So, obviously, I'm disappointed. Kerry conceded to Bush, and that's it - Bush is going to remain our president for 4 years. I'm not going to get into the ranting about him stealing this or how he wasn't really elected the first time or anything, because it's not constructive. At this point, honestly, I don't care - "fair" or not, "right" or not, it's a done deal and I'm moving on and now trying to deal with the ramifications.
Bush is our president, and with Kerry's concession, any hope of a different outcome is gone.
So let's recap. Bush is our President. The Senate is solidly Republican by a 55 to 45 margin. The House is also solidly Republican, but not by quite the same margins - currently 231 to 201, with 3 undecideds. And, of course, several members of the Supreme Court look like they will be getting replaced over the next few months. Furthermore, Bush is on his final (second) term - he can't be re-elected afterwards.
What this means is that he now has carte blanche to exercise his political will. This may lead to a more sensible, moderate Bush as he no longer has to appeal to the more extreme parts of his party - or it may mean an even more conserative, hard-line, neo-con approach to things, as he no longer has to cater to the middle. He also no longer needs to really work on appealing to the Democratic, liberal side of things - with a clear majority in each segment of our government, there's no one to oppose him.
This worries me. Our entire government was built on the system of checks and balances, but those checks and balances only work when there are other sides to oppose the leader, when there are other opinions to counter the prevailing one. Bush has no opposition - not in Congress, not in the Supreme Court - and no need to attempt to keep his popularity and approval high. It might mean nothing - maybe things will continue as "normal", which I still find distasteful, but something we can recover from. What really worries me, though, is that he will do some deep and abiding damage to our country in his next (and last!) four years in office.
Perhaps most importantly, the fact that the Republicans won every segment of our government and for the most part won them pretty decisively means that the American people not only support Bush, but they support the last four years. Ultimately, whether or not you agree with his policies, the American populace has now implicitly approved of the Iraq war, of the handling of Abu Ghraib and Al Qaqaa, of the nuclear proliferation in Iran and North Korea, of his reckless fiscal policies, of his seemingly fanatical support of Israel, of his disregard for the UN and for our standing in the eyes of the world... we have now stated, as a group, that we are willing to accept all of those things in return for what we feel he brings us.
And what is that? According to the exit polls, the single most important issue motivating people in this election is this one: "moral values". 22% of the voters polled counted that as the most important issue. Not the economy/jobs - that claimed only 20% of the voters. Not terrorism - another 19%. Not even Iraq, which had only 15%. (And certainly not health care (8%), taxes (5%), or education (4%).) Moral values.
What are moral values? They're certainly not an issue in the traditional sense. As far as I can tell, they're basically a code-word for two things: abortion and gays. Right? Bush's platform anti-abortion and anti-gay-rights (specifically where it comes to marriage and civil unions), and apparently that was the single biggest issue that his supporters were voting on. (Maybe things like gun control as well, but I'd have to imagine that not even the most shameless supporter could really lump that under "moral values" - freedom, perhaps, or whatever, but not moral values really. Oh, maybe stem cell research, too.) So basically, Bush won - and won so many votes - because he appealed to the most close-minded, backwards-thinking segment of the population, and as expected, they rose up and supported him.
These are people that are more concerned about Fred and Bob living together happily as a couple than they are with their own employment, with their own safety, with their health, their childrens' education - nothing is more important to them than that, than "innocent babies" not being allowed to be aborted, even if it risks the health of the mother, or if she was raped, or whatever. (Of course, there are more moderate anti-abortion people and anti-gay-union people out there, but that's the basic born-again, Christian fundie stance, unless I'm gravely mistaken.)
Think about that for a second. Their existence is so fundamentally threatened by one guy schtupping another that they'd gladly be unemployed and sick and have no assistance than accept the thought of two people of the same gender being happy together, or a mother aborting an unwanted fetus, even in the first trimester. I find this odd, and really, somewhat self-destructive. Shouldn't your own welfare - and that of your family, your friends, etc. take precedence over someone else's lifestyle choice? What bothers me about the whole "moral values" "issue" is that it's an excuse for people sticking their noses into other peoples' lives. You may not approve of gay marriages, and you may not approve of abortions, or stem cell research, or whatever - and that's fine. But what business is it of yours if other people engage in any of those activities? We're not asking you to bend over and take a load in your ass for gay rights, or at least I don't know of anyone asking that. All that most people want is to be left alone. You know. Small government, right?
