There will be a lot said about the 2004 election. Scholars, activists, organizers and historians will be saying a lot in the future. However, here is my reaction, brief and bulleted.
Were the Democrats really that organized?
In this campaign, much has been written and said about how active and organized the Democrats and Democratic-leaning groups like MoveOn.org were in their efforts to defeat President George W. Bush. However, it is very clear that they weren't organized in anything more than their anger towards the president.
As Charlie Cook said earlier tonight on MSNBC, Democrats would have voted for a "potted plant" against Bush. For the most part, this was true. Most of those votes were secure. Sure, they might gain 1 percent by motivating more Democrats to get to the polls. But those folks who were against Bush were never going to miss the 2004 election. The key to winning this election was both holding your base and going after the middle swing voters, something Bush did very successfully, or so it seems.
The good news for Democrats was also the fact that most of the Ralph Nader [and to a lesser extent, Green David Cobb] votes were going to the Democratic nominee despite John Kerry's lack of solid stances on important issues. Those voters were clearly scared into not supposedly making the same mistake twice, although many didn't consider it a mistake at the time. It should be noted that Nader, as the 'zine predicted, was not a factor. Imagine how much money - probably millions - was wasted attacking Nader. In the end, there was no Nader factor.
The bad news is that no matter how the nattering nabobs of liberalism go on and on about having a progressive nation, as we see time and time again, the nation isn't progressive. It is liberal on the coasts but populist, moderate and conservative in the middle. The key to Democrats winning nationally isn't to alienate their own base by trying to out-conservative conservatives, like they did during the DLC days, but to be more populist on trade and working issues like Dick Gephardt and Pat Buchanan.
Unfortunately Kerry, the aloof, flip-flopping, do-nothing Mass. Senator, with five mansions, a jet, who snowboards, who wind-surfs with the "plumbers and electricians on Nantucket," was never going to be accepted by the Skoal-chewing, trailer park-living because they can't afford anything else, bar stool warming, and gospel singing and praying folks of middle America. John Mellancamp, Bruce Springsteen, and the Dixie Chicks tried to pull those folks over, but it just didn't work. Kerry was the wrong nominee for this time in the nation's history. In this cycle, the Democrats really needed someone who had actually fought for Middle America like Gephardt or someone who was a fiscal conservative with a good NRA voting record like Howard Dean [or both, together]. Imagine Gephardt campaigning at every closed factory across the Midwest. How could Kerry do that? You can almost hear the quote: "Yeah, I first voted for outsourcing via NAFTA, but now I'd vote against it." Hogwash. Mickey Kantor, the negotiator for Clinton's NAFTA, was his "manufacturing czar." Former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the architect of Clinton's $50 billion peso bailout, was working on Kerry's economic policy. With friends like that ...
With all the 527 ads and paid organizers, George Soros' millions, the celebrities, and the relentless attacks on Nader, the Democrats still couldn't win. All the money in the world may have made a small difference in places like New Hampshire but it didn't help anywhere else. This is shocking.
It is so clear now: The Democrats completely blew the best opportunity they had because they had a lousy nominee who didn't know who he was or why he was running and now we are stuck with Bush. God help us all.
Huge Bush turnout
While turnout was higher, it wasn't astronomically higher [20 or 30 million], as predicted by most Democrats. The droves of new voters predicted to be coming out against Bush never came out. Reportedly, the youth vote, who were supposed to be motivated by fear of a draft or P. Diddy wearing "Vote or Die" T-shirts, also didn't come out, although we will take a look at that once more data is finalized [Note to P. Diddy: It is clear that young folks know that politicians are a sham. Stick to fashion and producing, and hope young people don't smarten up to the fact that they are more than consumer slaves].
In fact, it was Bush who gained a lot from the new voters and was probably helped by the veiled - and not so veiled - organizing by Methodist and Baptist churches across the country. These churches took a page out of the Democratic black church playbook. Look at the results from the last two elections for an eye-opener about what really happened with the "new voters" in this election cycle:
Roughly 10 million more voters went to the polls in 2004 - and Bush received over 8 million of them. This is a shocking statistic. How can it be? How can all these people go to the polls and vote for this guy? It's just unbelievable. But after looking at more data and the machines used to count the votes, it might sink in a bit more. [Note: Also, according to early data, 2.7 million more blacks came out to vote, according to David Bositis in a Unity '04 news conference on C-Span Thursday afternoon. Bositis credited these new voters, saying they are more progressive, but acknowledged that Bush's black numbers in Ohio increased from 9 to 16 percent, buoyed by an anti-gay marriage ballot initiative which went down in flames, despite the Republican governor and AG asking voters not to support it]. However, with Bush taking 80 percent of the new voters, it looks like many blacks came out to the polls to support Bush.
