The votes have been counted, the confetti has fallen and the American people have elected a president for the next four years. We can finally dispose of grave discussions of Iraq, the economy and terrorism and go back to monitoring Britney Spears’ marital status.
But should we really just forget about politics? Do we not, as citizens of a democratic nation, have some responsibility beyond dropping a ballot every four years? In looking at the next four years—and the accomplishments we can achieve as a country—the events of this election provide good insight into what to expect.
[THE VICTOR] Say what you may, President George W. Bush achieved a solid victory in his re-election. Elected with a strong majority vote, he is the first president since his father was elected in 1988 to win both a majority ofthe popular vote and the necessary electoral votes. The media pointed out that Bush’s popular vote count set a new record—beating even Ronald Reagan. Bush won a legitimate re-election, with no legal disputes, no Floridrama, appeals to the Supreme Court or Third Party spoilers—thereby silencing the “Bush stole our vote” critics of 2000.
And he didn’t just beat John Kerry—Bush won despite a huge mobilization of individuals and organizations arrayed to defeat him, including: the AFL-CIO and other labor organizations, the National Education Association, the pro-abortion lobby, ACORN, Americans Coming Together, MoveOn.org, Michael Moore, Bruce Springsteen, Howard Stern, Whoopi Goldberg, Eminem, Michael J. Fox, Ronnie Reagan, Bill Clinton, George Soros and (in a bizarre pre-election video) Osama bin Laden.
Accompanying Bush’s victory were Republican victories in the House and Senate, and the defeat of entrenched Democrat Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle.
Senator John F. Kerry has been positioning himself for a presidential run since his college days. As he approached Election Day, his chances looked better and better. He had a mobile Democrat party behind him and Bush’s job performance ratings hovered around a margin that normally signals defeat for an incumbent. Kerry put in good debate performances that solidified his “presidential” bearing. So what went wrong?
The normal recriminations and party infighting will produce a number of reasons why he lost his election bid. A few possible suggestions are listed below.
Perhaps most deadly, Kerry ran as the anti-Bush candidate. Presidents are not elected for merely opposing the incumbent; you have to present viable, recognizable alternatives. Who was John Kerry? What did he believe? What did he stand for, other than simply opposing Bush? Kerry failed to provide the American people with answers to these questions.
Kerry also struggled from an ineffective, unorganized campaign. The Republican party in this election effectively modeled Clinton’s rapid-response team of the ’90s, but Kerry’s campaign struggled with message discipline and staff changes. News reports observed Kerry’s lack of local presence in key battleground states—states in which the Republicans established energetic grassroots campaigns. News media complained that despite Kerry’s promise to conduct frequent press conferences, he ended up fairly inaccessible.
Additionally, Kerry also lost the all-important personality test. Duck hunting and Beantown cap aside, he didn’t come across as an authentic, genuine personality.
Despite his frequent references to his Catholic upbringing, Kerry lost big on “moral issues” in this election. Kerry often professed personal opposition to abortion, gay marriage and other issues, but argued that America’s separation of church and state prevented him from legislating his articles of faith upon unbelieving people. It seems, however, that the American people want their politicians to maintain continuity between their private faith and public policies.
[WHAT THE ELECTION TELLS US ABOUT THE COUNTRY] All the attention on this election produced the highest voter turnout since 1968. Concerns about the economy, the rising costs of health care, about national security in a post-9/11 world, about Iraq … there was a lot on our minds this November.
Including moral values. Media pundits dubbed it the “sleeper issue” of Election 2004. Exit pollsters were surprised to find that moral issues ranked high on voters’ minds this year. In the 2000 election, coming off the Clinton era, morals were given significant attention. Little was said about the same character contest this time around. While it is true that “moral issues” encompass a whole range of issues, voters said that they were concerned about gay marriage, abortion and stem cell research, and a majority of these voters cast their ballots for Bush.
