Much time will be spent in the coming days weeks and perhaps years analyzing the election of 2004. In the final analysis, I believe this election proves that being for something and someone trumps being against. The stark fact is that, while many of us happily voted for John Kerry, few felt any real passion for him. It isn't as simple as saying we don't like him, for in fact most of us both like an admire him. But, to use a popular expression of the kids, "he's not to die for." With the possible exception of Howard Dean, none of the Democrats evoked real passion among their supporters and I doubt if any could have done better including John Edwards who somehow disappeared from the screen during this campaign. People still vote for Presidents on both sides and even mediocre running mates don't amount to meaningful dragging anchors if Number One is up to his game. Howard Dean evoked passion, but scared the hell out of the establishment that saw success only in the middle. But more important, his campaign was largely against and his wipe out in the primaries should have been seen as a significant sign for the perils that lay ahead. That said, I still don't think Kerry had voter passion going for him rather than against Bush which probably made the margin of difference.
Make no mistake about it; The United States has become a conservative country dominated politically by a right religious tilt. Political tides change, but that's where we are as the lingering votes are sorted out in 2004. The frustrating thing about 2000 was that the country as a whole saw no great difference between Bush and Gore (speak about passionless candidates). When the Supremes cast their vote, many Democrats were saying that it really wasn't a big deal. What could a mandate-free President do? Right. This election was vastly different. Everyone saw two distinct candidates and two distinct ideologies. Nobody thought or thinks it won't make a difference, particularly on domestic issues over which in the final analysis President's have the most control.
John Edwards is fond of saying there are two Americas, those who have and those who need. That may be true, but politically the two Americas don't divide over possessions but over ideology and regionalism. We Liberals, a term that I use broadly to define the heart of the Democratic Party, are cultural pluralists who are uneasy when our personal and particularly our religious predilections are brought into the public discourse, much less used to determine public policy. The Conservatives, read Republicans, feel just the opposite. We Liberals are coastal (which has become somewhat of a cliché but is nonetheless true) and excursions into the heartland are, language and Shopping Malls aside, more akin to visiting a foreign country than a next door neighbor. The reverse is equally true. We don't talk to each other, because we don't really speak a common language.
If the religious-cultural thing, what Conservatives like to call values (a term that they have co-opted much as they have "life') is so important than we might look at what role that played in planting the seeds of this election. This time around I don't think it was abortion, but rather the decision made by the Massachusetts Supreme Court on Gay Marriage, one with which I happen to concur. More than inclusion of this issue on the ballots of half a dozen states was the unspoken homophobic rage that still exists in our society, particularly in the heartland. The fact that John Kerry is so much a son of Massachusetts where it all started should not be underestimated. His remark about the Vice President's daughter which I don't think was either calculated or malicious nevertheless underscored this connection and was even unnerving to many of his supporters. The induction of an openly Gay Episcopal Bishop, also from New England, didn't help. Homosexuality in this conservative environment is like Color was (and sadly still very much is) in earlier times.
This was a bad day for Liberals. I think it was also a bad day for science and, considering the illness of the Chief Justice and an aging Court, a potentially bad day for Choice. I shudder to think that we are headed once again for back alley abortions. All of this brings us to religion which may be the bottom line of this election. Not merely is America considered the most religious of Western countries, functionally we have become a right tilting Christian country which, lip service to the contrary notwithstanding, is increasingly intolerant of other points of view. Taking an international perspective, this is a very ominous development. In fact, I would contend that we are moving rapidly toward replacing the Communist Menace that we lost in the Soviet Union's demise with the Moslem Menace. Perhaps George Bush didn't literally mean Crusade when he said it, but there is no question that for some democracy is simply a code word for a certain religious belief. That is not good for either the country or the world. The record of holy wars and their impact upon the world, not to mention on minorities caught in the cross fire, is not pretty. We dare not let that happen.