While Bush did surpass the results of previous "landslides," he gained little in the way of actual blue Democratic states. He held his own states and then won New Mexico and Iowa while Kerry took back New Hampshire. Despite higher turnout, John Kerry faired worse than Al Gore did in 2000. Granted, there was a bit of redistricting that shifted seven Electoral College votes from blue Gore states to red Bush states. This clearly made Kerry's effort a bit uphill but the nation is still divided and Bush doesn’t really have a mandate.
Democrats abandoned Kerry
The problem for Kerry was that in state after state, as predicted in this 'zine, Democrats went for Bush in droves and it made all the difference between Kerry winning and losing. According to exit polls, Democrats voted for Bush in these states, by these numbers:
West Virginia: 30 percent of Democrats voted for Bush; Kerry lost by about 9,650 votes out of 745,000 cast.
Louisiana: 21 percent of Democrats voted for Bush; Kerry lost by more than 282,000 votes out of almost 1.5 million cast.
New Mexico: 15 percent of Democrats voted for Bush; Kerry lost by less than 12,000 votes out of 725,000 cast.
Arkansas: 18 percent of Democrats voted for Bush; Kerry lost by slightly more than 100,000 votes out of more than 1 million cast.
New Mexico: 15 percent of Democrats voted for Bush; Kerry lost by less than 12,000 votes out of 725,000 cast.
Florida: 14 percent of Democrats voted for Bush; Kerry lost by 376,500 votes out of 7.3 million cast.
Nevada: 10 percent of Democrats voted for Bush; Kerry lost by 21,600 votes out of 820,000 cast.
Ohio: 9 percent of Democrats voted for Bush; Kerry lost by 146,483 votes out of almost 6 million cast.
Iowa: 8 percent of Democrats voted for Bush; Kerry lost by 7,251 votes out of almost 1.5 million cast.
No one can survive this kind of pummeling from their own party's registered voters. This is important because a shift of these Democrats to Kerry in Nevada and New Mexico would have tied the election. Add Iowa, a traditionally Democratic state, and Kerry wins - even without Ohio and Florida. Now, many people in the blogosphere when they saw polls showing Democrats supporting Bush sloughed it off, saying these folks aren't really Democrats. They are conservative and they just never changed their affiliations, many said. Well, that might be true. However, when these folks bother to change their affiliations - look out. The Republican voter registration numbers will swell. And if that isn't the case, what's a Democrat? If there is a "D" next to their names, aren't they still "Democrats"? Yes, they are. You don't have to be a volunteer for the party or a super-liberal to be a Democrat. There are conservative Democrats. But millions of them voted for Bush, as you can see. The Democrats should have been more worried about these Democrats than the handful that might - and did -vote for Nader.
These Democrats also seemed to have voted against their nominees in other races too. The Democratic Party lost three congressional seats and four senate seats. This is not good for a party that claimed before the election that they would have the U.S. Senate and maybe, although slimly, the House.
The party is in a worse position than they were in 2000. Clearly, Terry McAuliffe must go. Period. Bush and the Republicans have more power. And for all this talk of "unity" and "healing," their agenda - not unlike most of Clinton's agenda - is not the agenda of the regular folks out here in the real world.
Gays, guns, and God?
It is very interesting that the exit polls were so off, showing Kerry winning by landslides at 5 p.m. These polls were used to exhort conservative voters to the polling booths. Drudge posted the "good news" for Kerry early. Later, rightwing talker Sean Hannity begged his audience to go out and vote, stating that exit polls were showing that Kerry was going to win. Hannity also specifically asked voters in Florida and Ohio to drop everything and go and vote for Bush.
Hannity, Drudge, and others, clearly used the early information to exhort their voters to vote. The reverse effect, for any liberal readers or listeners, was that Kerry would be winning and maybe they didn't need to vote after all. I wonder how many people didn't rush home from work or didn't take an extra 15 at lunch to go out and vote based on these results. Drudge claimed that over 25 million people went to his site on Election Day. Hannity reportedly has 10 million listeners. Their announcements that Kerry was going to win clearly had influence.
Yet in 2000, when CBS' Dan Rather called Florida early for Gore at 7 p.m., based on exit polls, Republicans screamed bloody murder for years because a few towns on the panhandle hadn't voted yet. Some of those people may have been discouraged from voting. And Republicans used this to attack the mainstream media for years. But isn't it interesting that no one has said one word about the use of these exit polls to scare Bush supporters into voting or Kerry supporters into not voting?
Despite the flawed exit polls, the media still points to these polls for what they believe is relevant data on the pulse of the nation. Maybe in the future, exit polls should only be used for this purpose and not to predict the winners. Or, maybe they should be ignored entirely. But for now, this is what we have to look at.
According to exit polls, the most important issue of people polled as they exited the polls was not the economy, health care, education, or terrorism, but "moral issues," by 22 percent.
This is pretty shocking. Osama goes on TV a few days before the election threatening the United States. Millions have lost their jobs and if they have found new jobs, they earn less than the old jobs. Health care costs are skyrocketing and most workers can't move to another job because of health care issues such as preexisting conditions or transition problems. Thousands of our soldiers have been maimed or killed in an invasion that didn't need to occur. College tuition is higher than ever and you can't get a job at McDonald's now without a college degree in Cash Register 101.
