We’ll All Be Rethinking Our Positions

Lincoln Mitchell: Rethinking the American Electorate after an Obama Victory

After properly invoking a great American philosopher, Lawrence Berra by noting “it ain’t over ’til it’s over,” HuffPost’s Lincoln Mitchell points out that an Obama victory will force all of us, right and left, to rethink our positions. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days now, ever since running across this thoughtful rumination comparing political divides to religious ones. There will be no place for polarized politics in the future; it’s a failed model that merely perpetuates itself with constant discord and conflict. We don’t have time for that crap, we’ve got a global economy crisis, a global warming crisis, and a continuing crisis with extreme poverty to worry about. We waste time (and spittle) hating on each other and throwing mud and rocks, when we should be giving up old prejudices for the duration of these crises, and re-building our respect for the other person’s point of view. I’m constantly surprised to discover that the middle of the American electorate is not as dumb as either the Righteous Right or the Loony Left think. And I think that I’m in need of conversion from my own prejudices just as much as anybody.

Right wingers in the US will have to revisit their assumptions about the inherent racism and conservatism of the American people as well as the power of wedge issues to divide people and lead them to vote on their fears. Emphasizing bizarre issues such as Obama’s acquaintance with Bill Ayers, or calling Obama a socialist because of his notion that tax policy should not simply redistribute wealth upwards, failed to influence more than a few voter this time. This should suggest to the operatives of the right wing that they their cynical understanding of America can be trumped by a more affirming and progressive sentiment in the electorate.

It is, however, the American left which will have to do the most intriguing and challenging rethinking of basic assumptions when Obama wins. For years now a central piece of the progressive worldview is that progressives are enlightened Americans in a sea of their ignorant, bigoted and narrow-minded compatriots. If you don’t believe my assertion, see how many times in the comments section of a progressive blog, Americans voters are referred to as ignorant or uninformed, or eavesdrop at any progressive coffee shop or other hangout. Opposition to progressive causes is often explained away by saying that Americans are bigots, or somehow stupid. This demonstrates an ugly contempt for voters, and in fact for democracy, that should have no place in progressive politics.

I was telling my husband David the other day in a wide-ranging and rambling conversation that if Obama is elected, as seems most likely, the furthest rightward of the Right will be surprised and disappointed that the sky will not fall. Moreover, they’ll be even more shocked and confused when, after Inauguration Day, jackbooted Marxist-Leninist Lesbians won’t kick down the doors of their churches and wrest their guns, Bibles, and “freedoms” away.

Life will go on, things will get done, and I suspect a lot of people will be inspired to be more politically and civically engaged.

The theocons and their base constituency will be pissed that the world did not end, but everyone else will be relieved. In spite of the calls from Daily Kos for complete and total humiliations galore for the Right and specifically for pols like Mitch McConnell, it would be better if the Left doesn’t indulge in the kind of triumphalist crap that took place when the Republicans won (oh, so questionably) in 2000 and 2004.

Here’s a largish chunk from the Daily Episcopalian essay that I linked above, because I keep ruminating on it:

I was an unlikely prospect for conversion. I am a lifelong Democrat, and I live in the bellwether state of Ohio, where partisan politics is nasty, brutish, and endless. The wounds of the 2000 and 2004 presidential campaigns still fester here, along with those inflicted by a bloody 2004 fight over a draconian constitutional amendment that limits the rights of gays and lesbians. Two years later, a heated gubernatorial campaign resulting in the election of a Democrat was also divisive and polarizing.

So in 2007, many progressive voters in Ohio were angry and dispirited. We had gotten our governor, but also bore the shame of failing to prevent the current presidential administration and the right-wing sore on our state constitution. I was solidly in that bloc. I was civil when I encountered people with whom I disagreed, but I generally avoided situations where I might encounter Republicans. It was just too hard.

Except at church. My little Episcopal parish, a historic church in a struggling city neighborhood, generally attracts people who vote like I do. We are a community that welcomes everyone, gay and straight, and in a place like Ohio, that alone is often enough to drive Republicans down the road to a more conservative parish. But although Democrats are loath to admit it, the Republican party is not a monolith on this (or any other) issue, and our congregation includes people who are both Republican and progressive about human sexuality.

So although I was bone-weary from assault by Republican values and victories, I couldn’t entirely escape politics at church. One Republican, in particular, kept cropping up. Despite our partisan differences, we were thrown together on the cookie-baking committee, at church socials, and in the back pew.

Because we are Episcopalians, we were polite. We began talking over cookies after the service, about innocuous local events, mostly not looking each other in the eye. Soon we edged into local politics, agreeing in nervous laughter that what happened at coffee hour stayed at coffee hour. Then we took the big step from standing together in the parish hall to sitting together in church. I asked him for some advice on a civic project, which he gave freely and graciously, and we met for lunch once. I considered myself very broadminded indeed.

Apparently, however, this was not good enough for God. When I was asked to lead a Sunday morning seminar on faith and politics, I knew, in one of those fits of clarity that sometimes presages wisdom, that to escape the confines of left-wing dogma, the class needed both a Republican and a Democrat. So I took a deep breath and asked my pewmate to teach with me.

Starting with an issue of Yale Divinity School’s journal Reflections, we spent several months reading and thinking about politics and belief. We used the crutch of email to explore our own differences gingerly, feeling out painful partisan topics in writing before we talked about them in person.

The rumblings in my soul, and my stomach, began then. I became vaguely nauseous when people told jokes about Republicans that I previously would have found uproarious. I stopped conversations with fellow Democrats by offering halting answers to a rhetorical question—“what on earth are those Republicans thinking?” I began to hear the excesses in Democratic rhetoric more critically, imagining how decent, well-intentioned people might feel alienated by words that had once felt to me like a righteous shield. — Episcopal Cafe

See? It really deserves to be read in full, by a wider audience. It’s not just about religion, or politics, it’s about everything; everyone is a person deserving of respect.

I don’t know anyone personally that holds different political views from my own, although David works with a couple of people who are much more conservative than we are. I do know a few people who hold different religious views from my own – formerly from my own parish. Keeping the Daily Episcopalian piece in mind and also this one from HuffPost, I will try to open my own mind as I hope for people on the Right to open theirs in the weeks and months to come.

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