My earlier post, “Election Special 2008“, didn’t fully do justice to all the things I wanted to say about this election. I decided it would be better split into two parts, and here’s the second part.
First, the historic: A nation built by slaves, that fought a bloody civil war over emancipation, and that has grappled with the poisonous legacy of racism since its founding, has chosen a black man to be its President. Many of those who marched in the civil rights movement, who lived through segregation and battled Jim Crow laws, have lived to see one of their own elected to the most powerful position in the world. I didn’t live through the civil rights era, nor have I ever been the target of racism. But witnessing the jubilation among black voters, the raw outpouring of long-pent-up emotion, it’s impossible not to feel just a little bit of what they must be feeling:
“I walked out and shouted, ‘Glory hallelujah,’ and the whole place responded, ‘Glory hallelujah!'” Lowery said. “It’s been 40 years since we were shot down in Mississippi and Alabama trying to register to vote, and now I’m voting for a black man.”
Will Obama’s election put an end to racism in America? No – as with the progressive cause in general, this is a milestone, not a destination. But it can’t be denied that Obama’s ascent represents the shattering of the last and greatest of the color barriers. And I think it will be a boon to the cause of tolerance in another way: it will bring out the last, ugly remnants of open racism that remain in this country. I have no doubt – for we have seen it already several times – that much of the opposition to Obama will be couched in explicitly racist terms. America as a whole is better than this, but I think there are many people who have failed to acknowledge the degree to which racism still lingers. I think the Obama presidency, by flushing it out into the open, will make it impossible to ignore any longer, and that’s likely to be a valuable motivation for people of good will to work to defeat it once and for all.
Second, on the role of religion. Besides the welcome and deserved defeat of anti-atheist bigot Elizabeth Dole, the progressive movement can claim another trophy: the unseating of Robin Hayes, another obnoxious conservative who infamously claimed that “liberals hate real Americans that work and achieve and believe in God”. We can safely say that the average quality of Congress has risen by a significant fraction since these theocrats were ejected by the voters.
And, of course, we can now commence hearty laughter and mockery of pompous theocrats like Arnold Conrad, who pleaded with God to deliver John McCain victory, lest Hindus, Buddhists and other non-Christians “think that their god is bigger than you”. I guess Yahweh has shrunk several sizes since the election, eh, Arnold? And not least of all, Sarah Palin herself expressed her faith that God would do “the right thing for America” on Election Day. Those words are well worth remembering so that we can shove them in the faces of every evangelical bigot who pops up in the next four years to claim that God votes straight-ticket Republican.
On a more serious note, we can make one more observation on the role of atheists in politics. Ed Brayton reports:
In California, exit polls showed that those who attended church regularly voted against marriage equality 83-17%. Those who attended church only occasionally voted for marriage equality 60-40%. Those who do not attend church at all voted for marriage equality 86-14%.
This is why we fight for atheism. This is why we oppose religion as a force for evil in the world – because, as these results demonstrate, it is. Frequent church attendance is a superb predictor of whether a person opposes equality and fairness for all their fellow human beings. Conversely, gays and other progressives should recognize that when it comes to the fight for true social justice, nonbelievers are vital and dependable allies.
There’s one more topic I have some thoughts about, and that’s the future of the Republicans. In this election, McCain and the GOP ran an exceptionally vile and noxious campaign, one that was based almost entirely on appeals to hate and fear and on cultivating the resentments of a bigoted and extremist minority. This faction, though a minority in America as a whole, now constitutes a majority of the Republican party. They’re easy to rile up, but as McCain found out, they’re not enough to deliver the election all by themselves – and their focus on culture-war issues to the exclusion of all else has alienated the independents and moderates that the Republicans need to win. As the exodus of moderates continues, the GOP is increasingly becoming a rump party, one wholly in thrall to its most regressive and ignorant religious faction. In the coming four years, we can expect this trend to accelerate.
The standard-bearer of what remains of the GOP is Sarah Palin. She embodies all that the Republican party has become: a cheerful devotee of religious know-nothingism, aggressively ignorant, shamelessly bigoted, willing to pander to any prejudice or stir up any hatred in order to win. She’s already gearing up for a presidential run in 2012 – she was doing so well before the McCain campaign ended – and we can expect to hear from her again. Mitt Romney is doing likewise, and I suspect Mike Huckabee will return as well. And I couldn’t be happier about that.
All three of these candidates appeal to the same demographic, the white religious conservatives who increasingly define the GOP. In the next Republican primary, I predict that these three will fight a bloody battle over these voters. Especially with Palin in the ring, we can be confident that this contest will be defined by smear tactics and personal attacks. This means it will leave plenty of bitterness and hard feelings on all sides, no matter who wins, and the religious right will become even more fragmented and disillusioned with politics than they currently are. A civil war is brewing in the GOP, and we progressives can sit back and watch the party slowly begin to implode. I, for one, am looking forward to it.