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Whither the Democrats?

Globe and Mail Update

The chatterati are all yapping away about what happened in the election, telling everyone that it was all about values.

But the exit polling questions were so broad that the leading answer could hardly have been anything else. Who doesn't value a strong economy and a safe nation? For instance, if a person votes for a candidate who will work towards legalizing gay marriage (well, if there were such a candidate), that person would say he or she voted on the basis of values — values such as equal rights for gay people.

I voted for Democrat John Kerry because of all the things I value. I value human life, for instance, and don't think it should be wasted senselessly on international aggression. I value the environment. And I value truth. The very idea that a perceived emphasis on values means the Republicans are stronger shows the extent to which the liberals have been letting the conservatives call the tunes.

America is not as divided as commentators would have us believe. They point to maps with blue on the edges and red right down the middle. It seems so neat, so clean, so clear. And as long as you go with that kind of thinking, you're giving up the game. The map should really be varying shades of purple, for the most part — see for yourself the real story.

To buy into the simple two-tone map is to bow to the oversimplification of politics and accept that the Democrats are, quite literally, marginal. But they're not. They're strongest in urban centres — which just happen to be more concentrated on the coasts. And if the map were redrawn proportionate to population their support would look much more significant.

Some columnists and bloggers are advising the Democrats to make up the gap by getting closer to the Republicans, to try to adopt more policies that will please the near-right. But that would send the message that the Republicans were correct all along. And why would anyone vote for the imitator when they can have the real thing?

The Democrats need to inspire instead. They need someone who sounds friendly and has a great sense of humour and puts things clearly and isn't driven by resentment. Forget the disappointment and focus on the golden opportunity the result provided. Republicans are running the show and can no longer pretend to be the underdogs, the voice of the little guy, speaking for all those who don't have any power. The Democrats can now — and I mean now, they should start right now — take over the role of the little guys who see through the Emperor's new clothes. They should take everything the Republicans call a virtue, everything they campaigned on, and turn it on its ear.

They need a guy who can say, in a friendly down-home accent, "Why does this government expect you to believe it can take in less money and give you more? Everything costs something. You know when someone offers you a free gift when you buy their product? Who pays for that free gift? You do, of course, it's in the price of the product. And when the government says it's going to cut taxes — maybe not yours, but 'somebody's' — and then give you more, well, they might give you more of one thing, but they'll give you a lot less of a lot of other things. Or else they'll put it on credit and your children will have to pay it off — and so will you, when you're retired."

They even need someone who's willing to stand up and say, "Remember back in the sixties, when some people were saying that if black folks married white folks it would be the downfall of families and the thin end of the wedge to the destruction of society? I don't know about you, but the only marriage that's made a difference to my family was my wife's and mine. I just can't picture a happy American couple with three kids melting down because two other people they don't even know got married. I value families so much I think everyone who wants one should have one. I like marriage so much, I think any two adults who love each other ought to be able to get married."

The rhetoric of hatred and division doesn't have to work.

Every Democrat I know right now is fuming about how stupid so many Americans are. But that's not going to get the party where it needs to be. Democrats need to recognize that everyone has some intelligence they can use if they want to. Party backers need to welcome conservatives, standing up for the truth and answering falsehoods and misconceptions with a smile and some hard data.

We need to stop being angry. Anger makes you want to throw the first thing that comes to hand, and that means you're too willing to grab onto half-truths and weaken your own position. And anger is unattractive — when you see an angry person on the subway or in a store, do you feel sympathetic towards them?

We need to stop screaming and start inspiring.

And there's one more thing the Democrats need: they need to insist on better voting procedures. They need to insist on machines that leave paper records, they need to insist on all counts being done by government employees, not by private firms, and they need to insist on it all being managed and supervised by people who are not party affiliated.

The very validity of American democracy is called into question if, even in just one district, a private company known to support one party handles the voting and the results are not open to impartial inspection. Some people are suggesting that the results were cooked. I have no way of knowing if they were, which is exactly the problem.

We need to have a way to know for sure.

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