I took off work both Election Day and the day after, thinking I might be tipping a few vodka tonics Tuesday night in celebration of a Kerry victory. Rest assured I had a few stiff drinks, but I was also wrong. Badly wrong. Bush won the election, and a prolonged legal fight would have been pointless. I crunched some numbers when I woke up this morning and even with the highly-optimistic Democratic projection of 250,000 provisional ballots uncounted in Ohio, the best-case scenario I could construct for Kerry still found him 36,000 votes short. Not close. Not even reasonably contestable, especially considering a 3 percent deficit in the national popular vote.
What went wrong? Where do I start? In no particular order …
The youth vote. Simply put, it didn’t show up. Yet again. Apparently the kids will flock to see Springsteen and will vault Eminem’s anti-Bush video “Mosh” to number one on MTV, but when it comes to doing what matters most — voting — about one in ten registered 18 to 24-year-olds (17 percent of 18 to 29-year olds) showed their faces at the polls. Absolutely pathetic, and almost no different than the turnout in the 2000 election. Going forward, any national campaign strategy that counts on anything more than token turnout for the youth vote is a flawed strategy — unless there is a military draft. We’ll see how apathetic this group is when they’re on boats headed to Iraq, or North Korea, or Iran, or Afghanistan, or Pakistan, or the next world hotspot or terrorist hotbed.
Morality politics. Ohio proved to be the swing state, and Bush won the state by winning the ground game in rural and suburban areas. And they won the ground game by using a wedge issue: a state constitutional amendment denying any legal rights or recognition to committed couples of the same sex. Karl Rove truly is an evil genius. He walked a tightrope, but his divide-and-conquer strategy worked. More people in nationwide exit polls cited morals and values as the top issue in this election. Anti-gay amendments passed convincingly in all 11 states where they were on the ballot. This blurring of the line separating church and state is the single most troubling issue to me in this country right now. The US is fighting terrorists who are driven by religious idealism, yet we see religious idealism increasingly dictating our social policies. Going forward, I have one favor to ask of the clear majority of people in this country. Please leave us alone for a while. You say the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination. You’ve beaten us down across the board. Now why don’t you turn your vastly compassionate attention to poverty? Or homelessness? Do something that lifts this country and unites us, instead of marginalizing and dividing us. And if you still feel you need to attack further abominations, why not go after those horrible people who still eat shrimp, lobster, scallops … ?
Big media. Flip-flop. Flop-flip. Forged National Guard records. 9/11 9/11 9/11. Bush was wired. Richard Clarke. Tom Ridge. Donald Rumsfeld, back again. Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. A few bad apples at Abu Ghraib. Tora Bora. Massachusetts liberal. Mary is a lesbian. Orange alert, no – back to yellow. It all sounds like a Billy Joel song. We didn’t start the fire — big media did. You can’t report complex issues in a complex world using talking heads that speak in sound bites and recycle partisan opinion as if it were fact. Big media did a very poor job in reporting the news during this election season, but it did an excellent job reporting the distortion-filled spin. Big media also reaped a financial windfall with the incredible volume of adverti$ing. When real news threatened to break through the cacophony, big media embraced some rather flimsy notions in the stampede to be fair and balanced. Going forward, we clearly need some reforms. But unless you flash a tit at the Super Bowl, don’t expect federal oversight to provide adequate regulation. For starters, I’d love to see broadcasters voluntarily require political advertisers to have their ads cleared by a non-partisan organization (such as factcheck.org) before they air.
