unWired

03 November 2004

We went to an election party last night. The group oozed Liberalism: we were teachers and government employees, we were well-educated, we were non-religious.

Our hostess had planned several anti-Bush activities (to go along with the ubiquitous unplanned Bush bashing). We took a Bushisms quiz, attempting to pick out Bush quotes from quotes of former U.S. Presidents. (Not difficult.) We whacked a Bush piñata. And for our final act of blatant disrespect (civil disobedience?) we doused a Bush effigy with gasoline and set it aflame in the street.

(Some of this made me uncomfortable. I’m not sure why. I dislike Bush, too, but I felt like we crossed a line somewhere, going beyond rational anger to irrational hatred. And this is coming from the guy who actually lit the effigy; Kris couldn’t get a match to light.)

When our anti-Bush activities were over, we gathered around the television to watch the election returns.

It was painful. And not because of the results (though those were painful, too.)

At home, before we left, I’d been glued to my computer for two hours, following Yahoo! and CNN as they tallied the early returns. Over and over and over again, I relaoded the pages, mostly to no change, occasionally to a few more electoral votes for Bush, a few more for Kerry. I felt connected. I was receiving instantaneous feedback. I had access to the information I wanted when I wanted it. How were returns in Florida breaking by county? A click of the mouse, and I had those numbers.

I took my iBook to the party, hoping to access an internet connection, either via landline or by leeching off a nearby wireless node. No such luck.

I was at the mercy of the television.

Reception was poor (no cable), and mostly we watched PBS, which seemed obsessed with ten minute segments on the historical context of this election rather than showing the election returns themselves!

The local news channels were worse: “Let’s show ten minutes of Tom Potter claiming victory in the Portland mayoral race. Who cares about that Presidential race, anyhow?”

I cared! And the fact that I was sitting there, on the couch, watching punditry without any hard data drove me crazy!

“And let’s only show the results for a half dozen races at the bottom of the screen.” Argh!

“Do you want to leave?” Kris asked, sensing my frustration. I did.

At home I lay in bed, laptop on my chest, reloading the same pages again and again and again. I watched Kerry inch closer in Ohio — “He’s within 100,000 votes now, down from 180,000!” — I watched his lead in Iowa disappear.

I was in control of the information, I determined which data was most important to follow.

Television is no longer relevant to me.


Earlier in the day, I heard an interesting piece on NPR: a commentator was discussing the most divisive elections in United States history.

He claimed that the election that most divided us was held in 1896, between William McKinley (and Vice Presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt) and William Jennings Bryan (of Scopes monkey trial fame (or infamy)). The U.S. was coming out of a severe economic depression. Also, there was a great debate regarding the country’s growing prominence on the world stage — what role should we play?

The Presidential election of 1968 was also especially divisive, the commentator said. Race, economics, Vietnam — these ripped the nation in two. He then explained how 1932 was a contentious election year, primarily because we were in the midst of the Great Depression.

As this man spoke, I realized that these elections were spaced exactly 36 years apart. I further realized that the election of 1860 — 36 years before 1896 — was also divisive (how had it not made this commentators list?). What’s more, this current election was coming 36 years after the last instance he’d cited.

So now I’m dying to know: is this 36 year cycle a regular thing? It’s held true for 150 years, but will it continue to hold true? Will 2040 produce another election in which the country is sharply divided? And what about 1824? And 1788? Were these years of great polarization with the United States?

The older I get, the more interesting history becomes…

Comments


On 03 November 2004 (08:55 AM),
Denise said:

Ok, this is probably not going to be a popular comment…but I have to say it. Regardless of whether you support the current President or not, I feel you should respect the office. I don’t think a Bush piñata displays that respect. I find it sort of offensive, almost as much as burning our nation’s flag. It also seems very juvenile.

Mocking his Bush-isms is one thing…but hitting his likeness with a stick?

