Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Time to Take a Deep Breath

Sadly, angry liberals and progressives (at least many of them) have been growing just a bit unhinged since the election. So sure were they that the three debates conclusively demonstrated Kerry's better mental qualifications and so falsely revved up were they by the misleading election day exit polls--and I know, cause I was among them on both counts--that Bush's ultimate surprise victory seems to now be gnawing at the very inner lining of their brains. A case in point is the novelist Jane Smiley--herself a midwestern native, and perhaps most famous for writing a narrative rural tragedy, A Thousand Acres--who lashed out at red-state ignorance in this now-infamous Slate story, posted two days after the election. While it makes some good points, it's also pretty silly and even borderline anti-intellectual in the way it makes blanket statements about millions of individuals who simply happen to share the arbitrary geography of state lines, and fails to recognize that a few thousand votes in various key areas would have utterly changed the outcome. Meanwhile, this little oddity from a blogger in Vancouver, B.C. which purports to prove that the 16 states with the highest average IQs all went for Kerry, also got a lot of play on the web, even though its own footnotes seem to pretty neatly demolish its own veracity, or at least fundamentally call it into question.

Anyway, amid all the overwrought talk about pained Dems threatening to move to Canada in the wake of a Bush victory, I found this enlightening gem of an interview with the famous urban theorist Jane Jacobs especially interesting. I drilled down on her a bit after recently learning from a writerly friend that, to my surprise, the sainted thinker is still alive. She's been so quiet in recent years that I'd assumed she was no longer with us. It turns out that's in large part because she's been living in Toronto ever since moving there with her family during the Vietnam War. This interview is conducted by James Howard Kunstler, a far angrier disciple of her work (who has nevertheless written some thoughtful books about new urbanism, though none that could remotely match her iconic The Death and Life of Great American Cities), Anyway, I found her general optimism refreshing, especially considering how she's generally known for her pessimistic take on things (her most recent book is entitled Dark Age Ahead). Despite the fact that urbanism remains "discredited" in the U.S., she still insists that we should "never underestimate the power of a city to regenerate." Heck, maybe there's even hope for Cleveland. Then again, if we all lived in impossibly vibrant urban places such as Toronto, we'd probably be feeling pretty optimistic about cities too..

Republican Triumphalism. As I mentioned last week, Bush's day-after-election talk about humbly reaching out to the opposition with an olive branch couldn't be taken seriously. But even I couldn't have imagined that this fake era of good feeling would last just 24 hours. A day later, the Frat Boy in Chief was back to his usual arrogant, preening self, talking about all the "capital" he'd won in the election and how he intended to spend it on his agenda. One of his leading post-election issues seems to be fundamental tax reform (sorry, but I don't recall that being mentioned much during the campaign), which the Bushies are soothingly noting would remain revenue-neutral. In other words, the changes would neither cut nor raise taxes on the population as a whole. But as a former Bush Treasury official, now at the accounting firm of Ernst & Young, so vividly noted last week on the front page of the Wall Street Journal: "every poker game is revenue-neutral. At the end of every game there's still the same amount of money in the room. But some people's pockets are empty and others are full." And whose pockets do you think these folks are most concerned about? I'll give you a hint, culled from the infamous clip from Farenheit 9/11, of Bush speaking at a fundraiser: "this is an impressive crowd: the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite. I call you my base." Expect that base to be especially well-represented in any tax-overhaul plans.

So Long, Ashcroft. There is, however, much to celebrate today, starting with the news that Ayatollah Ashcroft will soon be stepping down as U.S. Attorney General (though he says he'll stick around until his successor wins Senate confirmation, which could become a significant bargaining chip in the process. Those wily Bushies...). If the Bush Administration does nothing else to sooth some of the anger from the election but this single change, it's nevertheless an important gesture. His admirers in government and media are doing their best to spin his legacy into something positive, but as I've pointed out before, this guy was simply a disaster of historic proportions for civil liberties in this country (probably fated to be compared to World War I AG Palmer, he of the infamous Palmer raids). Even the Bush crowd had had enough of his clumsy boorishness and hyperbolic showboating for the TV cameras, invariably claiming some giant breakthrough in the War on Terror as he crowed about nabbing the latest small fish. After four years, he had become almost a cartoonish figure of firebreathing demagoguery, managing to make the rest of the administration seem reasonable by comparison. Probably only that human right-wing cartoon herself, Ann Coulter, has been better at consciously polarizing American politics. As the chief spokesman for the grossly misnamed Patriot Act, Ashcroft kept repeating that despite some of the law's more worrisome provisions, the federal government hasn't abused them. But as this piece by Georgetown law professor David Cole in the current New York Review of Books nicely points out, that simply wasn't true. He goes on to delineate various misuses of the law. I especially love how Ashcroft is now floating the notion that he may be contemplating a future presidential run. That's better than anything the best stand-up comedian could invent, since this is the same guy who not so long ago lost to a dead man in a race for the Senate in his own native state of Missouri. Despite those and other absurdist distractions, the damage this buffoon did to democratic traditions was unfortunately all too real. Historians may one day settle on this charming bit of demagoguery as Ashcroft's high water mark in anti-constitutional outrage, made all the worse since it was spoken before his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate three months after 9/11:

'To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve.'


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