The Democratic Party. Too many cooks. Trying to be all things to all people. Drifting with the tides. Insert your analogy here. This party needs to forge a socially progressive identity, first and foremost, and then find a candidate to carry that identity — not the other way around. This party needs better people in the organization, starting at the top. DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe must go. If you can’t beat a weak incumbent president with approval numbers hovering below 50 percent while polls show an increasing majority of citizens believe the country’s going in the wrong direction, you should find a new line of work. The country’s embroiled in a dubiously-conceived war in Iraq, is spending like a drunken sailor, and is transferring wealth and power to the wealthy and the powerful. This is not the scenario where you throw a feel-good convention where criticism of the incumbent party is polite and limited — especially when you know your opponent plays down, dirty, and in the mud. Going forward, the Democrats need to learn a big lesson from the dominant (and better) political organization. Party members volunteering in their communities deliver votes — special interest organizations and paid canvassers do not. To borrow an over-used line, this is not a job you outsource.
Michael Moore. His film, Fahrenheit 9/11, did far more to galvanize Bush’s base than anything else he intended. Tens of millions of people who never even saw the film hate him, and their opinion of the film (the one they didn’t see) was that is was an attack on a man they admire for his values and steady leadership in a fearful time. Not just an attack, but a personal attack intended to embarrass Bush. It was a lightening rod that played right into Republican strengths, and they used it to great advantage in direct mail, in phone calls, and in the media. Regardless of what you think of Michael Moore or his films (I think he’s a bit of a buffoon and don’t appreciate his style), there’s no denying social conservatives as well as many social moderates demonized him. He became the Republican poster boy symbolizing Hollywood liberals and the radical left. Going forward, let’s hope Michael stays behind the camera, out of the media spotlight, and turns his lens on non-political subjects. He’s been used as a wedge in an increasingly divided culture, and if he can’t see that, he’s an idiot and will only make matters worse.
John Kerry. The Republicans had a very simple strategy for John Kerry. Define him as a flip-flopping, tax-and-spend liberal from Massachusetts, and do it before your base has the chance to do it for themselves. They stayed on message, early and often, and were successful on all accounts. Bonus points to BushCo for deftly shifting into “he’ll do or say anything to get elected” mode after Kerry looked far more presidential during the debates. The Kerry campaign did little to rebut these labels, sticking to their strategy of a down period between the end of the primaries and the days leading up to Kerry’s announcement of his VP selection. Kerry was pushed out of the headlines by war news, and he lost the definition game. With the Swift Boat Veterans group (and I’ll avoid making any assumptions/accusations into whether this group collaborated with BushCo in any way), Kerry was once again slow to rebut. Whether these decisions were made by John Kerry or his ever-changing gang of advisors, they were both strategic blunders. John Kerry doesn’t have that elusive personal touch and might not have the best political instincts. It’s sad — tragic, even — that a lot of the country never got to know John Kerry: a man of principle who has fought for justice and against corruption throughout his life; a man of gravitas who would represent this country as a strong, thoughtful, and responsible citizen in the world community; a man of extraordinary intellect who embraces learning, embraces debate, and understands the complexities of complex issues. He could have been an excellent president. We’ll never know. Going forward, John Kerry is still the junior senator from Massachusetts. Nearly half the country voted for him for president yesterday. I want more openness and more accountability from the Bush administration for the next four years, and tens of millions of Americans share that view. And John Kerry is still in the best position to speak for me.
You. I’m assuming a clear majority of the folks who visit this blog voted for Kerry (those of you who are registered voters in the US, that is). So you voted for Kerry. What else did you do? Did you donate to the Kerry campaign? If you are not in the financial position to make a donation, did you volunteer for a campaign? Did you volunteer to help at the polls? If you share many of my concerns or my sense of urgency in the current direction of this country, get involved. I’m not bitter, and despite my great disappointment in the outcome of this election, I do have reason to celebrate. Bush lost one state that he carried in 2000: New Hampshire. When New Hampshire was called for Kerry, one of CNN’s talking heads said the Kerry campaign expected the win due in large part to their organization in the Manchester area which far outperformed the Gore effort from 2000. I, along with hundreds of other everyday citizens from New England, can take some measure of credit in that win. Expect another blog entry soon on my election day volunteering in Manchester. Going forward, I am not standing on the sidelines anymore. This is a participatory democracy. Many more social progressives need to roll up their sleeves and get to work.