It has all the makings of a party: chips, pizza, beer, bourbon, a projection screen and an amp. The mood, however, is dour at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Public Policy.
This decision has yet to be made, but optimism is grossly lacking among the 80 students and friends have gathered to watch the election. Florida’s not even close. Ohio’s not looking close enough. The popular vote is skewing Bush, the enlarged U.S. map is cloaking the school building in red, and glum faces reflect the realization that regardless of who wins, we left-coasters are in the minority.
The first W win was easier to stomach. Lefties maintained a sense of superiority – after all we had the popular vote, and if you threw Nader on top of the pile, the country was clearly on our side. In 2000 Democrats and liberals responded with a brazen assault of satire and sarcasm. They painted Bush as an idiot, a talking monkey on the Vice President’s lap. We bathed in glow of the Saturday Night Live sketches. “See America?” we thought. “See what an idiot our president is?”
Two years later, the “Democrat majority” lost the Senate, bucking a longstanding trend of the sitting president’s party losing Congressional seats in mid-term elections. The “Democrat Majority” responded with kooky e-mail forwards. We used 9-11 to explain away the Senate shift. We made dates for Bowling for Columbine. “See America?” we pleaded. “See how your president is manipulating you?”
Four months later, the United States invaded Iraq under a reactionary premise of preemption. The “Democrat Majority” took to the streets in San Francisco, Boston, New York, and Chicago. We signed on-line petitions. We petitioned our city councils to pass a resolution opposing the war. We got on the bandwagon of a Democrat unknown called Governor Dean. And we started donating a whole bunch of money. “See America?” we shouted. “See what a force we can be?”
A year later, Governor Dean imploded. We jumped horses to another New Englander, Senator Kerry. We started hearing about the Republican war chest. We started hearing about Republican tampering with the voter registration process. The “Democrat Majority” donated in record amounts. We got on buses and airplanes. We registered voters. We exposed fraud. We filed lawsuits. “See America?” we pounded. “See these compassionate conservative values?”
Election Day 2004 is drawing to a close, and regardless of who wins tonight (or whenever this election will be decided), the “Democrat Majority” has been made plainly aware that it is in the minority. We from Boston, from New York, from D.C., from California, who have gathered in Berkeley, are coming out of a cocoon we have built out of satirical articles, liberal documentaries, and wishful thinking. There is a big, red country staring us in the face, and it doesn’t believe in gun control, gay rights, or a woman’s right to choose.
Regardless of who wins tonight, the new “Democrat Minority” needs to wake up tomorrow and smell the country. From Idaho to Florida, the country does not see eye-to-eye with the blue states. The challenge of the Democrat Minority, and the challenge that I and my classmates face, is one of showing America what we believe this country can, and should be. The challenge cannot be met by Kerry’s vague “plan.” It cannot be met by another e-mail forward. It certainly cannot be met by another Michael Moore movie.
The challenge for conveying Democratic values on a majority Republican country is one of talking, of listening, and of fighting for what we believe in: civil liberties, health care for all, a clean environment, and a government that solves problems domestically and abroad. In six months, my classmates and I will be let loose from the People’s Republic of Berkeley. Some of us will be headed to red states. All of us will be faced with a nation of challenges. It is my hope that we will face those challenges head on, and not hide under a fresh pile of satire.
Ian Hart is a masters student in public policy at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School.