Saturday, October 30, 2004

See You in the Next Reel
I'm off to Ohio in the morning. Does it matter? Will it make a difference? Probably not, no more so than it matters if any one person does anything. I try not to delude myself about this.

But I want to live my beliefs, and I want to live in a country that honors, ideally even champions, my beliefs: opportunity, equality before the law, family and community, education, social justice, economic fairness, strength in the defense of traditional American ideals, transparent governance that represents a democratic will. John Kerry and the Democratic Party aren't ideal champions for this agenda, but they're a damn sight better than the alternative.

We might lose on Tuesday. I don't think so, but it's certainly possible. And I was thinking over the past couple months that if we do lose, if the country really chooses the certitudes and dogmas and distortions of George Bush and his partners in misrule, I should leave my career in public policy and pursue a line of work more in keeping with the tenor of the times: entertainment industry executive and serial killer were the two that kept occurring to me. I think I'm over this now. I do think that in a country so indifferent to good policies that bring the most benefit to the most people as to elect a person like Bush, the empirically based and non-ideological work my organization does is much less likely to have a serious impact--but again, it represents my own beliefs and offers me a way to live them. I'm proud of the Center and of my colleagues. It's an honor to work with them.

Early news is good. All serious experts seem to agree that the election will come down to the ground game, and while I don't know what the Republicans have, I'm pretty sure that the Democrats and allied progressive groups are doing this better than ever before. Maybe Harold Meyerson will be proven right, and this will mark the berth of a "fully functioning left"; I'd prefer to think of it as a quickly activating network of citizen groups not necessarily united by ideology so much as by a desire to see our country function better. The bipartisan mobilization last year against the FCC and its whorish commissioner Michael Powell, who wanted to ease monopoly rules to give the Rupert Murdochs of the world still more power over our airwaves, is more exciting to me as a good-government geek and process fetishist than any Million-whatever March or similarly charged action. My hope, as I've expressed here before, is to find a bipartisan campaign to fight against gerrymandering and give us our Congress back.

But that's all beyond the horizon, after we tend to more immediate business. Earlier this year, Kerry made occasional reference to the Langston Hughes poem, "Let America Be America Again"; I never read the whole thing until this week, and it has resonated in my head for days now. This final stanza seems to tie together everything at stake on Tuesday:

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!


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