Stages of Grief

BY Susan J. Douglas

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Democrats and progressives need to focus on state legislatures, congressional races, and get some Secretaries of State on our side next time around.

It is on refrigerators throughout the land: the map of California and the West Coast, the upper Midwest and the Northeast annexed to and named “The United States of Canada,” the red states below labeled “Jesusland.”

The red-and-blue, them-versus-us iconography so beloved by the press—imposed on us four years ago—makes our divisions seem dramatic indeed. Of course, it visually overstates the strength of evangelicals in our country. Nonetheless, when coupled with Cheney’s immediate claim of a “mandate” (not to mention Bush’s idiotic “political capital” boast), the sea of red sent many of us into a deep depression.

But, as the Shirelles reminded us, the darkest hour is just before dawn. So it’s time to review the stages of post-Kerry-defeat grief so we can heal ourselves and, indeed, move on.

Stage 1: Shock Many of us were barely functional on Wednesday, wondering how could it be that a guy so obviously and patently incompetent and deceptive, as documented by so many sources—and a faith-based zealot to boot—got reelected?

Stage 2: Shock and Awe We were sickened, but awestruck, that Cheney had the chutzpah to claim a mandate with only 286 electoral votes and a 130,000-vote margin of victory in Ohio, which various reporters and investigators already find very suspect. We were awed that Bush insisted that what you do with political capital is spend it right away—although we shouldn’t have been, given what this thinking has done for the deficit.

Stage 3: Alienation So maybe we accepted that the nation is not dominated by a bunch of Bible-banging Neanderthals. But depression returned when we kept thinking it was dominated by ignorant dunces. Bob Herbert and Bob McChesney, both citing a University of Maryland poll, reported that nearly 70 percent of Bush supporters believed there was “clear evidence” that Saddam Hussein was working closely with al Qaeda; a third were convinced WMDs had been found in Iraq. What part of the 9/11 hearings, the bestseller list for the last six months and extensive news coverage did these people miss?

Of course, most of them were probably watching Fox News, whose viewers have been demonstrated to be more ignorant about current affairs than viewers of other news sources.

Stage 4: Wait a Minute By Friday, even Republicans were in on this one. Lyn Nofziger, Former Reagan adviser, David Brooks, Garry Wills and of course, Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, Mark Crispin Miller, and many others were challenging the “mandate” claim and debunking the notion that “moral values”—e.g., homophobia, opposition to abortion and belief in the virgin birth and creationism (not to mention “the rapture,” which, fortunately, always makes me think of the hit song by Blondie)—prompted the majority of Republicans to vote for Bush.

As Gary Langer, director of polling for ABC News noted, “moral values” can mean a lot of things; 15 percent of non-churchgoers and 12 percent of liberals chose it as the most important issue to them. Exit polls documented that 55 percent of voters said abortions should be legal and a whopping 60 percent supported either gay marriage (25 percent) or civil unions (another 35 percent).

Stage 5: Defiance and Assertion This phase is really building steam, and it is where we need to be, ASAP. Both NPR and ABC news, the day after the election, featured stories about “moral values,” which included counterpoints from religious leaders and everyday people who asserted that the discussion should focus, centrally, on the dubious morality of war and bombing innocent people, on issues of economic justice, on the environment, on the lack of health insurance for 45 million, and on the staggering rate of child poverty in the United States. These are moral values, and the Democrats must claim them. Now.

Defiance and assertion also mean redefining “the mandate.” The Republicans are determined to cast the electorate as primarily a group of faith-based anti-government conservatives. The Democrats must produce another representation. This is not to dismiss the disturbing rise of people who are determined to bring fundamentalism into government policy. But it is to assert the truth: Bible bangers are not the new majority.

Stage 6: Mobilize The Democrats and progressives need to do what the Republicans started doing back in the late 1970s: Focus on the state legislatures, congressional races and, hey, let’s get some Secretaries of State on our side next time around. Young women, and women of all ages, are going to need to fight like never before in the face of a guaranteed assault on Roe v. Wade. And the previous four years and this election emphasize how important media reform is, particularly the reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine, which the Reagan Administration abolished in 1987. We see the results of too much Rush and O’Reilly without any balance: voters who don’t have the facts.

This is our country; it is not a revival tent. We must continue to fight to save it.

Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and an In These Times columnist. Her latest book is Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism's Work is Done (2010).

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