The day after the election, Mossback noticed that an online reader had found the column by Googling "election results + suicide."
I should have expected that the outcome would seem bleak enough to justify including the Crisis Clinic's hot-line number at the end of my column. Or perhaps the Googler was hoping to find that old Mossback was getting ready to do the Aurora Bridge without a bungee cord.
But Mossback is durable, hunkered down, and not at all depressed. My mood swings between reflective and angry—but hardly down. I have voted for so few winners at the presidential level it's not even funny, so every four years I'm prepared for a kick to the gut. Besides, I've been skeptical of a John Kerry win, a worry that increased after I witnessed his flabby campaign rally in Tacoma. One of my most popular columns this year asked back in July, "What if Bush wins?" Readers inundated me with responses because, deep down, every liberal was thinking the unthinkable. We all knew in our heart of hearts that this was Bush's election to lose—or steal.
Mossback's momma taught him to prepare for the worst, so, with the exception of a few exit-poll-fueled hours of hopefulness on Election Day, things went pretty much as expected.
There are a few things about 2004 I'd like to address.
I hardly need to point out the absurdity of the so-called "mandate" the Republicans and mainstream media have declared for Bush. This election was won by the equivalent of a three-pointer at the buzzer in basketball. No landslide, no rout. And that's assuming there was no result-overturning fraud in Ohio or Florida (is Florida the new Florida?). Remember when the pundits—back in the 1980s and early 1990s—would look at the electoral map and say they could find almost no credible scenario for Democrats to win? Now winning scenarios are multiple, and many blue states are solid. You might call Kerry a flip-flopper, but he's been one of the most consistent liberals in the U.S. Senate, and despite that, he came within a whisker of the White House. Instead of worrying that he did worse than Al Gore, we could be celebrating how much better he did than Michael Dukakis.
That doesn't mean the Democrats don't have problems. Unfortunately, their real problems are bigger than tweaking turnout or appealing to niche groups. Consultant James Carville says they need a "narrative," not simply a "litany," of issues and proposals, and that's very true as far as it goes. But they can't act like the guy who races alongside the parade to get in front and declare himself the leader of it. They actually have to head in a direction they believe in. And despite Carville's admonition that D's need to be "born again," embracing religion is not the way to go. Being religious, sure; but Democrats must continue to stand for keeping church and state separate, or we're doomed to a bipartisan theocracy.
The dangers of niche-chasing are exemplified by the youth vote, which produced both good and bad news for the D's. True, millions more young voters voted than in 2000, and most voted for Kerry. But the overall percentage who voted merely kept pace with 2000: The turnout of the 18-to-29 crowd was a measly 17 percent, despite all the celebrity pandering. And in a case of "be careful what you wish for," CNN's exit polling in Washington's governor's race reveals that 57 percent of the 18-to-29 vote went to Dino Rossi! In the words of Hunter S. Thompson: "Yeah, we rocked the vote all right. Those little bastards betrayed us again."
I'll say it again: It's not enough to drag people to the polls because of their age, race, or ethnicity. You have to lead them there based on—guess what?—values.
One overlooked trend in the election was that third parties played absolutely no role in the outcome for the first time since 1992. In recent years, Ralph Nader, Pat Buchanan, and Ross Perot helped determine winners and losers by taking votes or skewing the dynamics. (Remember the "Jews for Buchanan" butterfly ballot debacle?) But in 2004, a bipolarized nation overwhelmingly chose between D's and R's. The third parties combined took less than 1 percent of the presidential vote, a stunning decline. Ralph Nader, the Greens, and Libertarians were all down. This was a Red vs. Blue election, with no room for green, brown, or polka dot.
One thing we can expect from Bush and company is more of the same. Especially in the saying-one-thing-and-meaning-another department. The day after the election, responding to the media's hunger for national "unity," Bush said, "I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals." Insert smirk here. This, of course, is a promise not to reach out at all. You don't reach out to people who already agree with you, you reach out to people who don't and try to work something out.
But Bush's right-wing supporters gleefully read the code as a message to them: a promise to finally be fully embraced and empowered by the administration to do God's will. "Now comes the revolution," exclaimed far-right fund-raiser Richard Viguerie after the election.
If you're not with them, prepare to man the barricades. There are only 56,000,000 of us, and they'll be coming for us long before 2008.