Fear and Voting in America
It began in 1972, near as we can tell. You could say that it really began in 1968, or 1964, or 1954, or even 1865 — nothing happens in isolation — but if we’re gonna get at what it is, we’re gonna pin it on 1972.
1972 is the year Democrats lost their nerve. 1972 is the year George McGovern lost to Richard Nixon. Big time. Like, 49-state big time. Jokes about the Socialist Republic of Massachusetts were popular during our teen years.
Democrats never recovered from that one. It’s perverted everything they stand for. Still does.
Democrats are afraid of losing.
We’re enduring a couple of examples of that right now. Master Tactician Nancy Pelosi won’t sign off on impeachment hearings because she’s afraid Democrats will lose voters. Joe Biden is leading in polls because he’s the risk-free “electable” candidate. Surely everyone who hates Democrats will like him.
George McGovern haunts Democrats. They fear that voting for a passionate advocate — of anything — will doom them to defeat.
Never mind that McGovern ran a comically inept campaign, switching veep candidates midstream. Never mind that Richard Nixon was a crook who ran on authoritarianism and racism — here’s where we mention the 1968 Southern Strategy, inspired by the 1964 Civil Rights Act, a decade followng Brown v. Board in 1954, and you know what happned in 1865 — and never mind that Saint Jimmy won in 1976, because that doesn’t count after he lost to an amiable racist liar in 1980.
No, the lesson was clear: Don’t frighten the voters.
Which gave us a parade of cardboard campaigners, which we remember all too clearly because they frame our adult life: Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, Al Gore, John Kerry, and — sorry — Hillary Clinton.
The candidates with passion, the thing that gets you into trouble? 1976 Jimmy — 1980 was a sorry spectacle — Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama.
Didn’t matter what they were passionate about — Bubba could play the race card when he needed to, and fry a convict to prove his cojones — but you could feel blood in them. They were unapologetic about who they were.
And, well, they won.
One of them, historically.
World-Historical Asshole Steve Jobs — brilliant and mean — understood this about people. You ask them what they want, they’re gonna tell you what they’re familiar with. You show them what they need, things change. You couldn’t have known you needed that, because it didn’t exist before.
Cowering before voters, riding in a tank or Reporting For Duty or failing to impeach the most blatantly corrupt president in history shows, among other things, a failure of imagination. The voters you’re afraid of upsetting will never vote for you in the first place. And the voters you fail to inspire may stay home — especially given all the obstacles to voting you’re letting the bastards get away with.
They are bastards, y’know. All of them. Deliberately so. They have no interest in civility, or the Constitution for that matter, or even the Republic. We see that. We’ve been seeing that for years. And we see you cowering before them. It’s not a good look.
It’s not even good politics. If you’re afraid of impeaching Donald Trump because look what happened to the Republicans who impeached Bill Clinton, you have the memory — and guts — of a snail. It was a sham, everyone saw it as a sham, and acted accordingly. If you’re afraid that impeachment is useless because it won’t go anywhere in the Senate, why are you even bothering to show up for work in the House? Any legislation you pass is inherently futile for the duration.
If you’re afraid of nominating a smart woman who knows her shit because look what happened to the last smart woman who knew her shit, you’re forgetting that she won by nearly three million votes, despite being a chronically lame campaigner. Yes, well, the Electoral College, and why aren’t you raising holy hell about the Constitution’s burst appendix?
Why aren’t you raising holy hell about anything?
Who the hell are you afraid of?
White people, that’s who. The white people who turned to Nixon, and Reagan, and both Bushes, and, well, every Republican candidate for the past fifty years. White people who were 9 in 10 American citizens in 1970 — but only 6 in 10 today.
And those of us who aren’t afraid of taco trucks on every corner, those of us who have done well by our inherent privileges in a white-dominated nation, those of us who don’t resent others seeking the same structural opportunities, those of us who haven’t yet succumbed to White Identity Politics, don’t worry about us. We don’t want you appealing to the racist imbecile next door. We want you bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
Don’t be a sniveling nincompoop. Be a leader. Be a champion. America likes those. On those rare occasions we get one.