A remarkable number of those in Blue America who hoped for an end to the Bush era on November 2 received the news of his election victory almost as if it had been a physical blow. Some compared it to a kick in the stomach, others to a sudden illness. Many dreaded the outcome so deeply that they were unable to watch the returns come in. One person, Andrew Veal, traveled to Ground Zero, somehow penetrated the security fence that rings the site and shot himself at the base of the World Trade Center–in part, reports have said, in protest against the election. And before the vote it had been a commonplace to say that it was the most important election of our lifetimes.
There was, of course, a long list of specific reasons for the sharp reaction, including the war launched on the basis of phony evidence, the blizzard of legal memos exempting the executive branch from the law and condoning torture, the widespread torture itself, the deep shroud of secrecy dropped over the presidency, the claim that the President could lock away any person, American citizen or other, on his own say-so as Commander in Chief, the tax bonanza for the super-rich, the phony economic math that had sent the budget deficit soaring, the blindness to environmental disaster. But at least as disturbing as any of these particular blunders and abuses was the across-the-board rejection of accountability for any of them.
The President and his Vice President appeared to be temperamentally incapable of admitting any mistake. Nor were the other branches of government, conceived by the Founders as checks and balances, performing that office (the main exception being the Supreme Court ruling against the Administration’s suspensions of habeas corpus). The Fourth Estate had, until very recently, abdicated its role as thoroughly as the other three. Even the international community was passive–failing, in this case, to provide that balance of power that has been the classic response of nations to hegemonic threats. If pursued to their logical conclusion, these tendencies added up to more than the sum of their parts. They evoked a terrifying vision of a systemic change, possibly irreversible, of the American democratic system into a one-party system dominated by a President who had placed himself above the law or any other control.
But one large and obvious barricade to any realization of this nightmare remained in place: the electoral system. Perhaps the people–the ultimate check, the ultimate balance–would rise up to say no to torture, no to aggressive war, no to a lawless presidency, no to empire, and impose the accountability that the other elements of the system had failed to provide and throw Bush out of office. Instead the people–or 51 percent of the voters, if the counters are correct–in effect looked on these things and called them good. It is true that the public may have been ill informed about such matters as weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and also true that 51 percent of the voters do not constitute a majority of the people of the United States. Yet the fact remains that the public has given George W. Bush the most important expression of support that the Constitution provides for–a majority of the votes cast in a high-turnout election. (Some writers have suggested that some of the results may be fraudulent. But these charges, which of course deserve a thorough airing, have not been proven so far.)