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Wednesday, November 3, 2004

A covenant goes two ways.

Shall I pledge allegiance to the prez? Jeff Jarvis urges his fellow citizens to repeat after him in patriotic magnanimity:

I promise to... Support the President, even if I didn't vote for him..... Criticize the President, even if I did vote for him..... Uphold standards of civilized discourse in blogs and in media while pushing both to be better.... Unite as a nation, putting country over party, even as we work together to make America better.

Hmm. I first read Jarvis's pledge when I thought Kerry might walk away with a solid majority, and didn't much feel like endorsing it then. I feel less inclined to endorse it now. Why?

"Support" is such a tricky word. I will certainly acknowledge Bush's victory and will recognize his legitimate occupancy of the White House. When I talk about President Bush, I won't type put "president" in quotes. He's president of my country. I accept that.

But a covenant goes two ways — and the pledge Jarvis offers us involves another party who also has a pledge to make. We citizens are bound by law and tradition to respect our elected leaders, and they are bound by law and tradition to respect us as citizens. That's a two-way street. So long as President Bush holds his constitutional office, he and I are bound to each other as president and citizen — and that covenant sets up conditions for our conduct toward each other. In a democratic republic, of course, his legitimacy as a leader depends on the trust he earns from the citizenry; he can fulfill the obligations of the covenant, or he can ignore them.

And this is where I have my doubts about Jarvis's pledge. I don't believe President Bush has honored his side of the deal over the last four years. I don't believe he has shown much interest in reaching out to his opponents or beyond his politically calculated base. I find it hard to imagine why he would start now.

And yet I fully intend to hold him to the pledge he made this afternoon:

America has spoken, and I'm humbled by the trust and the confidence of my fellow citizens.

With that trust comes a duty to serve all Americans. And I will do my best to fulfill that duty every day as your president.

He added:

Reaching these goals will require the broad support of Americans. So today I want to speak to every person who voted for my opponent. To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support and I will work to earn it. I will do all I can do to deserve your trust. A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation. We have one country, one Constitution, and one future that binds us.

I will do what I can to support the president's ability to fulfill his pledge to "serve all Americans." I will criticize his failures to fulfill that pledge. That's the pledge I was planning to make to President Kerry. (And let me begin today! I do not support some of the goals Bush claims will require "the broad support of Americans," like his outrageous tax proposals. You want my support? Meet me halfway.) I will insist that our leaders remember that they serve us and our commonweal; we do not serve them or their agenda. And that, my friends, is the support I pledge to the president.

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 3 November 2004 at 5:53 PM

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November 3, 2004 06:10 PM | Permalink for this comment

Amen, world without end.


November 3, 2004 06:55 PM | Permalink for this comment

Well said. I don't concede a mandate to Bush, but a responsibility, to every citizen, including those who didn't vote for him.


November 3, 2004 06:58 PM | Permalink for this comment

(Hi Chris -- I read -- all the way from Germany!)

Mr. Jarvis' quote caught my eye. A response.

(1). The election of Bush is well-nigh catastrophic. It represents a staggering instance of moral and political naivete on the part of millions of Americans. This sounds sharp, but one must not flinch from it. It is not European anti-Americanism: God knows that Europeans have made numerous stupid democratic choices over the years. It is simply a honest appraisal of the situation.

Anyway, the point now is not to "support" Bush. That is ludicrous. No-one in a democracy is obliged to "support" an office-holder: this is simply a capitulation to Bush's far-far-right modulation of "patriotism" (i.e. if you're not with us, you're against us. And possibly evil.). In a democracy, one is obliged to *accept* a democratically elected offical. Nothing else. Recognizing that Bush "won" (whatever that means, these days) is all that is required.

(2). More: the point of democracy is NOT allegiance. The point of democracy is: one *decides*, autonomously, to offer support to whomsoever one chooses. To suggest otherwise is actually to cut away at the practice of democracy": it is suggest that there is an entity (i.e. the "country" or the "nation") that has some kind of prior claim to one's support. And, I need hardly say, *that* particular idea has proven catastrophic -- especially in the C20.

