Reflections on the Presidential Election

What happened four years ago–Florida, the Supreme Court, the election of Bush rather than Gore–shook my confidence in the American political process. What happened on Tuesday–the re-election of Bush (or the first election of Bush, depending on how you felt about Bush v. Gore four years ago)–shook my confidence in the American people.

At times the past two days I felt sad. At other times I felt depressed. From time to time I wanted to cry in those moments when I stopped to think about the election. I’ve voted before, I’ve voted for President before, but this was the first time when I felt strongly that my vote mattered. I felt we were on the cusp of history, that the fate of the world, hyperbole or not, held in the balance, that this may perhaps have been our last, best hope at preventing a greater tragedy. And that I felt so sad about was that over half the country couldn’t see that.

I’ve found it difficult to understand what went wrong. I’ve found it difficult to understand why the past four years–the economic time bomb, the misleading of the American people on Iraq, the quagmire in the Middle East–simply hasn’t registered for millions of Americans. I’ve found the willful ignorance on the part of so many simply mind-boggling.

Some of it is fear. Bush and his advisors made people feel afraid. Afraid of terrorism. Afraid of dying. Afraid for the future. Bush, because he denied the very things they feared, gave them hope.

Some of it is hatred. Exit polling on Tuesday showed that the deciding issue for many voters was “moral values.” When I hear “moral values” I hear the right and wrong, good and evil, fairness and decency toward my fellow man. Ethical behavior, in other words. What is becoming clear this week is that for many voters “moral values” meant something entirely different. Abortion. Banning gay marriage and/or civil unions for homosexual couples. Ending gun control. Three “values” that I have a difficult time envisioning within any sort of good-versus-evil paradigm.

I consider myself a Republican. I registered Republican years ago when I first registered to vote. In 1992, my first Presidential election, I voted for George H.W. Bush instead of Bill Clinton. I haven’t voted Republican for President since then. At times I wonder if I am a Republican. When asked I tell people I’m a “Teddy Roosevelt Republican,” a progressive really. That style of Republicanism died in 1912, though, and some would say I’m a RINO, a “Republican in Name Only.” It’s one of those historical mysteries, how the party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt–men who expanded the scope of the American government’s power and expanded the rights of the citizenry against tyranny and oppression, either by government or by society or by commerce–can be the party of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush–men for whom the very freedoms Lincoln and Roosevelt sought are anathema.

And so, I worry for the future. I worry about young men who fear for their futures should a draft be instituted. I worry about the middle-aged who fear for their financial security should Social Security be reconstituted into another form. I worry about the elderly who fear for their ability to purchase the medicines they need to make their lives healthier and easier. I worry, and with good reason.

That said, I do take some comfort in the following thoughts.

First, Bush cannot claim that he has inherited the problems the country will face in his second term. In his second term he has inherited problems–a weak economy, the situation in Iraq–but they are the problems he made. Not 9/11. Not Saddam Hussein. Not Osama bin Laden. Not Bill Clinton. Bush has fouled the nest, now he must clean it.

Second, John Kerry, a good and honorable man, won’t take the blame for fixing the problems Bush created in the last four years, because the fix will be worse than the cure.

I won’t lie. I am not hopeful for the future in the short term. Things will get worse. Bush will act as though he has won a sweeping mandate–he has said as much the past two days–and he will pander to the conservative elements of his base. I don’t expect the situation in Iraq to get better in the next year or two. Some troops may come home, but we will have an appreciable troop presence there for some time to come. The Arab world will hate us for decades, perhaps forever. America’s place in the world has been squandered.

Things may look dark now. But the future begins today. The seeds of the 2008 election are being planted now. The Democrats have a bright future in John Edwards. I wish you could have been at the Edwards rally in Raleigh last Friday–it was incredible. There was a palpable energy there, and that gives me hope. Edwards is right about America in many ways–the two countries, the haves and the have-nots.

I apologize if I wrote a downer. Deep thoughts. No matter how bad things look, there’s room for hope. My faith in the political process and the American people may have been shaken, but it’s not shattered. The American body politic has weathered many storms, it will weather this one.

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