On 03 November 2004 (09:02 AM),
Kris said:

I agree, Denise, it is somewhat childish, but I feel it truly gets at the actual RAGE many of us feel for this “president”. He has done a greater disservice for the dignity of the office than anything I’ve seen in my short lifetime. Lied to Congress, lied to the U.N., lied to the American people. I love this country, and I feel extremely patriotic, but I cannot and will not hide my contempt for such a religious fanatic as George W. Bush. Here’s to four more years of the same bullshit.

On 03 November 2004 (09:03 AM),
George W. Bush said:

Once again, they misunderestimated me.

On 03 November 2004 (09:08 AM),
J.D. said:

No, I think it’s a good comment, Denise.

I mean, I really dislike Bush. A lot. More than I’ve ever disliked any other President. (I haven’t really actively disliked any other President, actually.) And I do take delight in the stupid things he says and does. And I do think he’s an idiot.

But I felt uncomfortable last night because I knew we had crossed some undefined line in my moral world. I felt what we were doing was wrong, if only to a small degree.

The fact remains that Bush has brought a lot of this emnity upon himself, however, in his casual disregard of existing policy (re: environment, etc.), his casual disregard of the world community (re: Iraq, etc.), his casual disregard of anything but his own beliefs. He’s so certain that he’s the mouthpiece of his god that I sometimes worry we’re headed for a theocracy.

I want to respect Bush, but I can’t. Not even just because he’s the President. However, I believe I oughtn’t be so openly disrespectful, you know?

On 03 November 2004 (09:08 AM),
Denise said:

And I agree with you, Kris. I think it is also offensive that Bush took us from 100% world support to almost none in less than two years. And I understand that part of the reason I am proud to be a US citizen is because people are free to express themselves.

For some reason that just left a bad feeling in my gut. And you know, I don’t think it is so much the actual act, I think it makes my heart sink because it shows just how divided our country is – as J.D. discusses later in the post. The one thing I always want is that the US stands as a united front to the world. We obviously aren’t that right now, and it saddens me. Plus, we are more susceptible when we are divided.

To rethink, that is what really makes my gut uneasy.

On 03 November 2004 (09:10 AM),
al said:

If Bush were smarter than a piñata, then I would say it’s wrong.

On 03 November 2004 (10:08 AM),
J.D. said:

Some poetry to mark the occasion…

From “The Second Coming” by W. B. Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Fits my mood precisely.

On 03 November 2004 (03:26 PM),
mart said:

are you surprised that this nation is a bunch of crazed jesus-worshipping facist dipshits? proud to be american? hah. this whole country stinks worse and worse everyday. and unfortunately there’s no coming back from this trend. PNAC has had this dialled in for some time, this latest election merely proves that their PR has been taking hold. we’ve just told the rest of the world “fuck you, we’ll do whatever we want to…”. burning bush in effigy? man i’d burn the real guy given the chance… and i’d damn sure have a zippo as backup for the matches.

On 03 November 2004 (04:14 PM),
mac said:

Mart, why do you live in America again?

On 03 November 2004 (06:33 PM),
Joel said:

Speaking for mart (always a dangerous thing) I’d guess that it’s merest happenstance. His parents are Americans, but, having spent some formative years abroad, he identifies more with the Old and Third Worlds than with we the New.

Part of me wishes we’d planned ahead and made an effigy last night, I felt so helpless and at a loss. Man, our guy got killed. It’s funny to feel that way after such a close race, but my expectations (modest as they were) were clearly too high.

The thing about the pinata and the effigy for me, (and this may be so obvious that it’s going unsaid [and listen to me stammer and mutter, I’ve clearly lost some confidence waking up in this new america]) is that they suggest and symbolize a willingness to perpetrate physical violence for one’s cause. What would have happened if some smug neo-cons had motored by and hooted at your demonstration? Would you have shouted curses at them? Thrown a flaming bit o’ Bush? Grabbed the conveniently placed single-bit axe and…?
Of course not. We’re liberals. We may not be holier-than-though, but we certainly are wussier than.

