November 06, 2004

You're Swine, I'm Fine

After the defeat of the BJP in last May's Indian election, fans of that party wore out their fingers typing up mournful post-mortems. Nearly without exception, they had three common threads: one, these guys who won the election are scum; two, we who lost are the good guys, and good for the country; three, we lost despite, or because of, the first two things. Because this country is full of idiots who will not see how good we are and how bad they are.

Here's an excerpt from one such jeremiad: All of us need to keep fighting the good fight. We who care about that great nation, we who understand the greatness of that civilisation, we whose hearts are as one, like red earth and pouring rain, with the very soil of that Holy Land.

From another: By voting out a government that had given back to India some pride, some stability, some recognition in the world, I feel Indians do not really know what they want. ... the new government boasts of many members who have only their selfish interests at heart and will pull India down without thinking for a second of the harm they are doing to their country. ... maybe Indians need to go through this painful process, maybe they need to be faced with a government that will show its selfish and ineffective face openly, maybe they need to experience the confusion and greed of their politicians with full force, before they realise that they had a good government going before that.

I read this, and more like this, and I was thrilled. Because if BJP supporters see their defeat in such terms, they will never introspect about that defeat. They will certainly lose again, thank you very much.

But I write this today because there's been the same kind of reaction in some commentaries I've seen after Bush's Presidential win: from Kerry's and the Democratic party's supporters. One spoke of the arrogance, short-sightedness and plain vindictiveness and greed of Bush's men. Another decided that much of the nation still insists in living in a giant vat of utter blind faith, still insists on believing the man in the White House couldn't possibly be treating them like a dog treats a fire hydrant.

Not too different, in tone at any rate, from the cross-eyed fans of the BJP I quoted. And that worries me, because I don't want them to fall into the easy trap those two tumbled into: I'm right, even righteous; everyone who disagrees with me is wrong and an idiot as well.

Because that's no way to introspect.

OK, I'm not happy that Bush won. But if Kerry and/or the Dems are to win in '08, they had better buckle down to understanding what went wrong in '04. They had better view these next four years as a huge opportunity to hold Bush accountable, to craft an attractive vision for their country.

Why is this party unable to appeal to that huge chunk of the USA -- West Virginia to Arizona, Florida to Montana -- that turned Bush red on our screens last Tuesday? What are the concerns in these places, and why won't people trust Democrats with them? What can Democrats do to bridge the divide that runs through their country? If Bush has promised to take the US in a particular direction, what is the direction, the plan, the vision, that Democrats have to offer?

Questions to ask. Introspection to be done. It won't happen if they write off the other guys as less than human.

After all, 59+ million people voted for Bush, 51% of the electorate. Not all of them are arrogant bastards. Nor are they persuaded that the guy they voted for is an arrogant bastard. On the contrary, many of them are persuaded that the Dems have missed their particular bus, whatever it is.

There's more going on here than loonies running away with an election. That lesson must be learned. Or let's chalk up '08 as one more Republican victory.

Writing in The Nation, Katha Pollitt came closest (of the pieces I've seen) to the spirit I'm trying to get at here, while still sorrowful over Kerry's defeat. She says: Maybe this time the voters chose what they actually want: Nationalism, pre-emptive war, order not justice, "safety" through torture, backlash against women and gays, a gulf between haves and have-nots, government largesse for their churches and a my-way-or-the-highway President. Where, I wonder, does that leave us?

It leaves "us" in a place that's not so bad, really. Somewhere where "we" need not moan and throw abuse about, but work towards winning next time. I'll take that, every time.


Shanti Mangala said...

Dilip, I don't see any introspection in Katha Pollitt's piece - atleast not the part you quoted. She is assuming that the electorate considers Bush guilty of everything that she and others accused him of and still voted for him. That is closed-mindedness. May be...just maybe most of the electorate doesn't think Bush is as guilty as everybody else assumes he is...

Let us take for example, abortion and gay marriage - most people don't want abortion banned - they don't like partial-birth abortions-on-deman either - does that mean it is a "backlash against women"? Same thing with gay marriage - the amendment let the people decide whether to allow gay marriage, which is as it should be in a democracy instead of courts creating their own set of new laws and imposing their values on the majority.

Same thing about "torture" - may be a lot of people believe that Bush is not responsible for what some soldiers in a faraway place did. You might not think so - that doesn't mean that the average Bush voter is endorsing torture by voting for him. Just a few thoughts...

basking shark said...

Shanti, You said
"...the amendment let the people decide whether to allow gay marriage, which is as it should be in a democracy instead of courts creating their own set of new laws and imposing their values on the majority."

The question of gay marriage is ultimately a question of individual choice and fundamental rights. Just because the majority believes that marriage is the union between man and woman, they should have no right to impose that belief upon everybody. That would be the "tyranny of the majority", as Tocqueville called it. A democracy is a fine balance between guaranteeing majority rule and protecting minority rights. The amendments in these 11 states opposing gay marriage are an attack on civil liberties of gay people.

Again, this is not about courts creating arbitrary laws. Courts have no business here. This is about the right of adult individuals to choose a way of life that, while different from the mainstream, is a perfectly normal lifestyle.

Dilip D'Souza said...


> I don't see any introspection in Katha Pollitt's
> piece - atleast not the part you quoted.