(3). I expect there will be plenty of anger on the coasts about Bush's victory, as well as much despondency. Fair enough. But there needs to be some very serious soul-searching on the part of the liberals and the left. Clearly the liberals/left have failed to persuade many people of the legitimacy of even the smallest, and somewhat pathetic, shift towards a more humane USA (i.e. Kerry). The question is: why? This question simply must be answered -- even if that makes for uncomfortable introspection. It is going to be a very miserable four years for those on the margins of US society, and, I expect, for (a) the developing world; and (b) whatever country Bush and his cronies decide to take a dislike to, with some assbackward spurious excuse. The liberals/left have very little time to get their act together before Bush take us all to hell in a handbasket.

Scott Wells:

November 3, 2004 09:00 PM | Permalink for this comment

I haven't and don't support the President, and can't help feel that his "hands across the aisle" will effectively land on my (and my husband's) neck.

I'll be loyal to the nation -- I have little patience for would-be expats -- but I don't trust President Bush, don't trust his motives or advisors, and plan on rallying as much resistance as I can muster in the coming years.

Brian Duffin:

November 3, 2004 11:22 PM | Permalink for this comment

Just out of curiosity, what if Kerry had won the presidency? What words would you share with a disillusioned Republican?

While I agree that Bush does not have a mandate, per se, he did receive a commanding majority of the popular vote. What do you attribute that to? A policy, fear, or moral stand?

In my view, I think Americans want someone who is more of a centerist than liberal. Am I wrong? Do you see Bush as a centerist, or as someone right of Pat Robertson?

Also, who will run in 2008 for the Democrats? Is Hillary Clinton a safe choice? What about Barack Obama? He seems to be, at least for the moment, a likely name for VP in 2008. What say you?

Before I go, I have to say that I was extremely impressed with the way Kerry handled his concession and his speech was incredible. Although I disagreed with his views, I admire him as a man of honor.

Roger Kuhrt:

November 4, 2004 07:02 AM | Permalink for this comment

Wow, what a ride. I kept my eye on that intense psychopath Karl Rove--to bad he is also a strategic genius! In any event his strategies move one (at least me) to ask the question: What exactly is the BASE of Unitarian Universalism and are we (as leaders) playing to that BASE? Or is there an identity rift within the UU Community as there appears to be in the Democratic Party? And, as leaders, are we in a "disconnect" with our own people?


November 4, 2004 10:40 AM | Permalink for this comment

Brian, a few quick responses: Bush does have a mandate, not to mention control over every branch of the federal government. The ball is very much in his court. But it's a mandate built on a divided country — and on an agenda that was developed in order to divide the country. (Screw the cities and the urbanites, you might call it.) If Kerry had been elected, he would have been balanced by a conservative Republican Congress; his agenda would have had to be one of compromise and bipartisanship. In other words, Kerry would have governed from what is now the "center" — but Bush will govern from the far right.

If you think Americans wanted a centrist rather than a "liberal," I'd suggest that Americans will be sorely disappointed. Bush is a radical; Kerry was the centrist in this race. (Look at the way Bush spends government money; look at the way he's putting the country into extraordinary debt; look at the way his foreign policy is winning friends and influencing people.) For once, the left wing of the Democratic Party showed extraordinary restraint and didn't demand that their candidate swing to the left: Kerry ran as a moderate Democrat, and some activists are already blaming him for it — forgetting that Howard Dean would have been buried in a landslide.

Hillary Clinton would lose in 2008 in the most unforgiving way. She would be a terrible candidate. Barack Obama won't be ready to run by 2008, although I think his approach to politics represents the future of the party. A moderate Democratic governor is the most likely candidate next time, although I'm not sure who it might be. The left wing is more dead than ever in having the capacity to field a viable presidential candidate. Of course, the right-wing propagandists will continue to pretend that the impotent far-left — upper-middle-class college students and their 1960s New Left professors — dominates what has been a centrist party since 1992. Meanwhile the Republicans will continue to march toward zealotry of the most dangerous kind.


November 4, 2004 06:44 PM | Permalink for this comment

I agree that Hillary would be a national ticket disaster. I'm surprised people haven't been talking more about Senator Evan Bayh (who is on the Senate Centrist Coalition, was a popular two-term "Red State" governer, helped create the "New Democrat Coalition, has the TV good looks and adorable twin sons, etc. etc.).

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