In the end, fear trumped hate. And John Kerry never did enough to convince people to vote for him, as opposed to simply voting against Bush.
Kerry did not do as well as Al Gore did four years ago, and this is ominous news for the Democrats. They had a nearly perfect confluence of events working in their favor—a united party, strong fund-raising, a vulnerable incumbent—and could not close the deal. All they were lacking was a dynamic candidate. But elections have been won with far less.
On the flip side, the Republicans have to be asking themselves whether there is any level of incompetence they can stoop to before they need fear losing an election. For a national referendum, this is as bad as it gets. Polling data suggest that much of Bush's support came from people concerned with moral and cultural issues rather than the president's job performance. Don't concern us with the facts or the actual record. It's a blank check for Republicans to do as they please. In the end, those new, often fundamentalist voters proved more reliable than the Democrats' new, young voters, a promised wave that never materialized.
What we are left with is a bitterly divided country in which things are likely to get a whole lot worse before they get better. Even though it's the slimmest of majorities, Republicans now control all the levers of government: the White House, a strengthened congressional majority, the Supreme Court for the next generation, and a majority of governorships and state legislatures.
As with Congress, where even a slim majority is safe due to the magic of the science of gerrymandering, the presidential sweepstakes shows signs of hardening in place. The electoral map of 2004 was identical to that of 2000. The good news is that a simple swing in a battleground state like Ohio would be enough to reverse the outcome. The bad news is that it hasn't happened.
So what do we do now? As I mentioned in last week's dialogue with Paul Loeb (see "What Next?" Nov. 3), now is a good time to take a brief break from things political. We have a long road ahead; we need to do whatever is needed to nurture ourselves for the long haul.
And then, do something. Join the ACLU or an environmental group. Get involved, locally or globally. Fight to stop an insane war.
The Democrats are in no position to demand accountability from the Republicans. That's now our job. Brick by brick, we need to build a grassroots movement to retake America from the corporate warmongers now in power.
Many of the elements of that movement are already in place. We learned, in the course of this election, that progressives do have a voice, and that it's a strong one. Progressive media icons like Michael Moore have enjoyed unparalleled success, precisely because there's an enormous audience that shares his sentiments. Similar to the evangelical movement on the right, a powerful movement has developed without much encouragement from elected politicians or mainstream media.
This movement has yet to make itself widely felt in electoral politics. The 2004 campaign season was its audition. Anger, rather than any love of the candidate, formed the core of John Kerry's support, even as Kerry spurned his base and went courting centrist swing votes.
This disaffected army may or may not line up with the Democrats in future elections, providing a balance to the Republicans' moral majority. But it is a force in and of itself. There's no need to despair, or to start reading the want ads in Canada or New Zealand. In every American community, on every issue, there are good people working to make this a better, fairer, more peaceable world. Seattle is fairly bursting with good groups doing important work. Now would be a good time to join one of them. Get active.
The way out of the pit we have dug ourselves with this election can be summed up in three words:
Organize, organize, organize.