The American Presidential election experience that lasted through Tuesday and into Wednesday was, in certain respects, a triumph of democracy and globalization. Perhaps more than any other event in history, the whole world was literally watching the outcome of a democratic election in another country. Within that country, voter turnout spiked to 1968 levels, no mean feat in a North American political culture that has been defined, in part, over the past thirty years by a consistent slide in levels of voter turnout and participation.
But those good points are outweighed by the incredible volume of bad ones that emerge from Bush II’s re-election and they have, in a sense, left the rest of the world with a massive global hangover. While the race was incredibly close in the United States, in the rest of the world almost without exception Kerry was the strongly preferred candidate. BetaVote.com, a website created during the election to let international voters register their unofficial support for either candidate, reported its final results on November 2, election day: 88% supported Kerry, and 12% supported Bush.
As the exit polls came in early in the afternoon on election day, you could feel a sense of hope bubbling up among Kerry supporters abroad. I received five phone calls from friends in Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, and even the UK who were expressing their anticipation of a Kerry victory, and I suspect the same was true anywhere a television set, radio, or internet connection was available.
Of course, it turned out that the exit polls were wrong, not unlike the numerous polls that told us five months ago that Stephen Harper was poised to become the Prime Minister of Canada (moral of the story: pollsters are the new weathermen). It was close, particularly in Ohio, but after the majority of precincts reported it was clear that Bush had won both the popular vote and the Electoral College.
Back to that hangover for a moment. Anyone who has had a few too many drinks in their life has probably woken up to something next to them in bed that wasn’t, shall we say, all that was advertised. America, in contrast, married it. The Republicans gained control of the Senate and retained control over the House of Representatives, giving them more power than any party has ever wielded. While the American system of checks and balances should ostensibly keep Bush and his cronies in check, it won’t. The third “check” outside of the Congress and the Presidency is the judiciary. Chief Justice William Rehnquist is very ill, and it’s a virtual certainty that at least one judicial spot will open up on the Supreme Court benches. Two, and perhaps even three spots, are likely to open up as well during the next four years. Bush will undoubtedly select religious conservatives – strict constructionists, he’ll surely call them – who will interpret the laws of the land in a way that suits the agenda of the religious right. Bear in mind as well that under the American two-term system, a President who wins re-election is essentially given a four year blank cheque. Without worries of re-election, Bush is free to push his agenda further than he was in the first four.
With total control of the Congress and a Supreme Court that will be sympathetic to his worldview, we can expect the following changes. First on the list is Roe V. Wade, the seminal decision on abortion rendered in 1973, will almost surely be challenged and overturned. The recent spat over comments made by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter, a socially liberal Republican, make clear that Roe V. Wade is an immediate target for Bush’s supporters. Specter, as a result of his seniority, stands to inherit the chairmanship of the Senate Judiciary Committee which reviews all judicial appointments. Specter, on the matter of Roe V. Wade, said, “When you talk about judges who would change the right of the woman to choose, to overturn Roe v. Wade, I think that is unlikely.”
James Dobson, President of “Focus on Family” responded in a manner that should make clear what the next four years will look like. He described Specter’s comments as “ one of the most ill-considered and foolish statements that a politician has made,” and criticized his record of supporting stem-cell research, opposing Robert Bork’s Supreme Court appointment, and not being enthusiastic enough in supporting Clarence Thomas’s. Faced with a massive response from the Republican Party’s fundamentalist faction, led by Dobson and pro-life Senator Rick Santorum, Specter backtracked, but the point couldn’t be clearer – anyone who opposes Bush’s socially conservative, “values” oriented domestic agenda will be pushed out of the way for someone who will. Republicans have already discussed changing the longstanding rules of seniority in order to end-run Specter.
Next on the list? Gay rights. The gay rights movement will be stopped dead in its tracks, and some rights already granted may well be revoked. A voucher program for schools will be implemented, a death-blow to the public school system and a boon for parochial religious schools (the tip of that crazy iceberg is occupied by Rev. Jerry Falwell, who has created a fundamentalist law school whose mission is to create lawyers that will interpret the law in a way consistent with fundamentalist Christian beliefs). The war in Iraq, and the concomitant enrichment of Haliburton and other oil companies will continue unabated. Iran may well be the next country that Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and co. decide needs to be “liberated”. The list of domestic and international horrors goes on and on.
But perhaps the worst part of this whole mess is that Americans clearly wanted it. In spite of the worst economy since Herbert Hoover and the Great Depression, a war in Iraq that will almost surely become America’s next Vietnam, and a foreign policy that has alienated the rest of the world, Americans supported him more than they did in 2000. This outcome was not John Kerry’s fault – any election that features an incumbent President is more a referendum on his abilities than his opponents. Kerry was qualified, led a strong campaign, and dominated Bush in all three debates. Democrats spent more money than ever before, and were united in their desire to defeat George Bush. But at the end of the day, the inescapable reality is that Americans like George Bush and agree with his approach.
Some have identified this outcome as proof that a cultural revolution is taking place in the United States. I would argue that it’s more a cultural regression than a revolution. Remember that the United States was originally a collection of Puritan colonies, filled with people who were kicked out of Great Britain because of their loony beliefs about religion and morality. Two hundred and fifty years later, we may be seeing America returning to its roots as a society ruled by a religious elite.
Many of those who don’t share this worldview are looking for a way out, and fast. Immigration Canada’s website received more hits on November 3, the day when Bush’s victory became apparent, than it ever has in its history. Most of those hits came from Americans, presumably investigating the possibility of getting the hell out while the getting’s good. Some are even considering marrying a Canadian to short-circuit the process and get their Canadian citizenship – craigslist, a massively popular community-based website that has satellite sites in every major city in the world, is flush with ads from American men and women seeking a Canadian mate, and they’re serious (I asked a few of them).
Revolution or regression, the fact remains that the future doesn’t look very bright for those segments of America that don’t support the Falwellization of America. Bush has already launched a major offensive in Falluja that will surely result in heavy casualties on both sides and a retrenchment of opposition in Iraq towards the American occupation. The Democratic Party is a shell of itself, left without a leader and without any real base of support beyond New York and California. That many Democratic insiders are talking about Hilary Clinton, one of the most polarizing figures in American politics, as their saviour in 2008 speaks to the depths that the party has sunk. America is in for a hell of a trip over the next four years. Let’s just hope that they don’t take us along for the ride.
Ottawa, Nov. 10 – 1308 w.