One of the aspects of this election that has bewildered me is how incredibly close the election is. It just seemed implausible -- could the country really be that evenly divided, such that a presidential election could come down to a few thousand votes one way or another?
But talking to Kevin last night, I realized that in fact, it's essentially inevitable at this point that our presidential elections will be just this close -- barring gross incompetence on the part of either of the two party machines. We will see this again in 2008, in 2012, in 2016, unless we create radical change in the system. Here's why:
Imagine a wide stretch of beach -- pretty white sand, scattered broken shells, a deep blue ocean and the sun rising in the sky. Two hot dog vendors come and set up their stands on the beach. Now, ideally for the convenience and comfort of beach-goers, they would set up equidistant from each other and the end points of the beach, like this:So politically, both parties desperately strive to come as close to the perceived middle as they can. I want to get mad at nominees for not sticking to their ideals, but I actually can't blame them -- if I were running for election and wanted to have a chance of actually getting into office, the hot dog stand teaches me that my best shot of winning the election is to get as close to the middle as I possibly can -- and if my party researchers are doing the kind of job they can do these days, with the internet, polls, etc., then I probably have a good chance of figuring out where the middle is.
[end of beach..................hot dog stand....................hot dog stand.......................end of beach]If they did that, they would both get half of the business on the beach, and customers on both ends of the beach would have equal access to hot dogs.
But one of the hot dog guys figures out that if he inches closer to the center, he can cut into some of his colleague's business. Like this:
[end of beach..............................hot dog stand........hot dog stand......................end of beach]And the other guy says, 'hey, that's not right -- I need to get my business back!' So he moves closer to the center too...
[end of beach..............................hot dog standhot dog stand...............................end of beach]And you end up with the hot dog stands sitting side by side (with little perceptible difference between the two), each getting exactly half of the beach's business -- but with the people on the ends of the beach far more inconvenienced. This is a pervasive pattern of business, and also explains why you get corner intersections with four different gas stations.
This process creates the impression that the country is firmly, sharply divided into two halves. In actuality, the country is far more scattered, and the middle shifts over time. If progressives are to have any chance in the future, their efforts must go towards shifting the cultural center of the country towards a more progressive outlook.
I've been mulling this over, trying to figure out how, in the next four years, I can have the most significant effect on politics in this country. And I think the answer is to stay with my writing; if I do the best job I can, and manage to somehow become well-known enough to have an influence on readers (or better, movie-viewers), then that's my best shot at influencing the cultural mindset of Americans, especially Americans in the less urban areas. My stomach churns at the news reports that indicate that 'moral values' play so strongly in those areas -- I don't know if I have any chance of changing minds there, or if I'm just too far to the left to reach them at all. But I'm pretty sure that's where change needs to happen.