For years we embattled Texas liberals used to gather in my late friend Molly Ivins’ Austin back yard on the "Final Friday" of each month. For a few glorious hours – if the whisky held out, it would be many glorious hours – hopes ran high and hearts ran wild.
These last couple of weeks of Democratic anguish and anxiety make me think of those evenings at Molly’s, where morale stayed so high even the ducks weren’t down. I’m certain there were ducks.
At Molly’s, we talked like this:
"Have you ever noticed that the Republican takeover of the Texas Capitol came during the exact same years the fire ants came?"
"I’ll be damned. Hadn’t thought of it."
"Couldn’t be. A coincidence, I mean."
Of course, Texas liberals were getting whipped by conservative Democrats long before fire ants and Republicans had any significant numbers here. (Humorist John Henry Faulk said he spent decades trying to persuade his mother that there really was a mammal called a Republican, even though she’d never seen one.)
We were then and we are now the Undaunted. Because we have to be. Them that daunt, die. Somebody probably said that once at Molly’s. Probably more than once.
Texas liberals are, um, very familiar with Karl Rove. We have a couple-decade head start on the rest of you, though the last eight years might count double.
Here’s a reminder that a key Rove strategy is the demoralization of his opponents, and it’s a strategy learned well by John McCain’s top lieutenant, Steve Schmidt. This year, they’re at it again. We have to resist it.
It didn’t take a genius to figure out this demoralization strategy, by the way. Nothing annoys us Texans more than the constant pimping of Rove as some kind of genius. We don’t call the guy a genius who busts our kneecaps for being a little late on a loan, do we? It’s their willingness to hurt others that makes the Roves of this world effective. Of course, they’re going to come back in the next life as slugs and roaches, but that’s not much help to us this lifetime.
Anyway, the GOP convention and the McCain ugliness that followed are all about demoralization of Democrats. The pettiness, the hatred, the ridicule, the gloating selfishness – it was not aimed at persuading anyone. It was aimed at dissuading us from hope. I googled the terms "democrats," "anxious," and "Obama." It returned 518,000 hits.
The McCain/Palin lies are especially effective. Because we know that democracy depends vitally on truth, the only thing that hurts more than a lie is a successful lie. When a George Bush or John McCain or Sarah Palin tell a lie, well, to paraphrase John Prine, our heads shout down to our hearts, "You better look out below." And the bad guys know it.
It’s time we told them to go straight to hell. Let’s turn all of America into Molly’s Back Yard. It couldn’t be any harder to clean up afterward than Molly’s real back yard after Final Friday.
I think it’s a fair possibility that McCain’s little boost in the polls is due to nothing more than revitalized Republican morale and sagging Democratic morale. How do you beat this Rovian strategy? Don’t sag.
Admittedly, this is hard. Hard because there is so much at stake this election. Hard because the lies, the selfishness, the hatred, and the small-mindedness of our opponents makes us feel a little alienated and anguished even when we’re ahead. It makes us want to throw up to think we’re behind.
Hard because: We may be optimists, but we’re not Pollyannas. This is hardball and we know it. Here’s something to remember though: courage and strong morale require open eyes, not blind optimism. We don’t have to pretend shit.
It’s hard, too, because we believe in democracy, and our default position is to give our opponents their say. Our opponents, however, value authority – their authority – over democracy. Like us, they know what political lies can do to a democracy, but they don’t care. We care. And their uncaring attitude hurts.
A feeling of powerlessness exacerbates the dread. Our hero, in this case Barack Obama, is taking it on the chin. We sit and see it on television and it stirs the same helplessness in us that another Chicago Cub bad inning stirs in a Cub fan. The same, except we also know this game’s for keeps. There’s no next season. And we can’t hit for Obama; we can’t pitch for our side. We can’t make a diving catch to seal the victory. Only Obama can.
If you love the guy, it’s disappointing. If he wasn’t your first choice in the primary, a kind of anger can set in. Also, on any given day we may well have better ideas than the campaign of what should be done. And we need to share these ideas.
Still, we have to remember that the dread, the feeling of powerlessness, the anxiety, the pessimism, can be sefl-fulfilling.
The McCain campaign is manufacturing these feelings in us. You want to beat him? Don’t give in. Because that’s what he wants you to do.
I don’t think it’s necessary to get into detailed philosophical or psychological discussions of this. History is full of examples. A great essay that touches on it is Vaclav Havel’s "Power of the Powerless."
One advantage Republicans have had over us for the last several elections is an organized and activated network of right-wing churches and well-funded third-party organizations. There’s been a lot of talk about their think tanks and infrastructure advantage, but not enough attention to one of its main benefits: keeping up the morale of the Republican base.
Many of us who have worked against the right wing in candidate elections have noticed that our negative attacks on a given Republican are sometimes not as effective as Republican attacks on our candidate. Why? Because this network of churches and clubs – where some members go three, four and five times a week – is like a giant, morale boosting support group. They are comforted and re-assured that devil-sponsored sex monster democrats are behind these godless attacks on their champion.
Democrats do not, of course, behave like obedient parishioners. We like to talk strategy, and like to point out what our candidate or causes are doing right and wrong, and we do a lot of it. And after while, our fears lead to more talk about the wrong part than the right part. And we find ourselves doing just exactly what the other side wants us to do. Making ourselves feel bad.
This year more than ever, our presidential candidate, Barack Obama, is going to count on us. We don’t get to draw our energy from him. It’s the other way around. He and Joe Biden need us. So does Democracy. And the future of Western Civilization. No pressure.
By the way, the Cubs are six games up in the NL Central.