What does it all mean?

Nov 10, 2004 at 12:00 am

Get this straight: George W. Bush won this election, without any doubt. No hanging chads, no rigged machines, no ideologically crooked judges this time.

No. He won narrowly but clearly, in an election that saw a record turnout. He beat an opponent who had more integrity, class, experience and intelligence.

The selected president who didn’t really win last time offered America more of a senseless war. He offered less for the poor, more for the rich and an economy headed for disaster on every front from inflation to the trade deficit.

And the majority of Americans signed on for the ride. They chose George Bush and his vision of America as they understood it.

That truth has filled me with far more despair than any other election in my lifetime, perhaps in our history. The thought of that swaggering pious simpleton thinking he has a mandate for assaulting constitutional freedoms and doing whatever he thinks Jee-zus wants is beyond even this old cynic.

So now what on earth do we who reject the darkness do?

Simple. Hold on. Don’t give in. Don’t give up.

We owe it to our fellow countrymen, fools though they be.

If there was one thing we did right, the old civil rights song goes, it was the day we started to fight. We owe it to ourselves to keep our eyes on the prize.

Yes, we can all talk about moving to Canada, or turning our backs on the world. Lots of us gave in to keening despair last week. Next, the media will savage John Kerry for not coming across as the kind of guy an unemployed sheet metal worker would want to go bowling with.

Some of the chattering class will say the Democrats’ only hope is to become sort of a GOP lite, and start bashing gay marriage.

Know what I think? Democrats will do just fine in the long run if they stick to what they are best at being: the party of the common man.

And we independents who travel with them, we who believe in reason, and science, and common decency, owe it to ourselves to be true to ourselves. If saying that “creation science” is valid is the way to win elections, I prefer to keep losing.

Let’s talk about why we really lost this election. It wasn’t because Kerry was too stiff or his wife spoke with an accent. It’s because we’re in a war — a stupid war we started, but a war where our soldiers are dying nevertheless. And the war came not long after we were suddenly and brutally attacked, and far too many Americans still believe those events were connected.

Too many people were unwilling to vote against the man who rallied his country with a bullhorn in the ruins of the World Trade Center, George Bush’s one truly presidential moment in the job he never should have had.

Ironically too, he may have won in the end because one of his most moronic moments in his first and worst debate turned out not to be true.

During some discussion that was over his head, George curiously blurted out inappropriately, “Osama bin Laden doesn’t get to decide our elections.”

But I think Osama bin Laden did decide this election, by appearing in that mysterious videotape four days before the voting. Logically, that video should have highlighted for everybody Bush’s failure in the war on terror.

Whether he knew his apparition would drive people to George Bush, I have no idea, but it did. It reminded on-the-fence voters that he was president when that monster attacked helpless innocents in our country.

Now let’s talk about the good news.

Running against a man perceived as a “wartime president,” John F. Kerry almost won. He got 252 of the 270 electoral votes he needed. Had he won Ohio, Karl Rove would be the pariah of politics today. Matter of fact, since 1916 only one election has been closer in the Electoral College — the last one.

When Walter Mondale and George McGovern ran against incumbent Republican presidents, they got one state each. Kerry almost won.

Yes, George W. Bush got more popular votes than anyone in history. Guess who got the second most in history? John Kerry, who, when all the absentees are counted, will have gotten 10 million more than Bill Clinton ever did.

California and New York, arguably our two most important states, again rejected Bush by more than a million votes each. Bush campaigned in Pennsylvania more than in any other state, and the voters there said no thanks.

Every campaign appearance he made in Michigan was a waste of time too. Detroit voted Kerry: 301,624; Bush: 19,191. But it wasn’t just poor blacks who rejected shrubbery; by a narrow margin, so did Oakland County.

Years ago, I had a student at the University of Michigan who went on to become an editor of specialized books in Wisconsin, a state that gave Kerry a bigger victory margin than it gave Al Gore four years ago. I don’t like Leon very much anymore because he has become a better writer than I am.

Two days after the horror, he sent a letter to all his friends, and here is part of what it said. “Yes, you have a right to be heartsick. How could you not be depressed by this? You get one week to feel sorry for yourselves.

“And then, it’s going to be time to start pulling yourself together, because we have a hell of a lot of work to do. There’s 56 million of us, remember?

“Fifty-six million people who rejected the scare tactics and the lies, who saw through the illusions and tried to kick the bastards out. We can’t just throw up our hands and walk away now. There’s too much to do.

“There’s too much we can do.”

Though nobody may want to think about politics now, there will be midterm elections in two years. “Think the war will be over by then?” Leon wrote. A peaceful economy established in Iraq? All those empty promises we heard about reaching out to the Democrats fulfilled?

“Har Har. Second terms are historically disappointing for presidents. It’s when the bills come due. Let’s all be there to collect.”

There is, in a way, a rough justice about this second term. Late on election night, when it all came down to Ohio, much of me worried that it would be a potential disaster if Kerry eked out a win.

That would have made him a minority president who had lost the popular vote and who faced a hostile Congress eager to sabotage him at any turn. He would have been saddled with a raging, unwinnable war.

But now the bills will come due for Georgie.

Let’s say a final word about John Kerry too. When the campaign started, he wasn’t my first choice. Yet it became clear this fall that he would be a fine president. He showed that the morning after the election, when his running mate urged him to challenge the results in court. I feared he would do that, creating vast resentment and tying the country in knots for weeks.

Happily, he was wiser. The bills will come due, and the night will come, not so very long from now, when the map of this nation will be a lot more blue.


Correction, of sorts: Last week I quoted an anonymous editor of one of the Detroit-area papers taken over last summer by the New Jersey-based Journal Register Co. as saying he was told “every editor would endorse Bush or nobody.” Garry Gilbert, executive editor of the Oakland Press, another JRC paper, told me “our endorsement of Bush was made by the editorial board with no interference from outside the paper.” I believe him — but had his board gone the other way, I still do not believe he would have been allowed to endorse the Democrat.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]