On 03 November 2004 (07:06 PM),
Hayduke said:

Hell, burn him for real I say. You’re all just a bunch of wussy liberals anyway. Why I don’t remember y’all being so uppity 4 years ago when the fucker stole the presidency in the first place. 4 YEARS AGO was our legitimate time to take to the streets and cause some unrest. Shit, he’s had 4 years now to be the president and this time he won the ‘lectoral college and the pop’lar vote outright. Its’ too late now–he’s “entrenched”.

Liberals are a bunch of pussies, playin’ fair 4 years ago and now…TOO GODDAMN LATE!

We’re befuckered.

4 More Wars!

On 03 November 2004 (09:04 PM),
dowingba said:

This entire thread, comments and all, offends me. And I’m Canadian. Get over yourselves. The man won the election, fair and square, just as he did in 2000. If you didn’t vote for him, damn. If you did, yippee. There’s no need for a black background, as if this day is a black stain on the history of the United States. Slavery? Sure. But a man being democratically elected to the seat of President of the United States? Grow up, people. There are real issues in the world to focus on — irrational hatred of someone just because he’s a member of a different political party just isn’t responsible anymore.

On 03 November 2004 (11:00 PM),
J.D. said:

Dowingba, you make some fine points, as usual, but you’re too quick to dismiss other people’s beliefs as “irrational hatred of someone just because he’s a member of a different political party”. I don’t think anyone here hates President Bush just because he’s a Republican. If he were a Democrat and making the same decisions, we’d hate him just as much. What we object to are his decisions. Many of us object to his messianic belief system, a well-documented and scary aspect of his Presidency. You’re right that many of us are acting like poor sports, but can you blame us? Had the Kerry won the election, Republican weblogs would be filled with the same stuff.

On 04 November 2004 (05:20 AM),
dowingba said:

I certainly can’t predict what would happen in alternate realities; but I can tell you that almost every conservative weblog I read publicly took a pledge to support whomever wins the election, whether it be Bush, Kerry, Nader, or Dracula. Also, while I never took any sort of pledge, I did state publicly that I didn’t care who wins, as long as it’s a clear and decisive victory, in hopes of quelling the bitterness generated by the 2000 election.

The only campaign promise (from 2000) that Bush hasn’t kept was his promise to run a “modest” foreign policy. Obviously that promise had to be broken in the wake of 9/11. Any President acting differently would simply be failing the country they took an oath to serve. That being said, Kerry’s foreign policy is almost identical to Bush’s, so I don’t understand where the incredible amount of bitterness is coming from.

We get it, you don’t like Bush — he mispronounces words and has big ears. Damn. Fix your Democratic Party and maybe you’ll win next time. Until then, support your president because doing so is good for America. It’s what America needs right now.

On 04 November 2004 (06:02 AM),
Joel said:

dowingba said: “Until then, support your president because doing so is good for America. It’s what America needs right now.”

Um, nah.

So, I’m excited by this 36-year cycle thingy. In 1824 there was another election that was too close to call as neither Andrew Jackson and John Q. Adams won a clear plurality of votes. So the decision went to the House who selected Adams, who was actually 10 points behind Jackson in the voting. The campaign was also particularly nasty, with charges of drunkenness, criminality, and poor fashion-taste being exchanged.

On 04 November 2004 (07:53 PM),
Mom (Sue) said:

It’s interesting that the entries here are mostly on the liberal end of things (other than dowingba, who is a Canadian). It may be that conservatives are a bit afraid of expressing their thoughts here. I would say I’m on the conservative side, and I’m a bit afraid of expressing my thoughts here. :-) To boil it down to what influenced my voting, the two main things were the history John Kerry had of flip-flopping on the issues, and that I felt it was better to go with the devil I knew (Bush)than the devil I didn’t know.

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