ALL IS LOST / NO IT ISN'T 


OK, so I'm officially over it. I've just read the 500th version of the same "Why we lost" or "Why they won" post-mortem on last week's election. And they all dance around the same themes: George W. Bush's – or Karl Rove's – use of gay marriage got religious nuts and other hate-filled illiterates out to vote; the Swift Boat liars tricked the less-than-educated into thinking John Kerry was a Hanoi-sympathizing commie bastard; the Iraq war, no matter how big a disaster, scared folks into thinking it was too dangerous to switch horses mid-fight; Kerry didn't relate to the common man like Dubya did. And I could go on and on.

We got our collective ass kicked, when everyone on our side knows we should have won. We lost by nearly 4 million votes. Bush won the first true majority – 52 percent – since his daddy whipped Michael Dukakis in 1988. On top of that we lost ground in the House and the Senate.

You can try to find a silver lining, but it just ain't there. Delude yourself into thinking that Bush will recognize the country's divide and govern from the center, or that when Bush and his right-wing cohorts mess up this time around there'll be no one to blame but themselves, but neither will happen. Bush governed from the far right when the Supreme Court handed him the White House; what the hell do you expect him to do now that he's legitimate?

If voters couldn't bring themselves to oust Bush this time around, when he can't produce evidence of a single positive result of his presidency, I doubt anything short of nuclear holocaust will turn the red states blue.

But I'm over it. Life moves on, and so do we. Thousands more young men and women will die in the sands of the Iraqi desert, thousands more Middle Eastern men will be lured to Al Qaeda by a seething hatred of our foreign policy, big corporations will be given a pass to pillage (and tax cuts to help them do it), the religious right will be given free rein over public policy, the Supreme Court will be remolded in the image of Antonin Scalia, the voice of dissent will be further marginalized.

Ideally, we won't back down. In this dark hour, Democrats and progressives must find our backbone, find the ideas and goals that unite us – fairness, civil rights, compassion, freedom from government-issue morality – and rally behind them.

But the GOP struck a deep blow to the left. The massive get-out-the-vote campaigns by MoveOn.org, America Coming Together and other lefty groups were marginally successful, but the number of new voters they brought out was dwarfed by the evangelicals who swear Bush is God's man. That is disheartening. Some friends of mine, young, first-time voters who registered to vote against Dubya, say they don't know if it's worth the trouble.

After all, they waited hours in line to vote last Tuesday, and in the end, they lost. I have to think that the sentiment that all the hard work didn't matter will be shared by the thousands of college-age activists who dedicated their summers to canvassing and registering voters. It's possible that this multi-billion-dollar effort – which kept Kerry from getting blown out – will fizzle, and the energy and hope that went into it will turn to despair and apathy.

So, the way I see it, we're stuck with a Republican party that will further secure its stranglehold over the next four years. They'll continue to control the House and Senate, they'll reshape the courts, and unless some super-Democrat can swing Ohio and Florida back to blue, they'll continue to control the White House.

This was the most important election of our lifetime, and we lost. And barring some unforeseen event, we'll continue to lose for a long time. The pendulum of American thought is swinging, friends, and we're on the wrong side. Damn, I'm in a pessimistic mood.

On to happier thoughts: Two years ago, after a series of disappointing races, I came down perhaps a little too harshly on the Orange County Democratic Party. I'm pleased to report that that ship has, for the most part, been righted. Yeah, things get a little disorganized from time to time, but results are results, and you can't argue with them.

The fact is, Orange County voted for Kerry. Orange County also came extremely close to picking Betty Castor over Mel Martinez, even though this is Mel's hometown. Democrat Bill Segal picked up a (nonpartisan, officially) county commission seat that used to belong to Republican Ted Edwards – still giving Dems the majority on the county commission and the school board. (The other county commission race pitted an independent against a Republican; the Republican won by a slim margin, thanks largely to an insipid Orlando Sentinel endorsement of a woman whose only asset is her Hispanic surname.) Even Stephen Murray, the no-name Democrat running for Ric Keller's congressional seat, did surprisingly well, pulling more than 40 percent of the vote.

The only real disappointment was the sheriff's race, where incumbent Kevin Beary beat his Democratic challenger, Rick Staly, handily. Democratic party chairman Doug Head offered one thought I found particularly salient: The Bush team simply waged a better marketing campaign than the Democrats, and the Dems need to put as much thought into the messenger as the message itself. Locally, Head thinks the party did OK, but could do better. Nationally, though, he thinks that, despite all the work that went into the 2004 campaign, in the end there's not a lot to show for it.

I wish I could disagree with him.

One good thing came out of Tuesday's election. A year ago, my editor and I made a bet on the outcome of the presidential election. The loser would buy the winner's drinking binge. I bet on Bush.

