One thing we can say for certain at this point, after the grieving, the anger, is that the country is still bitterly divided.
We saw two turnouts and Two Nations last night. Both sides of the chasm saw a major turnout of its voting base. Karl Rove talked about creating a permanent Republican majority. But the truth is, he has a divide-and-rule strategy. And the electoral college amplifies the rural, socially conservative vote. (Twenty percent of voters considered “moral values”–eleven states had anti-gay marriage ballots–more important than the economy or Iraq in this election.)
Perhaps more astonishing than the polling on the murky issue of morality (why aren’t poverty and unjust war considered immoral?) are the figures reported in the New York Times: “Voters who cited honesty as the most important quality in a candidate broke 2 to 1 in Mr. Bush’s favor…” The most mendacious Administration in American history won the honesty vote?
Progressives, who were on the defensive two years ago, added millions of new voters as well, and tapped a new energy and activism that will last far beyond November 2nd. The extremism and incompetence of this rightwing cabal has sharpened our focus to a razor’s edge.
But for me, one of the fundamental questions about this campaign has been whether you could defeat a terrible but clear incumbent without a substantive policy alternative, and this time at least we couldn’t. Kerry offered intelligence, a return to fiscal discipline, a bulwark against a rightwing court, and a health plan that few understood. He failed to use the moral message of “Two Americas” to erode Bush’s edge. He mounted a late challenge to Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq– but he also talked about “staying the course.” That wasn’t enough of a coherent positive, populist or moral message to complement the impressive mechanics. We’ve got to build a politics of conviction, of passion and substance. It’s there but it needs to be built and fought for. And the lesser lessons, if that’s the big one, are:
1) People really are confused and manipulated (we have a mainstream media that continues to focus on irrelevant stories–Swift Boat, Rathergate and all the rest–abrogating its responsibility to focus on what’s important and significant; and too much of it keeps giving head instead of keeping its head.) This makes an expansion of the progressive media echo chamber all the more important; And,