Our essays in the January/February issue about the 2004 election, “A Gathering Swarm” by Todd Gitlin and “Life of the Party” by Michael Kazin, inspired a flood of letters from across the political spectrum. Here we present an expanded selection of that debate.
You’re right—there was a gathering swarm of left-leaners that got involved. But even more Republicans got off their duffs as well. I should know—I got off mine and volunteered in a campaign for the ﬁrst time. In Ohio, for George Bush.
Libs act like there’s some small tweak to be made on cultural issues and that liberals’ views on the environment and the economy are a unique moral stance, as if conservatives actually favor pollution and poverty. People aren’t convinced your solutions to these problems or your values on them are any better than Republicans’.
Yes, the left must grow beyond a politics of protest to one of power (Gitlin). Yes, a shell party for candidates and their professionals loses to Republicans, while a people’s party could win (Kazin). But forget the Democrats, who supported the racist, destructive “war on drugs”; torpedoed the Kyoto Protocol before Bush sank it; failed to rally people against the 2000 and 2004 electoral outrages; conﬁrmed Ashcroft; supported the Patriot Act and the terrible attacks on the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq; and let Kerry promise to out-Bush Bush in waging war in Iraq and on terrorism. Your writers’ insights should help build a new party, not feed a dream of turning a leaden one into gold.
Kazin’s thoughtful piece dares to suggest that the left is what the right keeps saying it is:
elitists who turn their noses up at “red America.” It is the ﬁrst article I’ve read by a liberal that suggests looking inward for what the Democrats stand for, and be that. If you’re a party that supports homosexual rights, then stand up proudly and say it. If you’re a party that does not want to be religious, but embraces a secular philosophy, then advocate that.
The Democratic Party needs to ﬁnd a spiritual base that it can hold passionately and that brings people together. The Democrats’ relation to rural people over the last few decades has shown a failure of political judgment. They terrify the rural poor with the prospect of their annihilation by government meddling. Environmental regulations must be applied
differently to multimillion-dollar corporations than to the family in the tar-paper shack. Gun control is another disaster. The gun is the last-ditch guarantor of freedom and self-direction for the rural poor. Liberalism has become a preoccupation of the educated, well-to-do middle class. The Democratic Party must stand up for those whose meaning in life does not revolve around the acquisition of money and power. Here the party has failed the rural poor, of which I am a member.
I’d like to think my letter might get a reply, but I am virtually certain it won’t. If I had written to a group in the Christian right I would certainly get a reply. Therein lies the problem.
That Todd Gitlin considers the 2004 get-out-the-vote effort by a coalition of old and new activists a “movement” is a sad example of the anemia and distorted vision of the so-called “left.”
If, after the fraudulent vote count and Kerry’s quick capitulation, that amalgam of campaign workers had taken to the streets—as in Kiev—and shut down the government until democracy was restored, then it would have been a popular movement. Instead, it was but a failed campaign, and the two-corporatist-party monopoly is the problem, not the solution.
If, as you say in the Editors’ Note, the truth is that Bush won, show your readers. We trust you. Weren’t you the ones who put us on our guard in the ﬁrst place that our elections could be stolen by the likes of Diebold? Hasn’t Mother Jones demonstrated how easily our government can orchestrate sham elections and tout illegitimate results in other nations like Azerbaijan? If you are asking me to accept the truth, you must ﬁrst demonstrate it.
I suspect your Editors’ Note may have been ghostwritten by some Republican operatives. What’s going on? Conspicuously absent was any mention of the need to investigate the numerous cases of vote stealing and other types of election fraud. Yes, it would have been better if Kerry had won by a larger margin, but he did not lose the election. Enough of the “Let’s just get on with it” slant! Don’t you understand the importance of not allowing a second presidential election to be stolen? Failing to establish justice in these matters only ensures that they will continue to occur. Readers of Mother Jones deserve better. At very least you could cover the efforts of Representative Conyers and others to hold accountable those whose who are responsible for the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters in Ohio.