This year, a vote for Bush was a vote against Ben Affleck. Apparently, Americans were not impressed by entertainers, news media and the liberal elite telling them how to vote. Despite our entertainment-frenzied culture, we just don’t take stars that seriously when it comes to politics. With Bush back in office, Affleck can return to churning out Jersey Girl blockbusters.
Conservative pundits are saying that Democrats are out of touch with the country. The party of Hillary Clinton, Howard Dean and Michael Moore is not a party that appeals to a majority of moderate American voters. If Democrats are to regain control of Congress and place a candidate in the White House, they have to resolve the party’s internal dissonance.
An all-important vote in this election was the religious vote. Not to say that the Republican Party is the party of God (it’s not) or that George Bush is receiving day-to-day instructions from God—but for the first time in years a majority of American voters say the GOP better aligns with their personal ideals and values. Studies indicated that millions of evangelical Christians did not vote in 2000, and Bush re-election chief Karl Rove targeted these voters this time around. Additionally, President Bush is the first Republican candidate in history to win a majority of the Catholic vote, an especially surprising statistic given Kerry’s status as a Catholic.
Take it from the Swift Boat Veterans and a host of pajama-clad ankle-biters in the blogosphere: an effective campaign doesn’t require just a multi-million dollar budget. Small things matter.
[THE YOUTH VOTE] Despite efforts by movie stars and performance artists to mobilize the youth vote, Rock the Vote was more lullaby than heavy metal. Frantic anti-rape appeals from Cameron Diaz and get-out-the-vote efforts from Russell Simmons and others only managed to produce a youth vote roughly equivalent to the disappointing 2000 turnout, prompting Scrappleface.com satire writer Scott Ott to quip that P. Diddy was in critical condition from a self-inflicted “Vote or Die” wound.
[PRESIDENT BUSH’S MANDATE] President Bush has vowed to pursue his second-term agenda, including revamping Social Security, simplifying the tax code and securing the national defense. His administration faces many opportunities in the next four years.
National Unity. The vitriolic partisanship isn’t going anywhere; as Dave Barry joked, this election signals the end of bitter national division, opening the door to a new era of bitter national division. Still, it is time to move beyond the rancor of this campaign and to work together on common goals. President Bush sets the tone for this effort, and seemed to acknowledge it in his Nov. 3 victory speech, calling on supporters of his opponent to join him in working toward the national good.
Iraq. A large number of voters signified dissatisfaction with how the war in Iraq is progressing. While most Americans were strongly behind Bush in the effort to depose Hussein, the prison abuse scandal and the growing number of casualties in Iraq have depleted some of the nation’s confidence. Now that an Iraqi government has been formed, Bush must push for stabilization and lay out a clear exit-plan. Otherwise, Bush will have to answer his critics for another four years.
National Security. As President Bush promised in the days after 9/11, the war on terror is not quickly won. By re-electing Bush, Americans seemingly have confidence in his ability to target terrorism and protect the country, and voiced their support of his defense strategies.
The Economy. The first Bush Administration inherited a mild recession and the burst of the dotcom bubble. Although John Kerry’s statistics were somewhat inflated, America has seen an overall loss of at least 700,000 jobs in Bush’s first term. President Bush has his work cut out for him, but hopefully the economy’s recent progress will continue over the next four years.
[THE TWENTYSOMETHING MANDATE] Now that the election is over, it would be wrong for us to pack up our “Voting is Cool” tees until the next election. Perhaps more important than simply getting us to the polls, the attention given to this election has raised our awareness of important issues. For twentysomethings, it’s not about who’s in power, but what are we doing about important social and economic issues.
Regardless of which party you support, Christians must effectively model ideals within both camps. Love of freedom, concern for the poor and needy, a strong value on the future, fiscally sound policies—these are issues we can impact on a day-to-day, person-to-person level. You don’t need a national platform for true change.
Yes, we’re darn glad it’s over. But we can’t disengage completely. The youth of the nation have a perspective the rest of the country will listen to if we just speak out.[Michael Reitz is an attorney and legal analyst for a public policy organization in Olympia, Wash.]
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