The Great Divide Continues

It's 3:30 AM. Ohio looks bad for John Kerry. He's down 180,000 votes. There may be 175,000 provisional ballots. But can Kerry win practically every single one and find other votes there? Kerry is losing by 1700 votes in New Mexico and 15,000 in Iowa. John Edwards appeared before Kerry supporters in Copley Square and promised that the Kerry campaign will fight to count every vote. But the Kerry ticket is behind in the national numbers, on the short end of a 51-48 split, trailing Bush by almost 4 million votes, with 93 percent of the precincts reporting. The election was close, achingly close. There may be an odd bounce or two yet to come. But the safe assumption is that George W. Bush will emerge the winner of the electoral vote and the popular vote. It's a sad morning in America.

The electorate almost engaged in a much-needed political correction. It almost undid the asterisk of 2000. Instead, voters legitimized the fellow who gained the White House against the will of the majority and who then pretended he had a mandate and subsequently pushed tax cuts for the well-to-do and launched a war predicated on untrue assertions. So there will be no good-bye to reckless preemptive war, an economic policy based on tax breaks tilted toward the wealthy, a war on environmental regulations, a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, excessive secrecy in government, unilateral machismo, the neocon theology of hubris and arrogance, a ban on effective stem cell research, no-bid Halliburton contracts, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, and much more. Did I mention Dick Cheney?

Bush lied his way into office and lied his way through his presidency. His reelection campaign was based on derision and disingenuousness; he mischaracterized Kerry and his positions and touted successes that did not exist. And now, it seems, he got away with it. He was not punished for leading the country into a war that was not necessary. He was not booted for having overstated the WMD threat from Iraq. He paid no price for failing to plan adequately for the post-invasion period. Iraq remains his mess. And the United States and the world remains at the mercy of a gang that, no doubt, will feel even more emboldened to pursue their misguided policies.

The good news: America is a divided nation. Despite the pundit hand-wringing over this fact, it is a positive thing. Nearly – nearly – half of the electorate rejected Bush's leadership, his agenda, his priorities, his falsehoods. From Eminem to the chairman of Bank of America to 48 Nobel laureates to gangbangers who joined anti-Bush get-out-the-vote efforts in swing states. Nearly half of the voting public concluded that Bush had caused the deaths of over 1100 American GIs and literally countless Iraqis (maybe 100,000) for no compelling reason. Nearly half saw the emperor buck naked and butt ugly. Nearly half said no to his rash actions and dishonest justifications. Nearly half realized that Bush had misrepresented the war in Iraq as a crucial part of the effort against al Qaeda and Islamic jihadism. Nearly half desired better and more honest leadership. Nearly half knew that Bush has led the country astray.

Other good news: Second-term presidents often hit the skids. The last three second- terms were marked by scandal (Watergate, Iran-contra, Monicagate). And as top officials sprint through the revolving door to snag high-paying jobs (while their contacts are fresh), the job of running the government during the second administration often falls to the B Team. In the post-9/11 world, this is not all that reassuring. But the historical trend does suggest that Bush will have trouble enacting his various schemes. Yet – let's be realistic – the Senate results indicate that the GOP will expand its majority in the Senate, which means Bush will have more allies for his wrongheaded missions.

More good news; Bush will not be able to hand off his own wreckage – Iraq and the gargantuan deficit – to a new man. But this does not mean he will accept responsibility and deal with it. Bush has the ability to deny and defy reality. And if he cannot see that the trash has piled up, he will not be hauling it to the curb.

Okay, no more good news. I can't stand all this good news. Bush has bamboozled and frightened just enough Americans to gain the opportunity to flimflam them for another four years. And the rest of the country – and the globe – will be along for the dangerous ride.

As for John Kerry, he and his advisers looked like geniuses early on Election Day, when exit polls showed him ahead in the critical states There will be time – plenty of time – to critique Kerry and his crew and second-guess their various decisions. Had he swatted down the Swift Vets earlier would that have saved him just the right number of votes? Had he voted against granting Bush the authorization to launch an elective war against Iraq anytime Bush damn well pleased, perhaps Kerry would have presented a clearer picture for the electorate and inoculated himself from the trumped-up flip-flop charge. Perhaps. He, too, will have years to ponder all of this.

Kerry was no top-gun campaigner. His rhetoric often meandered. More than once he shot himself in the foot with inartful language. But he did vigorously criticize Bush for misleading the country into war and for screwing up (big time!) the planning for the post-invasion period. He called for expanding health care coverage and for dramatic investments in alternative energy. He slammed Bush for ignoring the middle class crisis. He advocated raising the minimum wage and vowed to take on such special interests as the prescription drugs lobby. He excoriated Bush's assault on environmental safeguards and defended abortion rights. And he effectively used the three debates to counter the Bush camp's claim that he was a finger-in-the-wind pol and a weak-kneed opportunist with no convictions. Those encounters hurt Bush. Of those voters who say they decided in the past month, Kerry led 60 to 37 percent. All of this – it almost worked.

There was a clear difference between the two candidates. They disagreed on many basic issues. But – perhaps more importantly – they represented vastly different ways of engaging the world. One has adopted an ask-no-questions, nevermind-the- nuances, don't-look-back, tough-guy style of leadership. The other promised to consider and reach out before leaping. One said – practically boasted – that he read no newspapers. The other came across as a man who absorbed much information before rendering a decision. The voters chose the wrong man.

But not all is lost. The Red-Blue battle – a war of culture, ideology, politics and psychology – will not end with the final tally in Ohio. The forces of Bushism appear to have triumphed this day. But life – if we are lucky – is long, and history never ends. Let the great divide in America continue.


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