I’m somewhat sympathetic to the “this was a good one to lose, let Bush clean up his own mess” attitude. Any thought that keeps the good guys cheerful and engaged has something to be said for it, and there’s some basis for thinking that the next four years could be very, very bad for the long-term health of the Republican Party, which would be very, very good for the long-term health of the nation and the planet. This year’s level of Demcratic effort, and the level of discontent with Bush among Repubican-leaning elites, makes me less worried now than I was three years ago about the ability of Bush and Rove to bring about the semi-permanent consolidation of power that was clearly their ambition and that of some of their allies.
Taking, then, an adequately long view, it’s not clear that Tuesday’s outcome made overall prospects worse rather than better. But there’s something wrong with that thought.
In the long run we’re all dead. In the next four years, and for some time thereafter, there will be lots of unnecessary suffering and death because we have in power a President, and a party, contemptuous of any human suffering that doesn’t involve them or their voters (or can’t be used to partisan advantage), contemptuous of the rest of the world and of Americans who disagree with them, and contemptuous of ordinary fact. Moreover, some of the damage done in the next four years, for example to the esteem in which America is held by the rest of the world, can’t be easily undone.
I can afford to be philosophical about the outcome. I’m white. I’m straight. I’m male. I’m employed at a job that isn’t going to disappear, with health insurance that isn’t going to be taken away and a fully-funded pension plan. Bush’s tax changes probably decreased my net share of the national tax burden, and I’m not going to go without anything vital due the hit my income has taken and will continue to take as a result of sub-par economic performance. I’m not a likely victim either of crime or the criminal justice system. Nobody I know is likely to be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term as a result of restrictions on abortion.
My biggest personal loss is probably in the air quality, plus the increased risk (but still pretty small in absolute terms) of getting incinerated by a North Korean or Iranian nuclear weapon, plus maybe the setback for stem-cell research that might mean my new kidney or the treatment for Parkinson’s or whatever won’t be ready when I need it.
So why shouldn’t I be philosophical? As the Steve Goodman song puts it, “It ain’t hard, puttin’ up with somebody else’s troubles.”
There’s a story — I believe a true one — about a famous defense attorney who promised his client that he would certainly be acquitted of a murder charge. When the jury brought in a verdict of “Guilty as charged,” the hapless client turned to his lawyer and said “What do we do now?” As the client was being led away in handcuffs, the lawyer calmly replied, “Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m going to lunch.”
Those of us who are comfortable in our personal circumstances and aren’t among the specific targets of God’s Official Party’s twisted views about “moral values,” and who therefore had less personally at stake in this election than lots of other people did (even some who voted for Bush) don’t want to be too much like the defense lawyer in that story.
Yes, it was possible to root for Bush’s re-election on the Leninist principle of “the worse, the better.” But one Leninist party is already one too many.