Lots of luck 

When I was very young, one of my favorite books was “Fortunately,” by Remy Charlip. It recounted the adventures of a boy who met alternatively with good fortune and bad circumstance as he went along. For instance, the story would say “What bad luck!” when he fell out of a tree, and then “What good luck!” when he had a soft landing, followed quickly by “What bad luck!” when it turned out it was the open mouth of a lion that had cushioned his fall. It has been years since I last thought of the book, but its simple literary device occurred to me as I tried to resolve the results of last week’s election. Besides providing a convenient format for schizophrenia, it also has a happy ending. What bad luck! President Bush won re-election. What good luck! His margin of victory was small, and but for a few votes in several key states, the results could easily have gone the other way. What bad luck! President Bush beat John Kerry in Arkansas by nine percentage points. What good luck! Arkansas Democrats still performed well, holding on to five of the state’s six federal offices, and increas-ing their majority in the state House by two seats. What bad luck! Jim Holt, the right-wing Republican challenger to U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln, garnered 44 percent of the statewide vote and won 17 counties, despite being outspent 6,000 percent and running a one-issue campaign. What good luck! Holt’s surprising performance can be attributed to the presence on the ballot of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, which will not happen again. What bad luck! Arkansas voters overwhelmingly approved that amendment. What good luck! Despite casting a majority of votes for President Bush, the Florida electorate decisively (71 percent) approved a constitutional amendment increasing the minimum wage to $6.15 an hour. A similar effort in Arkansas in 2006 could go a long way toward highlighting the Democratic party’s strength on economic issues, in the same way that the marriage amendment reminded voters of the Republican party’s positions on “moral issues.” What bad luck! The success of the marriage amendment has emboldened Republicans to thrust issues of religion and public morality into the political process. Gov. Huckabee has announced that he and his wife will upgrade their union to a covenant marriage at a public spectacle with 1,000 other couples next year. Jim Lagrone, a former president of the state Baptist Convention, is taking advantage of the faith-based trends by forming a committee to explore a bid for lieutenant governor. What good luck! Banning gay marriage is not the first step toward theocracy, any more than segregation and Jim Crow laws led us toward an apartheid state. Religious appeals were used on both sides of the civil rights movement. Ultimately, those who called upon faith in defense of love and tolerance triumphed over those who manipulated believers by invoking hatred, fear, and damnation. What bad luck! The Democrats haven’t yet figured out how to articulate their domestic and foreign policies in ways that reiterate — rather than repudiate — their moral values. What good luck! The election results finally seem to have convinced the national party’s leaders that they need to focus on rebuilding a Democratic presence in the South and Midwest, incorporating messages that resonate with people in those regions. Arkansas may be among the first places they look to as a model, being one of the few Democratic outposts in Red America. What good luck! Several young progressive Democrats from all corners of the state were elected to the Arkansas legislature, providing a farm team of talent that embodies a powerful combination of small-town values, social conscience, and a growth-oriented outlook. What good luck! The upcoming legislative session offers these new office-holders and the rest of the Democratic party an opportunity to demonstrate their ability to resolve some of the most important issues facing our state, namely education. What good luck! Arkansas’s top two constitutional offices will be the objects of open-seat elections in 2006, and the Democrats are likely to field strong candidates. What good luck! Democracy is an experiment, adversity spurs thought and action, and nothing worthwhile is ever easily achieved. The progress toward a more perfect union continues.

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