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.