The trouble with the movie Alien vs Predator is that whichever side you take, you find youself rooting for a monster.
And that’s largely the story of election 2004 as well.
Since many have been tempted to reduce the recent election to a battle over blue and red state values, it should be noted that the area in which we may have suffered the greatest lapse in values was where they ultimately matter the most; the sane center.
Beyond all else, the recent election results and the campaigns that preceded them were a massive win for the margins.
We expect extremism from the valleys of deep red and deep blue. We also expect that extremism to be scorned by the rest of us who supposedly live along the purple mountains of moderate majesty. We got a lot of extremism. We didn’t get much scorn.
Each of the major political parties is made up of two key segments. First, there are the extremists at the margin, vocal and active minorities that push the envelope when it comes to truth, fairplay and common sense. Second, there are those in the moderate majority who refuse to distance themselves from the extremists because they hope that extremism, hate or just plain stupidity may help swing a few votes to their party’s advantage.
At one point, early in the last campaign, MoveOn began pushing an ad that featured the Statue of Liberty with an Abu Ghraib hood over her head. I thought it was inappropriate and would, if anything, cost the Democrats votes. I emailed around a message to several left-leaning bloggers. None posted a protest about the MoveOn ads. One notable blogger emailed back to explain that he barely had time to keep up with all of the bad things that the other side was doing. There was no way he could focus on this.
That about sums up the 2004 campaign season, no?
How many people in the Republican Party (not operatives or strategists, people) blasted the hate-filled gay marriage bans or ripped the Swift Boat smear campaign? How many of them admit idiots like Limbaugh, Savage and Hannity don’t speak for them? Is being associated with the foolishness of Gary Bauer and Alan Keyes and the madness of Pat Robertson really worth a few swing votes? How many on the right distanced themselves from the sick fear mongering employed by Cheney and Bush?
And the left has their own problems. How many intelligent Democrats had the guts to criticize the extreme positions taken by Michael Moore? Is his version of reality any less simpleminded and distorted than that held by his chief foe? How many liberal blogs excitedly linked to the nearly meaningless video by Eminem? I mean the guy’s rapping borders on the genius. But his understanding of political issues doesn’t. He was treated as a conquering hero because of the perception (equally false because of its condescension and absurdity) that his final weekend rhymes would hurt Bush and stir up young voters.
How many people on either side had the guts to criticize the slop spewed on their behalf across the airwaves by the many 527 groups and pandering pundits in their corner?
None. Both sides allowed themselves and their causes to be represented by those who they quietly find repulsive. If it hurts the other guy, then the ends justify the means. It was, we convinced ourselves, an election too close and too important to interrupt with issues of dignity. If Michael Moore in his ridiculous baseball cap can get my side votes, bring it on. If pretending that gay marriage threatens me or that Sean Hannity is really smart will mean a better turnout on my side, bring it on.
The only trouble is that what we brought on are the extremists. Your side may not be your side anymore. The deep reds and the deep blues are gaining in numbers and becoming the giant purple people eaters. The GOP sold its soul to the religious extremists on the far right for whom evolution is a four letter word. The Dems traded their own crumbling platform for an anyone but Bush attack plan, wherein any messenger with an anti-Bush bent was welcomed into the fold and granted a leadership status equal to their volume.
The medium, we are told, is the message. Well, in American politics, for most of us, the message should be medium. But it’s not. And the American middle sold its own soul for the privilege of being silent in an anything to win era. The sane center is shrinking while the margins are just a little less marginalized.