The electorate almost engaged in a much-needed political correction. Instead, voters legitimized the fellow who gained the White House against the will of the majority and who then pretended he had a mandate. 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 remain 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 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 1,100 American GIs and literally countless Iraqis for no compelling reason. Nearly half saw the emperor buck-naked. Nearly half desired better and more honest leadership.
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, 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.
More good news: Bush will not be able to hand off his own wreckage -- Iraq and the gargantuan deficit -- to a new man. 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.
John Kerry was no top-gun campaigner. His rhetoric often meandered. But he did vigorously criticize Bush for misleading the country into war and for screwing up 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. And he effectively used the three debates to counter the Bush camp's claim that he was a finger-in-the-wind pol with no convictions. All of this -- almost worked.
The two candidates 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 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. Life if we are lucky is long, and history never ends. Let the great divide in America continue. n
David Corn is the Washington editor of The Nation. He writes a blog at davidcorn.com.