In my novel, Clarity, the eponymous new drug enables users to see through imposed realities and false values. Under its influence, a conservative member of Congress awakens to the actual impact of President Bush’s budget priorities and speaks his mind publicly. (There’s a scene with the Cheney family too, but unfortunately it hasn’t come true…yet.)
\Clarity\ has an enthusiastic (if modest) following. I’ve been delighted to hear regularly from readers. This week, a fan forwarded this message from her sister: “I just finished reading \Clarity\. WOW. Just reading it gave me a big boost in clarity for a few days. I?m going to have to pass it on to everyone.”
A few readers have been skeptical, though, of the idea that such powerful transformations could be brought about just by seeing clearly. I hasten to say that despite my many personal illusions, I am not benighted enough to believe there a single truth that would be equally evident to everyone under Clarity’s influence. No, the world is tangled with complicated, overlapping realities and multiple co-existing truths. But some realities float to the surface of the vast gray area, coming into focus in crisp black and white.
So let me be the first to say it: Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha had a Clarity moment, almost exactly as I wrote it, demonstrating definitively that when one’s eyes are open, real awareness and real change are indeed possible. In this holiday season, I am thankful for that.
In his \New York Times\ column on Sunday, “One War Lost, Another to Go,” Frank Rich argued convincingly that the administration will not recover majority support for the war. For instance, he cited the fact that blood-in-the-teeth reactionary Senator Rick Santorum, also of Pennsylvania, avoided associating himself with President Bush’s Veterans Day speech in his home state, the speech in which Bush condemned critics as unpatriotic. Santorum also “told reporters for the first time that ‘maybe some blame’ for the war’s ‘less than optimal’ progress belonged to the White House.” This is the political equivalent of a last scrawny rat jumping ship, although it may take some time for the man-o’-war to actually sink. Rich’s comparison of current developments with the pattern of decline in support for the Vietnam War is well worth considering.
While I would like to exult in the tide’s turning, I am sobered by Jacob Hacker’s and Paul Pierson’s essay “The Center No Longer Holds,” appearing the same day. The authors pointed out how conservative Republicans have used the period of their political ascendancy to change the rules of Congressional politics and decision-making, ensuring that they will continue to hold power even as a minority. Partly, the old rules are to blame: since Senate seats are distributed two to a state regardless of population, a minority capturing the vote in less populous states will dominate a majority. Hacker and Pierson pointed out that, “In the last three Senate elections…Democrats have actually received 2.4 million more votes than Republicans, yet the G.O.P. has won 11 more seats. The Senate’s 55 Republicans represent 131 million people (assuming each senator represents half a state’s population); its 44 Democrats represent 161 million.” Each Republican vote for a Senator is thus worth one and one-half times my vote, which translates into public policy now consistently set by a minority.
The House is also skewed, albeit by a different method. Consider this: Bush received just over 50 percent of the popular vote in 2004, but because of the way districts are drawn to favor Republicans, he won in nearly 60 percent of Congressional districts. In the last few years, Republicans have created “nearly a dozen new Republican-leaning districts nationwide.” The authors wrote that “Republicans could retain control of the House next year even if the majority of voters cast their ballots for Democratic candidates.”
So while popular support for the war may indeed have eroded to Vietnam-era levels (I pray it doesn’t take as long for majority opinion to be actualized as it did during Vietnam), the hearts and minds of many more rural Americans, small town folks, and heartlanders must change for the majority to prevail.
It could happen. What with the scandals piling up, all factions in Iraq wanting the U.S. out and the President’s poll numbers falling, it could happen. If it does, I hope and pray the opposition will be able to bring balance to the distorted structures of government Republican dominance has created.