“Why Is He Losing?” was the title I initially gave my last column here two weeks ago, and my Nation editor, Roane Carey, worried that this was maybe too pessimistic, amid supposed portents of a sudden swell for Kerry. So we called the column “You Can’t Blame Nader for This.” Both headlines turned out to be true, and here we are amid the ashes of a terrible defeat for the Democrats and for liberal hopes.
A distraught young person called me in tears on the morning after. I tried to console her by saying that things looked pretty dark in 1980, when Ronald Reagan and the Republicans swept into power, yet only twelve years later we had a draft-dodging adulterer ensconced in the White House and the Democrats back in control of Congress for a couple of years.
This didn’t help, so I rushed her back to 1956, when Eisenhower was re-elected and the skies looked dark. But only four years later we had a Democratic war-hero adulterer on the parapet of Camelot and the Summer of Love only seven years down the road.
By this time she was crying so hard she could barely hold her cell phone, an instrument owned by all those millions that hopeful Democrats kept explaining the pollsters were overlooking. I told her I’d call back in an hour or so, as soon as I’d rounded up a silver lining, beyond the victory for the dopers in Montana. She was one in a generation that turned out to be part of the Democrats’ innumerable problems. So much for Rock the Vote, for Eminem. The youth vote (18 to 24) stayed the same as in 2000. The turnout among the 25 to 35 cohort was 4 percent less than in 2000.
Youth, so an exit-poll survey (by the Edison Media Research Group and Mitofsky International) tells us, had the same concerns, in the same order of priorities, as older voters. From the top: the economy, moral values, Iraq, terrorism. Bush cleaned up on moral values and the war on terror, with his own supporters rejecting the equation he himself made, between the war on terror and the war in Iraq (where Kerry had the edge).
Moral values–this brings us to the fact that the United States is a Christian nation, as most recently confirmed by one of those regular surveys conducted by the University of Chicago, which reported in 2002 that the adult population of the homeland is 52 percent Protestant, 26 percent Catholic, 3 percent Christians of some other stripe, 1.5 percent Jewish, 3 percent other religions and 14 percent holding “no religion.” Of the Christians, 25 percent go to church once a week or more.
Right after the sad call from the young thing that Wednesday morning, I got a message from my old friend Wilbur, who lives not far from Spartanburg, South Carolina, the buckle of the Bible Belt. “We did it,” he crowed in high good humor. “The Bible thumpers and the gun toters.” True, in serious part.
The Democrats spent the year wasting money and passion attacking Ralph Nader, whose early predictions of his ultimate drawing power at the polls turned out to be on the money. If the Democrats had wanted to identify a serious saboteur of their chances they should have homed in on Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco, whose OK to gay marriage saw all those same-sex couples on the steps of City Hall embracing, on every front page and nightly news in America. Ohio had a proposition banning gay marriage, and the drive to put it on the ballot and push it to victory brought the Christians out in their hundreds of thousands, marching to the polls across the rubble of their state’s economy.
The Republicans rallied their base. The Democrats failed at this crucial test of the vitality of any mass political party. The South is lost to them. John Edwards failed to recover a single state. How much better it would have been for Kerry to have had on the ticket the Rust Belt’s Dick Gephardt, who could have won Missouri, maybe Iowa, and put Kerry in the White House.
The day of the vote I picked up the pre-election issue of The New York Review of Books, with the cream of the liberal intelligentsia pouring out denunciations of Bush. Scarcely one could bring himself (yes, all fourteen were men, overwhelmingly white) to mention the difficult name Kerry. Russell Baker is one who did, and he wrote exactly what I’ve said in column after column this year: “The case against John Kerry is that not being George Bush is an inadequate qualification for being president of the United States.”
Any successful presidential candidate has to project himself as a chapter in the American epic: the man from Plains, the man from Hope, traveling through light and shade, but always the same voyager in his inner essence. Where was Kerry from? Somewhere in the greater Boston area, a transient between six mansions. What was his inner essence? Kerry was like a man in front of an ATM, trying to figure out which of his credit cards had a positive balance: the war card, the peace card, the prosecutor card. Whatever card he came up with never impressed enough of the voters. Bush? Every time someone excavated his idle, privileged youth, his evasions of military service, his drunken years, his business disasters, even his failures in the first hours of 9/11, all it did was confirm to most Americans that lives have many chapters and rebirths along the journey to redemption.
November 2, 2004, marks a terrible defeat for the liberal elites, whether represented by Paul Krugman in the New York Times, by Michael Moore in his baseball cap, by the New York Review, by that vast complex of delusion, corruption and self-aggrandizement known as the Democratic Party. Its establishment is truly in crisis now, from the labor leaders who squandered millions in vehement efforts to keep Ralph Nader off the ballot to the public interest groups that gave Kerry the green light to waffle on all the crucial issues, to the “strategists” who took their cut on the campaign ads and got it all wrong. I hadn’t the heart to warn the weeping young person that they’ll be back in 2008, as wrong as ever, and that mass movements have to build up momentum over decades, not in the span of one election campaign, swollen with electronic hype.