Actually, I think there is a surprising amount of introspection in her piece. For example: Similarly, some were impatient with Kerry's "nuanced" position on gay marriage, but is there any reason on God's earth to believe there are lots of gay-friendly swing voters or nonvoters out there just waiting for a candidate who wants to let Mary Cheney wed Rosie O'Donnell?In other words, she is asking, what about our (Dem) positions didn't strike a chord with the electorate? Why? Perhaps it's time to look for better ways to present those positions?

The part of her piece that's quoted in my post -- I used it for this reason: to me it says OK, so let's even assume the electorate chose Bush for all the miserable reasons we've been agonizing over. Where does that leave us?

i.e. Those reasons we think are so bad, nevertheless appeal to a lot of people. What are we going to do about it? Is it enough to simply go on shouting that they are miserable?

I don't think Katha Pollitt, or anyone else, should give up criticising Bush just because he won. I think they should start working out what went wrong and see this as a chance to craft their message anew and aim to win next time. That's introspection. That's political renewal. That's the spirit I was talking about.

All this is why I quoted the BJP and its fans. For all their faults, for all they still has wrong, I think the Congress and Sonia (no lilywhite lady, but proved herself this year one of our most astute politicians) did one thing right, especially after losing Gujarat in 2002: they sat down and did some introspection. Tried to understand why they have been steadily losing appeal over the last decade or more.

One very practical thing they learned and put into practice was to do the coalition thing even better than the BJP: May was the first time the Congress really worked out a coalition and stuck to it before the polls. Result of all this: they won. They even won enough in Gujarat to give that creep Modi and his party the shivers. And of course, to send the BJP's fans mournfully to their keyboards.

I don't see the BJP doing any similar introspection. To me, that's good: they gave us the worst government and PM we've ever had, and I don't want that to repeat. It's also bad: the Congress needs a credible BJP (and vice versa) to keep them honest.

Shanti Mangala said...

Shantanu, you know Vermont and Michigan voted for the ban but went overwhelmingly for Kerry, right? It is is not a matter of Republican or Democrat - most Americans simply don't want gay marriage. I am saying this as someone who supports gay marriage.

Shark, marriage is not a right - if it were, it would be as right for a brother to marry his sister as it is for any other couple getting married. We have an arbitrary set of rules that define society and to change things drastically in one step will only earn backlash for the minority that is seeking to impose its values on the majority and not accpetance. Even people who are otherwise amenable to the idea will resent the fact that something is being imposed on them.

Dilip D'Souza said...


I haven't followed the gay marriage debate even superficially, so if there's any naivete in what I'm going to say, apologies.

> most Americans simply don't want gay marriage.

... but then you could make a case that at one time or another, most Americans simply did not want: women to have the vote, Jim Crow laws to be torn up, the five day week, maternity leave at your place of work, on and on. All these things had to be fought for, always hard and bitterly. Eventually they were won, and now it seems quaint to look back at a time when they were not accepted. (In fact, this has been the triumph of the much-reviled "liberals" and "progressives" and "lefties" -- they have fought for every one of these things you now take for granted, always in the teeth of fierce opposition of the conservatives who wanted to preserve the status quo).

This is how, I think, gay marriage will be looked back on a generation or two from now. So I don't believe gay marriage advocates should be too disheartened by those 11 states. It's just a long(er) fight, that's all.

> ... it would be as right for a brother to marry his
> sister as it is for any other couple ... to change
> things drastically in one step will only earn
> backlash for the minority that is seeking to impose
> its values on the majority and not accpetance.

Apart from the medical and emotional aspects of it, I can't see what's intrinsically wrong with siblings marrying each other. But that's a debate for another time.

Yes, things must change gradually. But making gay marriage legal is hardly an imposition of minority values on the majority. As I understand it, it is an enabling law, not a disabling one. It doesn't in any way prevent, or put obstacles in the path of, men and women who want to marry each other. It simply enables same-sex couples to enjoy the same rights as different-sex couples. Why that should be viewed as the tyranny of the minority is beyond me. What a pity that it is painted that way.

Dilip D'Souza said...


> Living in the heart of red America (not a single
> county in NE voted Democrat), I feel like I need to
> move very quickly to a blue corner amongst like
> minded people.

On the contrary, please stay right where you are! You will have a far more interesting life among people you don't agree with. Learn from them why they voted the way they did, and look at it this way, you've got four years to persuade them they need to vote differently!

Shanti Mangala said...

I second Dilip's comment about asking Shantanu to stay where he is. It is very easy to give up and move into an echo chamber of like-minded people. It is more fun to be among people who think differently and understand what makes them tick. Who knows? One of you might end up changing your mind or atleast see things in a different light.

Rohan D'souza said...

Well do you need three eyes, or two to see. To be on note of enjoying criticism on america, i guess they are mature enough to know the difference between having two hundred parties with three hundred different ideolgies to match. :)

Dilip D'Souza said...

ATracus, who's really Pankaj -- what a delight to hear from you. I have your book. I think. Hold the collection men. Hold on some more till I get back to Bom -- I'm in Nagapattinam looking at the horrendous destruction of the tsunami. Will write on return to Bom in a few days. Write me a note by email: ddd AT rediff DOT co DOT in.