The fight is over.
Let the fight begin.
First, we grieve for what was lost–the opportunity, which flickered for a moment early on election day and then died, to steer the nation onto a more reasonable and less destructive path. At the same time, we salute the efforts of those many millions who mobilized themselves to achieve a better outcome.
Next, we are angry about what the election of George W. Bush portends for the country. Bush’s victory will tighten the grip of the Republican Party’s virtual monopoly on the institutions of the federal government. The checks and balances on presidential power contemplated by the country’s Founders are in tatters. Bush’s election gives him the chance to shape the Supreme Court to his purposes: two branches of the government possibly lost in a single election. Roe v. Wade and a host of other protections of basic human rights are at risk. Bush is bound to try to assist the Christian right in its fantastical efforts to “Christianize” public institutions. Further inroads into the liberties of Americans are likely, through a “Patriot Act II” and other legislation as well as by executive fiat. In the near term, a terrible acceleration of the violence in Iraq may be in the offing. In the longer term, new aggressive wars may be launched. The transfer through regressive tax cuts of hundreds of billions more from the poor and the middle class to the rich and the super-rich has been announced.
Anger should lead to action. TV anchors and the candidates themselves call for a new civility and ask the public to “come together” as one people. Pay no attention. The progressive movement in this country has suffered a huge reversal. But the struggle for the country’s future–and its very soul–was anything but settled. It will be renewed at a higher level of intensity, and for higher stakes. There must be a fierce, protracted resistance in defense of democracy. The Nation dedicates itself to this cause. As a journalistic institution unbeholden to and uninfluenced by any economic interest or political power, we will continue to provide truthful information not available on a timely basis–or sometimes at all–from the mainstream news media, which too often during the campaign took slanders and pumped them up into running news stories while failing to hold the Administration accountable for its exaggerations and outright lies.
What might the Democratic Party learn from this election? First, that a posture of meekness, resignation and accommodation leads to failure. At no time during the campaign did the Democratic candidate discuss in an honest way the single most important issue facing the country: how to disengage from the war in Iraq. Second, that money, while it can indeed make a major difference, is not the party’s problem; the familiar excuse that Republicans raise more campaign funds was extinguished this year. Nor was the country at large indifferent to Bush’s alliance with industrial plunderers and his shameful schemes to dismantle social, economic and environmental protections; almost half the electorate voted against these things.
It would be a mistake to adopt the television stereotype of red states and blue states. Many states of both colors were in fact almost evenly divided. The Democratic elite are out of touch, as Republicans claim. They have lost reliable connections to ordinary people, including some long loyal constituencies. John Kerry did not lose this election in the South (those defeats were fully expected). He lost it in leading industrial states that, given their economic condition, should have belonged to the Democrats. Kerry advocated establishment views, on trade and globalization, for instance, that distanced him from his natural constituency. He could not find the words and images to speak authentically about their lives. He did not offer plausible remedies to their pain.
Events are likely to create new chances for opposition and resistance. At home and abroad, Bush has inherited his own messes. The sputtering American economy is now Bush’s to repair. A much larger threat to his presidency is the deepening crisis of the global economy, now burdened by swollen US trade deficits and towering indebtedness to foreign creditors, including major trading partners like China. The establishment in both parties avoided this subject throughout the campaign, perhaps because they know it will mean a very painful economic reckoning.
The debacle in Iraq that Bush created will also be his to face. At least half of the country understands that the war in Iraq is unwinnable. The most immediate need, perhaps, is for a revived antiwar movement, which not only calls for a withdrawal from Iraq but opposes and prevents new bloody adventures.
The Democratic Party is not the only vehicle for change. Historically, that party’s finest moments have come when it was pushed into action from outside by popular movements, from the labor movement to the civil rights movement to the women’s movement to the gay-rights movement. Such movements–independent of the Democratic Party but powerfully influencing it–must foster and increase their strength. The Nation will support these movements.
We must all stand and fight.