It was a huge turn out for the American electorate but the predictions of such a trend signaling Democratic victory turned out wrong, seriously wrong. No doubt Senator John Kerry ran a clear and commendable race - stayed on message, brought out his base - but the bulk of the high turn out actually emerged for Bush. America, George W. Bush can now rightfully claim, went for the Republican ticket.
By significant numbers Indian country had favored Kerry. This paper endorsed that general mandate, and pointed out our own severe differences of opinion with the present administration, particularly over the Iraqi War and the bungled peace strategy, as well as over the skyrocketing national debt and the encroachment of church matters into public policy. Those opinions remain, firmly held yet always open to be evaluated and further developed as the events of our time evolve.
Indian Country Today congratulates George W. Bush in his victory and for his courage to undertake, once again, the life-and-death, make-or-break burdens of the America presidency. Given the squeaky, nationally unsatisfying year-2000 victory, this decisive election must be welcomed by the president, who also solidified his base in Congress.
For American Indian peoples, communities and nations, it is a good moment to reflect on the directions of American politics. Where now is Indian country in the new, clearly solid Republican term, if not era? Where now the direction of Indian leadership? What are the principal Indian messages, nationally, that America's political leadership, regardless of party, must hear and understand? What is the best way to approach political power and policy decisionmaking in America?
The call for a time of re-evaluation is hereby put forth. While Native America voted overwhelmingly and in record numbers for John Kerry, caution about joining too intensely in the ongoing American political vendetta is in order. For some, the pain of loss might seem too traumatic, but the reality is more important. Fix the broken tire, don't curse it. America can move in either of two directions right now. It can polarize even more severely or it can emphasize those issues upon which it agrees. When America polarizes, Native communities can be completely drawn into the battle rather than focusing on the prize - advocating on behalf of tribal cultural, political and economic rights. Engaging a process of political education should involve tribal leadership and all prominent tribal members across the country. Native leadership might consider examining their relationships with their Republican allies and leaders of their regions. Tribal leadership is advised to strategize on every possible way to get to know, and educate and engage - amicably - those people, organizations and projects on the right, as well as on the left.
The Bush re-election brings up another analogy. In the past, some historians compared the father-son team to John Adams and John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, two generations of one-term presidents. But the Bushes make a closer fit to the Pitts of 18th century England. Prime Minister William Pitt led England to a sweeping victory in what it called the "French and Indian War" and lost his job in the next election. William Pitt the younger, then a lightly regarded 24-year-old, took the premiership by the narrowest of margins at the end of the American Revolution in 1783 and held on during a grinding foreign war to become one of the country's longest serving leaders. Perhaps media pundits need to look beyond the Northeast and the West Coast to understand both history and the country.
America's political process reflects an ongoing dilemma. Evenly and deeply divided, America has developed a bipolar public policy mind. The two-minded good and evil characters of some traditional stories loom large over the land. Not even remotely consensual at the moment, these two public minds treat each other like a long-married but estranged couple finally locked into visceral antagonism, all yelling and screaming of accusations. Such has become the state of mainstream cable news media and talk radio. But, as the shrill voices crackle, many Americans also wonder just who is minding the family, the entire family. It is incumbent upon the president and the Republican Party, now that they have gained solid control over the executive, legislative and, some would argue, judicial branches of government, to genuinely work toward unification of the people. The president in his gracious victory speech expressed as much. Perhaps the participation of tribal leaders could even play an increased role in alleviating this situation of utmost hostility between the parties.
Our contention always has been that Indian country must know, understand and engage both the left and the right of America's political spectrum - yet be owned by neither. For the Native peoples of the land, we believe, the place to hold is the spiritual center, with both feet planted firmly on the land, and informed by the superlative lessons from some of the most ancient of human traditions. Holding this particular place for American Indian peoples, among ourselves as we share those things that are particularly Indian, and in the way we approach the American conscience, is crucial.
Despite our basis for unity - not always sought but always present - Indian activists and professionals will work in every part and for every concept of the political and economic spectrum. This need not be a disunifying weakness, but can be rather a great source of strength. American Indians deployment in many walks of life, religions or political parties, has been as necessary as it has been formative of the current strength of tribal peoples. The inter-cultural human bridge has been a source of resources and assistance for the tribal communities. Perhaps naive to state but ultimately true, extensions of the tribal peoples, the whole web of relations belong to the spiritual center, where we hold our families, as prescribed in our traditions, to be sacred; where we too have valued - if not always practice - open democracy, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom of sovereign self-government.
Probably the political issue most skillfully exploited by the Republican election team is the question of cultural values. The Republican base in this context is overwhelmingly Christian-evangelical - but interestingly the family issues projected resonate with a majority of the people, who are engaged in building, repairing and otherwise working to maintain their families as viable and healthy institutions. This is no less true in Indian country, where strengthening family ties is a primary objective for anyone seriously engaged in helping their communities. What are tribes and kinship nations but huge extended families of relatives who still have a formal way of relating to each other? More than most Americans, Indian peoples maintain strong relations across generations, through language and sometimes even over international borders that actually divide their nations.
While there exists much common ground in matters of personal and collective spiritual belief among various people and cultures, some institutions as well as some who are institutionalized can be prone to excess. One inappropriate religious impact found an immediate echo in the victory statement from House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, architect of the Texas redistricting that ousted four Democratic incumbents. Ignoring the warning of St. Augustine, he told his cheering throng, "We are going to bring God into the public square." St. Augustine, the great indigenous North African Christian of the 5th century, said in "The City of God" that it wasn't fitting to discuss theology in the marketplace. This mixture is a recipe for hypocrisy, and it might explode in the face of the ethically challenged DeLay, who has already been admonished by the House Ethics Committee and whose aides are under Grand Jury investigation for fund-raising violations. His name figures prominently in the Abramoff/Scanlon tribal lobbying scandal. The new House might not have the stomach to probe deeply, but it might heed the example of another powerful Texas congressional leader. House Speaker Jim Wright was forced to resign in 1989 after his heavy-handed protection of crooked financiers helped produce the mega-billion dollar savings and loan debacle.
No doubt, Native America is riddled with all the social ills of the rest of America, yet traditional values - the ideal among Indian people - are quite conservative, sober, chaste and seriously respectful of relations between the genders and between generations. Concurrently, American Indian people are also characterized by their generosity and tolerance. As tribes achieve economic prosperity, fiscal objectives surface that parallel the urge for self-sufficiency and for fiscal responsibility that is also a central traditional value. We could go on, Indian country is very rich this way - the point being that an effort to continue to educate and influence other publics in America begins and ends with sharing our values, dreams and aspirations, to go out and meet the folks, to represent and to gain a piece of their intelligence, their point of view and hopefully their good-will. For the good of the people, this includes Greens and Democrats; for the good of the people, this includes Conservatives and Independents and Republicans.
The time is now for Indian leadership to be truly, and strategically, open-minded, that you may always know, always engage, always influence and prevail, for the good of the people. Following the 2004 election results, a recommended first step is to begin by focusing attention on that with which American Indians, the president and the Republican Party firmly agree, that tribal sovereignty and tribal self-determination and the federal government's longstanding commitment to government-to-government relations is to be respected and honored.