This is a post I would like to have been able to write yesterday, and again - having failed in that - this morning; but other things have been getting in the way. No matter. If it's late, it isn't all that late. (The post here was a placeholder.)
Had John Kerry won on Tuesday, you can be confident of one thing. This would have been widely hailed by left, liberal or progressive opinion as a triumph and vindication of American democracy, with the intensity of political interest and passion and the high turnout revealing the continued health and vibrancy of that polity, and the result yielding for the President-elect a mandate and legitimacy beyond all possible question. Instead, what we got in some of these quarters - the Guardian as ever taking the lead here - was not just the kind of expression of dismay which anyone on the losing side of an important political battle is entitled to, but a miserable, self-indulgent wailing, the content of which displayed for all the world to see a depth of contempt towards millions and millions of American voters that disgraced all those who gave it head room. These millions of Americans had had the cheek to vote otherwise than the liberal way dictated.
So, on one Guardian page we had to read of Republican 'morons', of Mein Kampf as an apt precedent for November 2 2004, and of someone who is now ashamed to call himself or herself American. On the letters page, under the heading 'A dark time for thoughtful Americans' - and if you are indeed thoughtful, just think about what this heading implies of more than 50% of the US electorate - it was 'so many stupid people'; and it was American electors having voted on the basis of 'the terrifying power of fear'. A tour of left and liberal blogs allowed you to pick up the same style of language: 'idiots', 'ignorant', 'self-deceiving', 'dumb' and 'fools'. This is the payoff of the chimp theme and of the venom and hatred with which it has come to be invested. If 58 million people or more vote for an evident moron, what else can they be themselves than morons? The partisans of this talk all take it for granted, of course, that they are the folk with the interests and values of democracy at heart. But their contempt for their fellow citizens or (as the case may be) the citizens of another democracy, and that one of the world's greatest, tells its own story.
In support - whether witting or unwitting - of this US-voters-as-morons theme, Jonathan Freedland presented some of the issues which had been before the voters as follows:
Despite the mayhem and murder in Iraq, despite the death of more than 1,000 US soldiers and countless (and uncounted) Iraqis, despite the absence of weapons of mass destruction, despite Abu Ghraib, the Bush administration won the approval of the American people.
In line with what is now the liberal orthodoxy, Freedland just couldn't think of anything, anything at all, in the same ballpark here and which he might have put on the other side of the scales. Seeing off the Taliban in Afghanistan? Getting rid of a hideous regime in Iraq? Who but a moron could be moved by considerations like these? Don't even mention such things in polite company.
On the Guardian's Comment page Mike Marqusee went so far as to deny that George Bush now has a mandate. He doesn't apparently, because he 'does not speak for, or enjoy... the confidence of[,] half the population'. Yes, I'd like to see that principle consistently applied across the electoral systems of the world. Marqusee was echoed by Simon Tisdall who carefully pointed out that '48% of voters rejected [Bush]' - as if you might have missed the other side of the story. Even in those columns of the newspaper where it was conceded that Bush does now (after Tuesday) have a mandate, or that he can now 'claim' a legitimacy he did not have before, the implication was - if you take head-on what these writers were deftly suggesting to you - that, before Tuesday, Bush might only have been President unconstitutionally. This is, in a word, false.
In contemporary debate on the liberal-left, it is sometimes suggested that, only with a few crazies, only at the very outside margin of this political sector, is there any serious problem about the commitment to democratic values. I'd like to think that that is indeed true. But developments since September 11 2001, and in particular the Iraq war and the pent-up animosities towards the two leaders most closely associated with it, have now knocked so many people so far off balance that they no longer know, can no longer see, what they are saying much of the time - and they come from a far wider segment of the liberal-left than just the extreme margins.
Four more years? Four more years, not of George W. Bush, but of this, is not something one can contemplate with either relish or optimism. Liberals and leftists should stop wailing and ask themselves some tough questions: first and foremost, where they themselves might have gone wrong (so many of them), repeatedly wrong, in their alignment within international conflicts - and why. You lose a democratic battle, you fight on, that's all. You make the argument again or differently. You look to see whether there are mistakes, misconceptions, bad assumptions, bad practices, on your own side. You try to persuade people. You show some elementary civic respect to those on the other side.