No, of all the things in the world we should be worried about, it's moral issues. Well, there is some legitimacy to that. Things like stem-cell research and gay marriage might wig out any good Christian - but so should biometric microchips being installed in humans and required retina scans just to fly on an airplane. How moral is that? Haven't these people read Revelations?
Of those moral issues, same-sex marriage was probably the biggest lightning rod for social conservatives, acceptance of which was rejected on 10 state ballots. Not only that, but the fact that Kerry's home state Supreme Court orders the acceptance of gay marriage - something reviled by middle America - didn't help his cause. Isn't it interesting that the Democratic establishment and Washington cocktail crowd who wanted Kerry so badly were worried that the civil union issue in Vermont would sink former-Gov. Howard Dean in a national election, yet it was an actual court decision about gay marriage that helped sink Kerry? Clearly, for millions the fear of the acceptance of Adam and Steve was more powerful than unending war and the inability to put food on the table.
But there is hypocrisy about this issue.
Yesterday, there was Mary Cheney, Dick and Lynne's lesbian daughter, and her "friend," on the stage at the Ronald Reagan Center during Bush's speech to the nation. That seems like a pretty bold reversal of the "love the sinner, hate the sin" rule we constantly hear preached from the pulpit of the red states, doesn't it? Or is it just one rule for them and another rule for the rest of us?
Many complain about the gay agenda being foisted on the American people - in our schools, churches, society, and courts - yet there was the Cheney family on the stage with Bush, clearly accepting their lesbian daughter's "wife." Where is Dr. James Dobson now? Why isn't he screaming about the fact that Cheney's lesbian daughter had her "wife" on stage with him after scaring the American voters with "It's Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve"? I wonder what would be said if Kerry had won and allowed a gay stepson to have his lover on the stage. Do you think the Limbaughs of the world would have attacked him for foisting his beliefs on gays onto the American people?
The NRA also got their base out to vote for Bush which is a bit tricky since it is clear that the Bush administration is also heading down the path of friendly fascism in this department too. The NRA was able to target Kerry as a gun-grabbing liberal - which he is - and all the camo and geese hunting were never going to save Kerry with these voters. This is another problem Democrats have that they need to deal with long-term. Gun control, in the classic, leftist sense, is dead, and it should be. These rights - to keep and bear arms and to form a militia to defend the nation against enemies foreign and domestic - are sacred to many Americans. And yes, it is about being able to use a weapon to be safe in your home and on your persons and it is about hunting. But the Founders were also more specific about the right: The citizenry should be able to take up arms against their government. In 2004, as liberals began to worry about another stolen election, many of them joked online that maybe they should start looking into this Second Amendment thing. Plus, gun control has gotten so stupid in some places, like the Massachusetts Legislature, which passed a sweeping gun bill a couple of years ago that required a safety lock to be put on a historic musket on display in the State House. How foolish was that? While we don't want to bring the nation back to the Wild, Wild West, these rights are just as important as free speech and search and seizure rights. Democrats need to learn and accept this.
Lastly, the moral folks who came out to vote did so because they believe Bush was a "Christian" man. While I would never question his faith, I do question his actions. If he calls himself a Christian, he probably is. But you have to wonder if he is following Christ or pretending to be God. Far too often, those graced by faith believe that they are a vehicle for God and then therefore can offer God’s retribution like God. As we know, the scriptures are clear that those who act like God will be punished for doing so. Far too often, Christians forget to practice what they preach and are clearly too influenced by preachers from the pulpit who condemn sinners and forget the words of Christ. No true Christian who has read the words of Christ would have invaded Iraq. It really is that simple. You can’t free a people by massacring tens of thousands of them. You can't free people by allowing sanctions that kill millions of women and children. You can't free people by targeting their water supply so that they die agonizingly of cholera. You can't free people by using depleted uranium munitions which cause the most horrid of birth defects. You just can't free a people this way.
Outside MSNBC's "Democracy Center" on Tuesday afternoon there was a scribbled single word sign: "SHAME." It didn't take the network long to remove the guy, but he was dead right. Christians should be ashamed of themselves for being used like they have been in this election.
Or maybe that is the point. They don't mind being used. As we all know, you can't stop Armageddon. It is coming whether it is Bush or Kerry in the eyes of those who believe. All the ads showing Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld shaking the hands of the Butcher of Baghdad weren't going to change these minds even though it should. Millions spent on video of our children facing deficits, death and war were not going to sway these voters. All the "Fahrenheit 9/11" films weren't going to change these votes. All the investigations - from Vanity Fair, to the newspapers, to the blogs - none of it mattered. While it is clear that the Democratic Party is out of touch with the voters of America, the voters of America are also out of touch with what is best, just, and right.
In future posts, we'll be looking at where the Democratic Party should go from here, whether or not the voting machines can be trusted, electoral reform and whether or not young people actually did go out and vote.