W won last night. I got up at 3, awakened by the sound of drums. I am in Manipur, on the Myanmar border. The power had come back on at last, sometime after I had gone to bed. I had been waiting all evening for news of the elections. CNN carried the news in their coverage of international reaction to the news. I hear from Schroeter, Chirac, and the Alliance of the Willing. I turn off the TV.
I was saddened by the news, as I had found Kerry to be a more honorable man. He could not, no, I felt no one could have done more long-term damage at the Presidency than W. Yet I felt a little relieved for Kerry. After all, what could he have done if he had been elected? No Clinton he, I thought bitterly, what would Bush-Lite have done with the jihadistic Republicans controlling the Senate? Would the effluvia of the preceding four disastrous years sure to ripely flow into the next four years be blamed on the Democrats and set the stage for another faux-statesman in 2008 and beyond? Perhaps a Bush win might be not such a bad thing after all for the Democratic Party if it wants to offer a real choice to the American people. Still, as a firm believer in small measures and a first-do-no-harm approach for critical patients, I had rooted for Kerry. And who knows what may lie around the bend?
No one likes to hear an I-told-you-so. But may I go on record with my harangue over the last few months? Many of my friends supported Howard Dean’s candidacy but gradually warmed to the intonations of Democratic pundits from on high that he was unelectable. Hearing this, I had been driven more and more to a conclusion in the other direction. And that was, that Howard Dean was not only electable, but was the most electable, and even perhaps the only electable of the eight in the Democratic primaries.
“So what is the record of your political prognostications?” I remember a Kerry-supporting friend asking, mildly annoyed at one of my usual Deaniac ramblings. I don’t quite recall if I fell silent, or reminded my Baby-Boomer friend that in 2000 I had said, “A vote for Nader is a vote for Nader”. Though I had lived in New York for over half my life, longer here than in any other part of the world, I am not a US citizen. So my political adjudications /admonitions come free of the final responsibility as well as its attendant denials.
In all the 20 plus years I had lived in America, only the Dean campaign had struck me as the truly radical and deeply political movement I had witnessed. It seemed refreshingly free of ideology and ideologues, as other radical movements had been. Young people throwing sleeping bags into their cars and driving to Vermont; a friend of a friend who gave up his job to work for Dean; bleary eyed logorrheaic bloggers: all captured my imagination.
Truly, at last, I felt, I was seeing a real democratic movement. The people were, for once, creating their own candidate, their own agenda, dollar by dollar, blog by blog, volunteer by volunteer. Here was a swarm of citizens, composed of individuals all acting independently to take on a collective form of ever-changing shape and size. Here was a movement, I thought, that truly grew out of the Internet generation.
When the Bush Camp publicly licked their chops at the prospect of a Dean candidacy, I smelt an underlying fear, a ploy to steer the Democrats away from the man they feared the most. After all, how many of the television commercials produced by the millions in the Republican coffers will be watched by an internet generation busy making their own websites and transmitting their own thoughts? How many self-justifying advisements of specious professionals and self-appointed consultants would they listen to? How would a Goliath do battle with of millions of dispersed Davids?
When Dean lost Iowa, I grieved as an older Baby Boomer might have at the news of the passing of Robert Kennedy. Most of my older Boomer friends were relieved, having concurred with the pronouncement of the unelectability of Dean. But I also I grieved how easily we were persuaded by questionable punditry to go for the “safer” more conventional Kerry.
Perhaps the Baby-Boomer generation that had led me all life had finally become staid, invested, “old”. We all grow old, if we are lucky. But the aging of the world’s first Youth generation, the one who been at the forefront of rock, psychedelia, sexual revolution, feminism, gay pride, environmentalism, yoga, and meditation, the generation that had so far continually redefined the very idea and boundaries of youth, brought with it its special poignancy.
Unable to go back to sleep, I headed, awash in brilliant moonlight, towards the music coming from the temple. Mangrati, the ritual of dawn in the month of Mera, was in full-throated swing. In the temple hall, I saw about twenty devotees in the candlelight. They sat on long rush mats. Two drummers, one a virtuosic eight-year old, accompanied the singers. I looked at the sarong-clad women sitting across from me and watched them sway gently to their own singing. Thoughts of the American Presidential elections disappeared with Sajik-Thaba, the Morning Star, in the temple dawn.
The Manipuris are a small people, a small culture always picked on by larger adversaries from the Burmese to the British to the Indians. Their folk tales are full of diminutive but wily heroes like Kong the Frog, who once declared war on the King. Of course, it was Frog’s own doing. He had sent his poor mother, a long-suffering widow who had grown to love her strange animal offspring, to ask for the Princess’ hand in marriage. After the King and his courtiers had recovered from laughing at hearing this preposterous proposal, the King had a good scheme of merriment. “If Kong the Frog defeats me in battle, he can have my daughter”, he declared, Then his soldiers took the widow by the nape and frog-marched her out of the palace so fast, traditional storytellers say, that her feet scarce touched the ground.
Frog, with his characteristic hubris, had accepted the King’s challenge, and then went to recruit his friends, the bees. The day came when Frog met the King and his army on the battlefield. “You may go first”, Frog grandly told the King. The King’s soldiers let fly their arrows, their fearsome arsenal darkening the sky. But Frog and his bees hid safely in the cracks in the earth. Then Frog unleashed his bees who swarmed all over the King and his soldiers. They stung them so hard till they ran away, swatting and flailing at their tiny and all-but-invisible adversaries. Then the triumphant Frog married the princess and ruled tha land for four years, surrounded by lobbyists.