I will be accused of “sour grapes” syndrome. Had Kerry won, I would most likely be extolling the greatness of democracy, instead of denouncing its failure. Indeed, I would have had much more confidence in the democratic process had President Bush not gained this astonishing vote of confidence from the American people. Instead, we are left wondering what his re-election means for this country, and for the whole world.
One possible reading of last night's election results is that this country has lost its way, as well as its ability to hold people accountable for their failures. This is a very plausible explanation, which has gained much evidentiary support in recent times. Take the big Enron scandal for instance, or the collapse of MCI, Tyco, and the shady accounting practices of many of the nation's largest corporations (many more companies than have been caught red-handed use accounting techniques that approach unethical practices.) Has the punishment been proportional to the crimes committed? Hardly. Take another scandal, the energy crisis in California of a couple of years ago. Gov. Gray Davis was used as a convenient scapegoat for the criminal practices of energy wholesalers, many of whom are close friends of this administration, and for the failure of the energy market deregulation. In this sense, it should come as no surprise that this President has been re-elected in spite of always saying one thing and doing another.
This loss of accountability is a consequence of another very troubling aspect of modern democracies. Those who control the media control the thoughts and the hearts of people. There can be no healthy democracy where there is no balanced presentation of ideas and opinions. It was under Ronald Reagan that the FCC killed the Fairness Doctrine, a.k.a. the Equal Time Rule, and it is under Michael Powell, Colin Powell's son, that the FCC has weakened media ownership rules, leading to a loss in the diversity of opinions offered to the public. The playing field, which should be level, is obviously uneven when a candidate is never confronted with substantial questions, when a complacent press corps shirks its duty to defend the public from deception and from the callous and continuous misrepresentation of facts, or when media conglomerates and corporations make editorial decisions based on criteria other than journalistic integrity.
Time and time again, this administration has made it abundantly clear to journalists who practice their profession with honest curiosity that they are not welcome to press conferences, and that while their presence must be tolerated, they will be refused admission to the circle of those who can ask and be answered. The growing and incestuous relationship between news organizations and the economic and political interests that they are supposed to be objectively reporting on is perhaps the single most dispiriting aspect of our society, as it allows propaganda to flourish and accountability “to wither on the vine,” to use an expression beloved to former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.
It would be wrong and self-defeating to deny that the President has undeniable appeal for a large segment of the population. President Bush has gained many followers among those who believe that there is a tie between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda. He has found fertile ground among second‑amendment fanatics who believe that their ability to defend themselves against crime, terror and an intrusive government depend on re-electing to power an administration that has done more than any other in history to create crime, terror, and government intrusion in the everyday lives of citizens. He has managed to convince people that America is better served by “going it alone” and by ignoring the international community, not only in matters of national defense, but also as regards international treaties on the environment, trade, international courts, etc. He has exploited his homophobic policies to broaden his support among Evangelical Christians: the kind of Christians who take an evangelical “sanctity of life” approach on abortion but a biblical vengefulness toward people accused of murder, the kind that do not know and do not care about the Doctrine of Just War and that mourn the loss of 1,000 American lives but not the loss of 100,000+ Iraqi lives lost (I'm talking about non-combatants.) All these cohorts have certainly contributed to the President’s re-election.
There is, of course, another, more frightening scenario. Perhaps yesterday's election, as all elections in recent years, was nothing but a pageant, the greatest show on earth, produced in support of the agenda of the sponsors and of the interests that really count. Everyone else, the people standing in line at the polls, the volunteers canvassing neighborhoods in search of the votes that could break the balance of power, the cheering pro-Bush crowds and the defeated Kerry supporters: all extras, on the stage of the greatest production in American history, with a pre-arranged ending. It's not the voters that count, it's the vote counters, and the machines that voters use (e-voting machines, with no paper trail? Why, yes! Mechanical machines that leave chads hanging? Bring them on!) A preponderance of circumstantial evidence suggests it: when was the last time that the result of an election produced long-lasting, far-reaching, exhilarating changes in our lives? This is not just me "sour-graping." It is an attempt to explain why these two parties no longer care to render justice to the aspirations, the desires, and the vision of a country further and further divided.
Whatever the answer, it is astonishing that a President was able to get re-elected in spite of having demonstrably reneged on almost all of his promises and of having consistently deceived the American people on all sort of crucial matters (war, the economy, healthcare, education, etc.). But it also natural, considering how heavily stacked the odds were against his opponent, and how propaganda can crush the truth on any given Tuesday.