Except nothing about Bush's government is small. Love him or hate him, he doesn't do things in small ways, ever. He acts in big ways, and he reacts in big ways, and he doesn't let little things like deficits and causes and effects really bother him. A lot of people respect him for that - he does what he thinks he should do (or wants to do, perhaps) with little or no regard for the consequences or the impacts of that decision. It's true, that shows a certain sort of steadfastness, and it does show he can "stay the course", I suppose, but isn't there an argument in there somewhere for reason and thought? What happened to the concept of active debate, where people speak their mind, talk about the issues, and attempt to come to some (relatively) mutually agreeable compromise, or at least understand the other person before making a judgment?
So, yeah, we have four more years of Bush.
We - Democrats, social liberals, fiscal conservatives, people who value freedom over other things, even moreso than safety or security or comfort - lost. We have the party of the war on Iraq, of the attempted constitutional amendment banning gay marriages, of lower taxes and higher spending and higher deficits, of the Patriot Act. The American people have spoken, and so be it.
So what are the positive things we can take from this?
Well, first off, the Democratic machine was brought out of its long, long slumber. While I'm not a big fan of any sort of political machinations, there's no disputing the fact that the Republicans have built up a very powerful and effective political machine over the past few decades, and the fruit of this is now coming to bear - the Democrats have lost absolute control over the government. It's terrible that the only way to shock people out of their complacency sometimes is with pain, but, my friends, we've felt the pain. We're waking up. And while it was too little, too late for this election period, don't count us out. The one key point here, though, is that we can't let ourselves fall into despair and give up hope.
We, as a people, have been awakened in a way that hasn't been seen in 20 or 30 years. That's impressive, amazing, inspiring even. This goes for both sides, incidentally - the grassroots campaigns on every side simply blew previous efforts out of the water. We learned how to use new tools (the internets!) and got all sorts of people involved. What's critical, now, is that we continue this trend. We need to make sure that every election brings more people to the polls, that every cycle shows more people interested in exercising their rights as American citizens. If we make that true, then we haven't lost everything.
Also, it means that for better or for worse, Bush will have his chance to show how things work his way, and to see if that way works. If Kerry had won, Bush could've pinned his failures on Kerry, the same way the other problems his administration had were the problem of Clinton, or the Iraqis, or the soldiers in our military. There's no one else to blame when you've held the reigns, especially not for 8 years, and with ownership of all three branches of the government! If Bush fucks up now, it'll be all him - and, in all fairness, if he suceeds it'll be all him as well. He's outlived any Clinton-era leftovers, and for better or for worse, what happens over the next four years are on him. I'm sure they'll spin the hell out of it, but face it - if the economy continues to suck, if the war in Iraq continues to go poorly, if we continue to be hated - it's going to be a little hard to blame that on Clinton or anyone else for much longer. And hey - even better, maybe I'm wrong and he really is going to do a good job, and then we can all be pleasantly surprised and everything will be hunky dory. (I remain skeptical.)
I look on the next four years with great trepidation and even a little dread. But I'm excited - for the first time in my life, this electoral cycle made me feel something was worth fighting for - and something else was worth fighting against. Apparently a lot of people felt that way, as there were tons of newly registered voters and a huge turnout. (Of course that counts for both sides - conservatives, liberals, Democrats, Republicans, whatever - everyone turned out in record (well, compared to recent results) levels.) Kerry also won both the left and the center. That's exciting. A little scary, when you think of what it took and what it means (for one, the right came out in much huger numbers than last time), but exciting.
So I'm somewhat hopeful. I think, realistically, that the next four years will be even more atrocious than the current four - but there's also nothing we can do about this presidency. However, I am even more determined to work to do whatever I can over the next four years to help prepare us to win the 2008 election, and that's a good feeling.
If you need something to buoy your spirits, I highly recommend reading this:
It's a really eloquent statement, and made a big difference with me.
Oh, and did I mention "fiscally irresponsible"?
Don't forget a bit deceptive, seeing as how they waited until about 30 seconds past the result of the election to announce it.
Yep... the next four years are gonna be fun. Sigh. But I'm going to do my damnedest to make sure this sort of thing can never happen again.