Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Good Fight

Everyone likes to be right. Today, however, I wished I had been wrong about my election prediction on July 11th, 2004. Still, throughout the past 3 ½ months, I never wavered on my prognostication (save for the release of the stunning midday exit polls yesterday), because the basic fundamentals of the race remained the same.

In July, I remarked how the deluge of bad news for Bush had not weakened his poll numbers very much, and predictably, all of the bad news since (including the missing weapons scandal, the lukewarm economic news, etc.) did little to dent his popularity. The reason I gave then, which proved prescient on Election Day, was the strength of his conservative religious base, whom he had catered to with furious intensity, hoping to exorcise the demons of his father’s crushing defeat in 1992. Simply put, Bush stood up for their values and they went to the polls to stand up for him. Karl Rove’s strategy was to create an immovable base (and augment it slightly) and hold the line in the rest of demographics, and they executed their strategy to perfection. The historic turnout benefited the Republicans this time around.

I also predicted that Bush would effectively label Kerry as a tax-raising liberal during the Fall, using his Senate record as evidence. The attacks proved relatively successful, along with the Swift Boat controversy, and perhaps Kerry never recovered from this. The Democrats raised a lot of money, but were defending too much electoral ground to go on the offensive. Kerry’s counterattacks on Bush were effective with his base, but much less so with swing voters, probably because he did not clearly articulate his position on Iraq.

Finally, I asserted that “swing state values will matter more than swing state job losses”, and if you review the poll results from the hardest hit regions of Ohio, it appears that this fact was decisive. Ohio voters clearly did not vote on economic interests alone. These voters were simply more comfortable with Bush than Kerry. We must accept that voters are driven by diverse interests, and economic concerns alone do not triumph all else. I find it slightly ironic that the same partisans who wish red state voters would vote only using an economic calculus, also fervently pressure companies to be more socially responsible, recognizing the inextricable link between economic and social motives in one instance but not the other.

I also wanted to address my many Democratic friends who are depressed about this outcome. First of all, take solace in the fact that our democracy works, and the candidate with the most votes won the election. Bush ran on his record, warts and all, and won a decisive mandate. The swing voters in Ohio and Florida know what they’re getting with President Bush, and they have him for 4 more years. The Democratic Party is just out of step with these voters on the values that mattered in this election and the Party also failed to convince these citizens that Kerry could keep them safe from terrorism. The failures of post-war Iraq, the blatant inequality of the tax cuts, and the industry domination of environmental policy were all reported heavily by the media and processed by the voters. In the end, the choice was up to them.

I am disappointed by how the Democrats were defeated soundly at every level, and the right wing of the Republican Party is clearly in its ascendancy. At the same time, building a durable, progressive, majority takes time, just as conservative Republicans took 16 years after Goldwater’s crushing loss to generate new policies and organize their base around an effective milieu of think tanks, papers, and radio personalities. We have to follow a similar path, and work hard to generate innovative policy proposals to address voter concerns. I felt strongly that the Kerry campaign lacked core ideas, and instead was fueled more by Kerry’s personal history and anti-Bush vitriol. We cannot let this happen again.

Politics is not on a 4 year cycle and is not just about the Presidency. If this country is worth fighting for, we need to fight for ideals at the local level, running for school board and city council seats. As we gain grassroots power, we need to develop a “message machine” of intellectuals, commentators, and media outlets to consolidate our diverse beliefs into a few succinct ideas.

As any realistic person would, I also was prepared to concede that I had been wrong about this election, and that the passion of our base and substance of arguments had carried us to an overwhelming victory. I would have written something like:

“On the most important election day of my life, I rejoice not in the fact that the majority agreed with me, for that result can be achieved without sophistication or logic, but that my nation is progressing towards a better future, with an appreciation for history and a vision for change, and that I had a small role in making it happen.”

I will put this quote away for awhile, but I still believe that it will be true one day. Let’s keep fighting for what we believe in!!!

R.C.

The Day After

First, I want to candidly admit that my prediction for a Kerry landslide was way off the mark. Perhaps wishful thinking was at work since I am a Kerry supporter (although VOR is non-partisan we do vote!) and I obviously wanted to believe all the news about how this election was going to be different. Also, to be fair to myself Zogby, my favorite and most trusted polling organization, predicted Kerry would get 311 electoral votes. Nonetheless, I was clearly wrong and my colleague R.C. was right on the mark; my hat is off to him. He understood that come Election Day the combination of Bush’s core religious supporters (helped no doubt by the 11 anti-gay initiatives in key swing states) plus the simple fact that many people were voting primarily out of fear would tilt the election in Bush’s favor, and that seems to be exactly what happened.

So what does a Bush victory mean for the country? Despite the fact that I disagree with the majority of Bush’s policies, there is something inherently unhealthy about having one party control all three branches of government for another election cycle, but this is what we’re going to get with an even greater majority and a presidential mandate. In addition, one of my major arguments against Bush’s reelection was that it would send a terrible message to the politicians in Washington, that we the people don’t hold them accountable. No, not everything that comes out of Bush and Cheney’s mouths is a lie, but there has been plenty of grossly distorted information, a hefty dose of incompetence, hubris, and secrecy, and I am sincerely worried that the country has sent a terrible message to the people in power: You can get away with anything and we’ll reward you with more power.

On a more positive note, the interest in this election was high and turnout was big, which is undoubtedly a good thing. Democracy is a messy system and even though I don’t think the most deserving leader won, it is my job as a citizen to accept the will of the people and to continue to fight for what I believe in, which is a country ruled by the rule of law based on reason, justice, and equality.

To all the readers at VOR thanks for your patronage so far and stay tuned as we continue to provide our commentary on what we believe are the most crucial issues of the day. And again to R.C., good call my friend; you had your finger on the collective pulse.

J.S.

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