My oldest and dearest friend is a dedicated radical who is deeply, inconsolably pessimistic about the state of contemporary politics. He is perpetually teasing me about what he sees as my irrational optimism in the face of endless disappointment. I think of him as the Eeyore to my Tigger. [WINNIE THE POOH by A. A. Milne, for my overseas friends.] Perhaps it is simply the fact that North Carolina has begun to sport days in the 70s, or advancing age, or merely irrepressible high spirits, but I am beginning to get that feeling that things are turning to the left at home and abroad.
I need hardly reference what is happening in the Middle East. All I can do is watch and hope and marvel at the speed with which seemingly thoroughly entrenched dictatorships are beginning to shake and crumble. I weep for those whose lives have been lost in the uprisings, but I allow myself to hope, perhaps even to believe, that irreversible changes are under way.
Here at home, my eyes are on Wisconsin, of course. There is very little I can do about that either, save to give money, so I have joined Russ Feingold's newly formed Progressives United with a pretty good donation, and I have also given a hundred dollars to the twelve Wisconsin State Senators in absentia. This is painless for me, but it is something, and I can at least comfort myself with the thought that if every like-minded person in America made a donation, large or small, it would add up to a very substantial sum.
This is a country in which fewer than 60% of eligible voters vote in presidential years, and little more than a third in off years. Thus it is that enthusiasm, voter mobilization, turnout is everything. A simple calculation makes the point. There are not quite 230 million citizens eligible to vote, of whom roughly 180 million are registered. About 70% of the registered voters vote in a presidential year, leaving 30% not voting and an equal number unregistered. Suppose that in a bad year for the left, Republicans win 52% of the votes and Democrats win 48%, and suppose as well that the 30% of registered voters who do not bother to vote would break in roughly the same proportions if they all came out to the polls. That means that the Republicans get about 65.5 million votes and the Democrats get 60.5 million, a 5 million vote shortfall, which is enormous. But there are 54 million eligible voters not voting, of whom roughly 26 million are Democrats. If the Democrats can get only 20% of them to the polls, they win, although not by much.
What we are seeing in Wisconsin is a brazen attempt by the Republican governor to gut the unions, which are the major get out the vote machine for the Democrats., In response, opponents of the governor's move, supporting the unions, have poured into the streets in astonishing numbers. The great beast has been awakened!
At the same time, as Frank Rich notes in today's NY TIMES op ed piece, the air is starting to go out of the right wing balloon. Glenn Beck, surely the craziest and most dangerous demagogue to appear on the American scene in a very long time, has lost half of his audience in the past year. Sarah Palin has become a joke to much of America, and despite her fervent band of admirers, no longer carries much political weight even in Republican circles.
We need to mobilize, and the list of horribles being attempted by state and federal Republican lawmakers may turn 0ut to be the most effective organizing tool we have.
I refuse to believe that I am simply giving voice to irrational optimism. I have lived long enough to see America come alive several times, and this is beginning to smell like another such moment. Deo volente.