What can I say? We had a good candidate, who ran a well-oiled and adequately financed campaign which resulted in strong turnout by both our core supporters and newly engaged voters, and we lost. Their were pockets of weird stuff here and there, but by and large the election itself was clean and fair. We cannot claim they stole it or rigged it - they won it. The simple fact is, there are more of "them" than there are of "us."
I was not in a good place on Wednesday. It wasn't that we worked hard and lost the election - God knows, I know that feeling - but it was that yesterday, in one of those rare moments of clarity, I understood why it happened. The pundits will analyze this election for years, but in my view, the explanation is very simple: the American electorate had a clear choice between two ideologies (not candidates, or platforms, or parties, but ideologies) and they chose the one they prefer. That's how democracy works, right? The majority of the population gets to choose what kind of government they want, and that decides who gets to run things. And they chose. Nobody can claim they were deceived, or didn't know what they were voting for; they knew exactly what each side stood for. They looked at the war in Iraq, the direction the economy is taking, how Bush has responded to terrorism, the Bush stand on gay marriage, and they LIKE it.
That is what we on the left have to get our heads around: that the majority of the American people support this kind of government. It's undeniable. Oh yes, we can fool ourselves, say that "our people didn't bother to vote" (they did) or that the electorate are "too stupid to make rational political choices." But none of it is true. You don't have to be intelligent to choose what kind of politics you agree with.
We cannot claim that the election was "bought" with torrents of negative campaign TV commercials either. Those commercials don't change peoples' minds, they just reinforce what they believe already. Besides, we ran plenty of nasty TV commercials of our own. The point is this: the voters were not manipulated - they voted their conscience, and they are 100% entitled to do so.
For example, I heard one pollster on the radio yesterday. He had polled people who had just voted about what issue was most important to them in the campaign. The top three issues were "The war in Iraq" - 18%. "The economy" - 19% (surprising in itself) but get this - the most important issue to them in deciding their vote was "moral values" at 22%. Yes, that's right, that was why they voted the way they did. This was only one poll, but many other polls and analysts are saying the same thing today. That was why I said above that the electorate had a choice between two ideologies.
And that was how Democratic strategists missed the entire point of the election, and led a good candidate to defeat: they were running the election as a referendum against Bush. They said (and we went along with it) that we "must get Bush out." But Republican strategists understood all along that the election wasn't about Bush at all. Not about his record, or him starting a costly and unnecessary war, or him lying to us about WMD, or that fact that he can barely string a sentence together and looked like a complete idiot compared to Kerry. That wasn't the point. Because they weren't running Bush in the election. They could have put a gibbon up for re-election and it would have won just as handily. The were running THE BUSH BRAND OF CONSERVATIVE VALUES AND POLITICS! Who their candidate was didn't matter. What he had done in office didn't matter. What he did after 9/11 didn't matter. His performance in the debates didn't matter. What mattered was the political and moral agenda that he and his party stand for.
Want more proof? Look at the election results. Republican senate seats and congressional districts picked up all over the country. Of the eleven amendments to state constitutions to "define marriage as between a man and a woman" on ballots, ALL ELEVEN won, i.e. any hope of allowing gay marriage defeated in every case, by considerable margins.
I know what you're going it say: it's the fundamentalist Christian right, the Pat Robertson brigade. They always turn out to vote. They are great organizers. America is in the grip of right-wing zealots. All this may be true, but are you telling me there are FIFTY NINE MILLION OF THEM? Of course there aren't. The ugly reality is that a lot of Americans do not define themselves as religious conservatives, probably never set foot in a chuch apart from weddings and funerals, but when it comes to morality, they support the same positions.
That is what we liberals have to get our heads around: that to most (yes most, more than half, the majority of) Americans, if the government is willing to stop two people of the same gender going into an office somewhere and signing a piece of paper declaring their love and commitment to each other, then a few hundred fine young Americans returning from a foreign country in body bags is OK. That's the price they are willing to pay to stop abortion, suppress gay rights, punish poor black women for having too many children without husbands, dish out the death penalty, you name it. After all, it's not their kids, it's someone else's.
And the first liberal who has to get his head around that is me. Fact is, I and those like me are in the minority here. And I see little hope of this changing. In one of the many telephone conversations with friends yesterday, one said that when her 12 year-old son reaches voting age, it will all turn around as the next generation will have better values. Well, that's exactly what they said about us, the baby-boomers, and look what's happened.
In the short term, what do we do in 2008? Run against Christianity, mom and apple pie? Move to the right? How? We're far enough over there as it is. Our Democrat governor Mark Warner said yesterday that he was surprised that in this election, neither candidate appealed to voters of the other party. The only talked to their base and the undecided voters in swing states. It was a game of us vs. them and the sorry fact is, there are more of "them" however you measure it; popular vote, electoral college, exit polls, whatever. And it will continue to be so, probably for the foreseeable future.
If all this sounds defeatist, well unless you haven't noticed, we have just been defeated, fair and square. I don't know how we regain control of our country and our destiny, but I do know that we will never do it by continuing to delude ourselves with such notions as, "If they were more educated they would vote for us" or "If all our people turned out to vote, we would win every time." or "We need another (fill in the blank - Clinton/Kennedy/Roosevelt etc.) with the right personality to win people over." We must start accepting the ugly reality that most voters do not want the kind of America that we want, and move on from there.