As I write these words, Senator John Kerry readies the concession
speech that brings to an end the 2004 election cycle. The mood in Portlands
progressive community despite the remarkable 53-46 percent showing
the Democratic candidate made in Multnomah County seems cold comfort
to those who have just gone through one of the most intense presidential campaigns
I can remember.
Peoples moods werent improved by some local defeats, as well. The long string of victories over the homophobic Christian Right and all those closet homophobes made the Measure 36 debacle especially painful. Oregon, after all, has developed a proud tradition of supporting lesbian-gay rights. A similar impact was felt with passage of Measure 37, the takings measure that torpedoes the states renowned land-use system. Both measures passed by significant margins: 36 passed 56-44 percent and 37 passed 58-42 percent.
At the national level, Bush won because he succeeded in attracting affluent white males and conservative Christians. At the local level, conservative Christians, and rural and suburban property owners came together to pass 36 and 37. On both the national and the local stages, these winning combinations were held together with a common glue: fear.
Our long-suffering economy is making more white collar men feel insecure about retaining their position in the middle class. The Bush campaign, anxious not to dwell too long on the economy a subject in which Kerry showed a much stronger showing than the president kept the fear factor going by staying focused on terrorism, a cynical strategy that clearly worked.
The double victory of 36 and 37 rode a wave of deep-seated fear as well. In hard economic times, many people see religion and home as two refuges from the storms raging around them. Measure 36, supported by images of men kissing within a church sanctuary and suggestions that peoples children would soon be taught that same-sex marriage is normal was more than enough to turn the faithful out in droves.
The same sort of reaction drove the takings measure to victory as well. Oregons land use system, despite its national fame, has never set well with the states rural and suburban residents. At a fundamental level, 37 supporters saw land use as a direct threat to the security of their hearth and home about as fundamental as you get in this country.
The role of fear in this campaign can also be seen in the races where things went well. The Right proved unable to out-organize on the issue of malpractice litigation, suggesting even conservative people fear the medical establishment more than lawyers. Fear of loss of essential services trumped the fear of government the Right so likes to promote, resulting in the proposed repeal of the county income tax to go down in flames.
But fear was only half the recipe that delivered the Right its big wins on elections day nationally and here in Oregon. The other important ingredient was long-range planning. The fruit harvested by the Right on election day has been cultivated for more than three decades, when Oregons celebrated new Christian conservatives announced their plans to take over the state legislature. Even though Lon Mabon and other hate-peddling miscreants have been beaten back over the years, their base of support has remained intact and ready for use by whoever is willing to pick up the banner. These grassroots reactionarys, furthermore, are supported by a national infrastructure that can supply training, ballot measure and legislative bill boilerplates, and even ideological window dressing. All of this makes for a more disciplined bloc of voters who can be counted on to turn out when needed.
This year, much is being made of the tremendous efforts at turnout various groups and parties made to get Bush out of office. In Portland, all sorts of folks usually overlooked by the Democrats were targeted and many of them were registered. How many of them actually voted remains to be seen. As organized labor knows, signing people up is one thing, getting them to stand up to the boss is another. It is only after experiencing some wins, even minor ones, that people gain the confidence to elevate the struggle to a higher level.
If we do nothing else in the coming months and years, we must make sure that all those people who entered the political process for the first time arent lost. We must keep them involved and introduce them to other facets of our progressive movement. If we stick to the program we can, in time, make real and permanent changes in this country.
The Portland Alliance
2807 SE Stark Portland,OR 97214
Last Updated: February 6, 2005