RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

Back to Work

Like you, I got 500 emails about the election. They range from the wailing, "What are we going to do?" to the practical "How to find a job in Toronto" to the accusatory "Kerry won!" complete with maps and petitions. There was even an invitation to send a picture to a website that apologizes for our next administration to the whole entire world.

That's Internet therapy.

Closer to home, our friend Mike has used his spare energy to practice a growing repertoire of coin tricks. You know, where you move coins across the kitchen table from this pattern to that pattern in this many moves without breaking these rules. He's gotten really good at it.

Kurt has been designing dream team nominations for 2008; his favorite so far pairs a woman with a newcomer. Well, maybe. But not THAT woman, Kurt.

The best life-saving strategies came from Mary. Sleep more, drink lots of water, avoid chocolate. And, oh yeah, sort and delete everything from your life using the key words "election," "defeat," or "November."

OK, guys, it's been a month.

It's time to buck up, put on your game face, go back to work. Kerry wasn't such a prize, after all. He was wrong on so many issues it would take a column to list them all.

Democrats lost because scheming, organized fearmongers always triumph over ungainly, unfocused reasoners. Check out the history books.

On second thought, don't look at history because the chapter after the fearmongers win is a real downer.

If the vote hinged on "morality," the Democrats lost because they didn't claim a word that they should own. In a New York Times op-ed on Nov. 15, Adam Cohen explains that Democrats need to learn to handle language. He says that, for example, once you're told not to think about an elephant, it's darn hard to get the image of elephant out of your head. Each time you try to get rid of it, maybe by telling yourself "No elephants," there it is.

And, when you're defending yourself against elephants you don't have time to visualize other things. So, instead of shifting the dialog you end up defending yourself around the issues that they have claimed. So, for example, as soon as you hear "moral majority" you begin wondering about the "immoral minority" instead of thinking, "What the heck is moral about them? And who says they're a majority?"

The right has taken years to perfect their sound bites, but that's all they have. Rather than creating a moral system to help people live better lives, their morality boils down to phrases that inspire fear. "Right to life" and "sanctity of marriage" have crept into the brains of citizens too busy, lazy or unpracticed to think.

These muddled slogans are even becoming law. The Laci Peterson verdict proclaims that the law knows when life begins. Putting this "right" into law is phony. What are the rights of frozen fetuses in fertility labs? Do eggs and sperms have rights?

Here's an idea: To protect life, the law should require vasectomies on all males from puberty until they're married.

If we can see past the elephant, we quickly see that "Right to life" means forcing women to have unwanted babies. Since poverty is the main reason for abortion, it affects poor women especially. Occasionally it means forcing the will of rapists over the will of women. In all cases it means taking away the right of women to determine ownership of their own bodies.

Birthing unwanted babies only works if society is willing to take care of the moms and kids, no matter what color they are and what their health needs are. Basic nutrition and therapies, education, employment. America fails to provide these basic needs. The unwanted kids and their moms live in sickness and poverty, then pile up in prisons and on the streets.

The failure to help society understand the reasons for abortion is perhaps the cruelest of all Bush malfunctions. But the failure to help society understand the reasons gay people should have the same rights as heterosexuals is the dumbest.

I bet you can name five to 50 gay couples in your community. In my area, those who come to mind are living productive lives that cost society nothing. And, with a society that doesn't want to provide basic human needs, stable relationships of any kind should be sanctioned and encouraged rather than banned. It's morally correct for people to take care of each other.

In fact, the Democrats should own the rhetoric of morality. Morality includes letting poor people improve their lot. Morality includes allowing people to care for each other, especially when government fails to do so. Morality includes helping thy neighbor.

So now, with the election behind us, the work begins anew. As progressive populists, we continue working the moral high ground. In fact, we make our issues so important that our grassroots efforts consume the agendas of both the fearmongers and the reasoners. Whatever your passion-conservation, women's rights, literacy, jobs, war, poverty, food security, alternative energy, sustainability, prisoners' rights -- it's time to quit moping and get back to work.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email

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