In 1992, Bill Clinton won his first bid for the presidency with the slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.” He made George H. W. Bush a one-term president and went on to sit for two terms himself. In 2000, it was Vice President Al Gore’s turn to run for president. His opponent was the son of Bush I, George W. Bush, and to some of us the contest seemed like a no-brainer. But I wasn’t complacent. After all, the second election I ever voted in put Ronald Reagan in office.
I thought a good slogan for Gore, which would play off Clinton’s success, would be this: “It’s the hypocrisy, stupid.” It turns out that hypocrisy was the least of our problems with that election-turned-Supreme-Court-appointment. Following that fiasco, the very manner in which Bush II had come to office required a sustained hypocritical posture for the eight long years of his reign. We all had to pretend he was legitimately elected because he had been given the title and had a job to do, which he did poorly. The hypocrisy reached its zenith during Bush’s run for a second term when his opponent John Kerry, an able public servant and genuine war hero and anti-war hero, was cruelly smeared by surrogates for our frat-boy-in-chief.
By the time Barack Obama threw his hat into the ring for the 2008 election, our outrage meters were busted. The democrats were going to put up either a woman or a black man against a presumably well-intentioned old war horse and we’d just try to get an honest assessment of whether the U.S. citizenry was ready to step into the twenty-first century or preferred to suspend our disbelief indefinitely. To our credit, we stepped… and ever since, we’ve been side-stepping all kinds of reactionary crap that has been lobbed at us from the rear ranks.
Which brings us to the recent re-election campaign of President Obama. The media skipped over the word “hypocrisy” entirely and went straight to “lie.” It was refreshing at first, but then we heard it so often – and saw the lies answered with more lies and denials from the liars – that we became inured to it. To complain about hypocrisy seemed almost quaint in the face of the excesses of the campaign to discredit Obama’s presidency and prevent him from being re-elected. One watched the parade of Republican contenders and wondered if they were even serious.
With the selection of Mitt Romney, my fantasy bumper sticker changed from “It’s the hypocrisy, stupid” to “It’s the cynicism, fools.” The Tea Party was toast. The small-government conservatives were confounded. Instead of trying to articulate a rational, consistent platform, the candidate said anything that he thought the audience of the moment wanted to hear. It was so blatant and unapologetic you couldn’t call it lying exactly – it was more like a cognitive disorder. But at root, I think, it was pure cynicism. It dripped from their lips like clarified butter in discussions of “entitlements” – referring to the social services infrastructure that is government’s very purpose to provide – when we all know who the really entitled ones are. It revealed itself shamelessly in overt voter suppression tactics and demographic calculations. Most cynical of all was the amount of money raised and spent on advertising – mostly negative, mostly misleading – all coming from very wealthy, anonymous donors. It was frightening to see the force of all that money brought to bear on our struggling democracy. But I just kept telling myself: the dollars don’t vote; the corporations don’t vote; the richest person still only gets one vote.
As the campaign wore on, I found more reasons to be hopeful. The republicans cast aside one group after another. They offended women, people of color, immigrants, the LGBT community, people of non-Christian faith as well as Christians who respect the religious freedom of others and the values of our secular society. Add in all the people who have friends, family and work associates who fall within one or more of the above-listed groups, and all the money in the world will not get you a majority of the vote. As we have seen.
The right wing pundits and politicians gnashed their teeth over the “unfairness” of the polls; they contested the numbers; they spun the survey results this way and that. They did not want to hear what they did not want to hear – right up to the decisive, unanimous calling of the election for Obama on Tuesday night. Their wishes did not come true. Their prayers were not answered. Their money did not buy the election. Their lies did not sway the majority of the voters. Their effort to constrain the turn-out at the polls only inflamed our desire to vote. They did not have the votes, and thus the counting of the votes resulted in their loss. Obama and Biden won. Democracy won. Math won.