White House and the 190th Congress in the Capitol because they were willing to be convinced that that was the way to keep America safe and strong in the wake of terror attacks and the midst of war. This year, they showed that they don't believe that anymore - and that they don't trust the neocons. The Democrats didn't have to get more conservative; they just had to show the voters that they were more liberal than they'd ever thought.

I will give the centrist-ists some credit, though; although a vote for a Dem wasn't necessarily a vote for the center, it was a vote for moderation. Because that's what the Democratic party is about. And don't think that Dems haven't gotten the short end of the stick for it, either. John Kerry took a beating for his use of the word "nuance" in the 2004 presidential elections. Liberal positions on things like abortion and gay marriage aren't nearly as succinct as the bumper-sticker talking points the Republicans favor ("stay the course," anyone?). The convenient model for pundits and news media is to view the country as evenly divided along political lines, with Dems to the left and Republicans to the right. But a more accurate model shows how the Republicans like their extremes, while the Democrats favor the moderate view embraced by most Americans.

Never has the Republican party been as binary as it is now. Neocons love extremes because they're clear and simple; you're either with us and our good things, or you're with them and their baaaaad things. They're the party of false dichotomies. Either you support a total abortion ban, or you want to kill babies. Either you support a border fence, or you want the borders wide open. Either you support warrantless wiretapping, or you want to give rights to terrorists. Either you support the war, or you hate America. Either you support a Christian foundation for our government, or you want to ban Christianity. Either you oppose gay marriage, or you want everyone to be gay. Either you stay the course, or you cut and run.

It's nice. It's simple and convenient. But anyone who hasn't grown up in a hermetically-sealed bubble knows that life is rarely either of those things. And why should politics be unrepresentative of real life? Life has middle ground and gray areas, and so does liberal policy. No one wants to kill babies; we just support a woman's right to determine what happens to her own body. No one wants open and unregulated borders; we just don't think that xenophobia and a 700-mile fence will solve the problem of illegal immigration as effectively as a guest-worker program. No one wants to give rights to terrorists; we just want the government to get a warrant before tapping an American's phone.

And that's what voters recognized on November 7. They recognized that their own feelings on issues like national security and terrorism and domestic policy fell into gray areas, and that this clear, neatly delineated policy concept that the neocons were trying to sell them wasn't representative of their reality. I think that in coming months, the 110th Congress will reflect the realism that voters are looking for. Not giving free rein to terrorists, but not giving untrammeled authority to the president, either. Not pulling troops out of Iraq all at once, but not laying our hopes of victory in Iraq on a plan that isn't working. Not thinking in terms of liberal or conservative, red or blue, but in terms of what will work, what is realistic, and what is best for America.

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