Endicott, New York
“Bush won,” you say in your Editors’ Note, based on no investigative reporting and no evidence in support of your assertion, forgetting that investigation and marshaling of evidence is WHAT YOU DO, your RAISON D’ETRE. Maybe Bush did win. However, instead of condescending comments about people’s emotions on the subject, I had hoped for (what else?) investigative journalism from you.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
He won? Not by a lot, but he won?
I think we are seeing that Bush lost, not by a little but by a lot, and to ensure that no one finds out just how badly he lost, the criminals within the republican party are committing felonies to stop recounts in various venues, including Ohio, Washington, and Florida.
For this magazine’s editors to sit there in the face of accumulating evidence that there was massive voter fraud committed throughout the country on 2 November, and to tell your readers, basically, to get over it, flies in the face of everything you should stand for.
My subscription has just one month to run and I will not be renewing it. Your position, to liken Internet questioners to conspiracy theorists, is what I would expect from The New Republic, not from a magazine that has been journalistically honest throughout the years.
Shame on you for rolling over, along with John Kerry, John Edwards, and the rest of the Democratic Party, with the notable exception of John Conyers and Cynthia McKinney, in the face of such an onslaught on our most basic right, the right to vote and have that vote counted, honestly, not by partisan hacks or corruptible machines.
It’s been a pleasure; I’ll be back when you represent the true progressive voice in this country.
Washingtonville, New York
Over four hundred million dollars spent and tens of thousands of volunteer hours, for what, so the Democrats could go down like a stone? Instead of empty and meaningless cheerleading by Gitlin and his ilk, why don’t we look realistically into why we lost the battle again: First, we need an impassioned and courageous candidate; and at the same time wonder why the Democratic constituents typically nominate a wooden and timid one.
Second, the Republican voters are not our enemies; they don’t hate women nor want to send gays and blacks to the gallows. We should try to win them over, by at least acknowledging their legitimate concerns, and promising to compromise with others (e.g., abortion is really not a great thing, inner-city blacks live by violence, homosexuality is uncommon). Lastly, the Dems should never play by the corrupt debating and voting rules—leave that to the Republicans who are good at this manipulation.
San Francisco, California
What a great article by Todd Gitlin: to the point, no mollycoddling, good suggestions,
everything that is needed to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again. I’m 71 years old so I don’t have too many more elections but you can count on me as long as I’m about.
The last paragraph about the Catholic man named Viola really rang a bell. The same thing happened at my local Catholic church but it wasn’t a deacon; it was a priest. Well, I wanted to walk out but decided that he couldn’t run me out of my church so I wrote him a letter and told my pastor about it when he returned from vacation. He, the pastor, told everyone the next Sunday that their own consciences should be the deciding factor in their vote and not the church. WOW. I still hadn’t gotten rid of the feeling so after reading an article in Commonweal that reinforced my point of view, I wrote to them and lo and behold they published my letter.
Anyway. I feel vindicated that I helped elect a local mayor, a local county commissioner and campaigned for a successful 12th district congressman who unseated a Republican. The real irony is that I live in a very, very conservative city where most of the progressives are African American and for that reason, John Kerry won the county!
Thanks for the reassurance. I look forward to 2006.
Nancy M. Shea
One can tell that Todd Gitlin teaches journalism, as he needs five pages to explain what needs to be done! I think I can do it in two damned sentences. Moderate Midwestern democrats need to take control of the party from the effete elite in L.A., San Francisco, Manhattan and Boston and move the party to the political center. Changing slogans to “values” won’t fool enough of the electorate to vote Democrat.
Todd Gitlin is whistling past the graveyard. The last election produced a “perfect storm” of forces that lined up for the Democrats, from the hatred of George Bush, raising more money than the Republicans, and a huge increase in turnout, and it all fell short. That upwelling will not be repeated, but if it is, it will still be defeated. The right has likewise been mobilized and its contempt for the liberal mindset is greater than the left realizes.
Know this. Those of you over 50 will not see a Democratic president again in your lifetime.
Boca Raton, Florida
Read more letters about the January/February 2005 issue.