So, Bob, how about a beer?

— Jeffrey C. Billman

Jeff, you ignorant slut. I'm surprised that you and all the other fire-breathing progressives have suddenly turned into piles of lefty mush, trying to come up with reasons not to slit your wrists (and having to rely on Michael Moore to provide them). Especially now, at what history may well show to be the beginning of the end of the era of Republican dominance. It ain't gonna be pretty, and we'll suffer mightily, but if King George is true to form – and isn't that what we all like about him? – the right is going to eat itself. Let's just hope for the sake of America that it doesn't get too godawful bad.

The evidence of cracks in the dam are already there, if you'd stop your sobbing and look. How long after Bush's win did Sen. Arlen Specter manage to hold his trap shut about the infeasibility of an abortion litmus test for federal judges? One day? Yes, Specter has been severely punished by the right's appointed schoolmarms, and he has professed not to have meant what he actually said, but the fact remains that this off-balance Republican – creator of the single-bullet theory – is already conceding the extreme right's Holy Grail. I doubt he is alone, though he may be the only one willing to say it.

And maybe you missed a piece in the Nov. 7 New York Times called "The anti-war right is ready to rumble." You should go back and check it out, for it speaks volumes to the dilemma Bush finds himself in at the moment.

If the president is really in Iraq for the reasons he says he is in Iraq – spreading democracy, freedom, reshaping the Middle East map – then he's automatically out of favor with some very powerful Republicans. Altruism isn't in their genes; they'd rather conquer the world via NAFTA than the Marines. Wars are expensive, and you just can't bank on the outcome. Paul Weyrich, founder of the Heritage Foundation, as quoted in the Times article: "The consequences of the neocons' adventure in Iraq are now all too clear. America is stuck in a guerrilla war with no end in sight. Our military is stretched too thin to respond to other threats. And our real enemies, nonstate organizations such as Al Qaeda, are benefiting from the Arab and Islamic backlash against our occupation of an Islamic country." Have someone read that to you in a droning monotone and you'll swear you're listening to John Kerry.

Let's be pessimistic and consider – just for the sake of argument – that Bush is not in Iraq for the reasons he says he is. And the casualties keep mounting. And the costs keep mounting. And more people keep asking "Why?" but there is no answer that really satisfies. And there's talk of a draft. And Saddam isn't around any longer as the villain. And Kerry isn't around any longer as Flip-Flop the clown. And the Democrats have folded their tents and gone home. And people, from both blue states and red, are less and less able to tune out the war, because it is intruding more and more into their lives. What happens then, when people remember that they voted for Bush in spite of the Iraq war, not because of it?

"But," you say, "Bush will divert attention to something else. That's what he is good at. Hence the gay marriage amendment." Indeed, he is good at distraction. But where do you divert attention in the current state of things? Massive deficits that have been temporarily forgiven by the voting public, but certainly not forgotten? An environmental record that borders on criminal? A world that hates us as playground bullies?

Maybe the president can pull a little sleight-of-hand trick and get us all talking about his ambitious second-term agenda. Fair enough. But nobody wants to go down in history as the guy who gutted Social Security; even the perception could be politically ruinous. Old people like their checks (and middle-aged people like the notion that they might someday get their checks). And they vote. What about that gay marriage amendment? Didn't the polls already indicate that most Americans believe gay marriage is an issue best handled at the state level? How far can Bush push that one without being tagged as, dare I say it, an extremist?

Meanwhile you've got the real extremists, the religious right, credited with putting Bush back in office. As a group these people are a political fishwife, demanding and demanding and demanding until their demands get so shrill and unreasonable that even Bush will tune them out. If Bush manages to legalize prayer in public schools, they'll press him to make it mandatory. If Bush manages to amend the Constitution making gay marriage against federal law, they'll press him to make open displays of homosexuality a punishable offense. If Bush figures out a way to leave Iraq and save face without permanently alienating the entire Muslim world, they'll crucify him for not installing a Christian theocracy. There is no pleasing people for whom the Bill of Rights is an impediment to turning America into a church state, or as a recent illustration circulating on the Internet put it, Jesusland. A quote from the Nov. 5 Orlando Sentinel: "'You always want more," said the Rev. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. 'One of my jobs is to never be satisfied.'"

So buck up, son; you'll get your beer, and a front row seat to watch GeeDubya accomplish what all the lefties on earth couldn't: splintering the Republican Party and shedding the evangelical base like a snake sheds its skin, until by 2008 even the most committed "values" voter will be unable to cast another Republican vote without fear of burning in hell. And then there's the remote chance the Dems could get their act together and have something to say to all those red staters. Stranger things have happened.

— Bob Whitby

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