Now that I’m becoming a Jon Stewart watcher (!), last night he said it was the first time he really “got” the culture wars. It really is about developing a system that can accommodate difference – the most radical alterity – those whose vision of what human culture ought to be is different than ours – the red states.
I want to disagree with Stephen’s reactive insistence that we have to resort to the rhetoric of fear in order to sway those still “reachable” through various forms of communication. I want to contest his pronouncement, “Democracy is not possible.” (Viveca’s retort, “What about rhetoric and performance?” was a gem.) 🙂
Perhaps “a” rhetoric of “fear” is needed, but a different one than the threat of random violence (already endemic, but heightened via “terrorism”). Indeed, we were close, and the electorate was (and hopefully will continue to be) more engaged than in decades. This is hopeful. Of course, few people have access to the kind of venue we have in this class – where our forcefully-stated opinions run the gamut from the Greens to old-style, “small r”, conservative Republicans. We were ALL equally disturbed by the result of this election. This is extremely hopeful; it demonstrates that there is a middle-ground (not a center, smile) that can be carved out in which difference is encouraged and respected. THAT is what we need to move to, moreso, I think, than a capitulation to the tropes that have worked effectively in the past.
What would be the new terms of fear? I don’t think Stephen is far off with his trio of “racists, rapists, and the rich”. The refusal to accommodate difference and the cowardice to confront our own internalized biases and prejudices IS the crux of the culture war (and I do have a sense that its singular now, here in the US, not plural).
But I think where Kerry made an error was in not continuing with the strength of his message that “we can do better” and a rhetoric of hope to counteract the rhetoric of fear. Maybe he did, but the media didn’t cover those sound bytes, preferring to cultivate the antagonism of character defamation. Most of us recognize that Kerry’s policies were not going to be that different from Bush’s – which is a huge problem in and of itself, that we can only produce candidates who intend to perpetuate economic neo-liberalism – the difference would have been more subjective, based in attitude, which would open up different possibilities.
Our response, I think, has to be consistent with a different attitude. So, if we develop and utilize a rhetoric of fear, it needs to be balanced with an equally powerful rhetoric of hope. Bush did that too – that’s the point of the “strong father who will protect women’s childern” image that swayed so many women – and the Dems were also weak on that, although I think there are seeds that can be grown.
We need a movement, and that takes wicked hard work, hours, days and years of dedication. Although the youth block was still relatively small (17%?), the majority preferred Kerry. That bodes well for the future.