I must admit that, like many of the 55.4 million Americans who voted for John Kerry on Nov. 2, I awoke
the next morning pissed off, disappointed and, yes, determined to move the heck out of my native Red State of Oklahoma, or perhaps even the country. Well, a calmer head has prevailed since then and erased that fleeting desire to depart the country; no way could I really give up cheeseburgers and learn the metric system
. Even so, what has remained is the nagging feeling that I don't really belong here, that I might just be a pariah of agnosticism, secularism and moderate politics -- in one of only four
U.S. states in which President Bush carried every single county.
Oh, yes, I have taken the cheap comforts where I can, commiserating with fellow moderates and liberals (often considered synonymous here in Oklahoma) about the election and chuckling over the latest Internet-hopping joke that has transformed Red State America into the (ostensibly fictitious) Jesusland
But here is what ultimately disturbs me -- hell, scares
me, really -- about the election: It is evident that not only do I disagree politically with many of my fellow citizens, but I must not even share the same values. That said, I don't believe that I necessarily differ in that regard from the entire 51 percent who voted for Dubya. Despite the latest conventional wisdom stemming from exit polls and amplified by the pundits, Bush voters were not moved solely by "moral issues" or even the safety and security that comes from waging wars of choice.
Oh, and while we're on the subject, let's put into context the absurd notion from the President and the mainstream media that an incumbent who won re-election by a 3-percent margin (2 percent when you factor in the crackheads who voted for Nader) equals a "mandate." Huh? The election turned on an estimated 136,000 someodd votes in the Buckeye State -- actually, about 132,000 when you remove the nearly 4,000 votes that went to Bush in a computer glitch (to say nothing of the growing number of stories about voting discrepancies there) -- where the President prevailed by 2 percent. Mandate?
Nixon in '72 was a mandate. Reagan in '84 was a mandate. This was a nudge
But I digress.
Where our nation is headed disturbs me greatly because, somewhere along the way, the voting majority apparently started consulting an entirely different map. Are the values that divide us really as astonishingly different as they seem? I had hoped not. Back in 2000, when Bush ran on that "uniter, not a divider" shtick about governing from the middle, I thought the divide was in terms of political ideology, not bare-boned principles of Right and Wrong. In the post-9/11 world, it seemed that once you removed the die-hard pacifists and hardcore xenophobes from the equation, the separations were not enough to crater the connectedness of Americans.
But I fear some of the core beliefs that impacted this election. And I think what is driving so much of the Democrats' admittedly shrill hand-wringing right now is the weird alienation they now feel, as if they had taken a nap only to wake up having crash-landed in the Planet of the Non-Darwinian Apes. Such sentiments are better articulated (imagine that) by Thomas Friedman in a New York Times column
published Nov. 4:
"What troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don't just favor different policies than I do - they favor a whole different kind of America. We don't just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is."
Eleven states -- 11!
-- banned same-sex marriage by resounding margins (some political observers suggest that initiative on the Ohio ballot likely played a role increasing fundamentalist Christian turnout there). Regardless of what impact, if any, such knee-jerk homophobia -- and that's what it is, despite the soft-sell it gets from conservative apologists -- had on the presidential race, it's mind-boggling to me that soooo many Americans are insistent on denying a basic right to an entire group of people. That might be their
"moral values," but it ain't mine.
In my home state, Oklahomans elected Dr. Tom Coburn to the United States Senate, a man who characterized his senatorial race as one of Good
(he was the Good part), advocated the death penalty for abortionists (if abortion were illegal, he reasoned), called "the homosexual lifestyle" the greatest threat to our society (perhaps he was confusing al Qaeda with the "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" gang) and once quipped that you're either fer
Christ or agin
'im. This paragon of virtue stomped his opponent, a moderate (conservative by non-Oklahoma standards) Rhodes Scholar, with 11 percent of the vote. Dr. Tom might speak to the moral fiber of most Oklahomans, but the only fiber I associate with him is the kind that induces bowel evacuation.
And then there's the President ... Nah, I can't even get into it. There are plenty of Bush supporters I respect, but Bush's re-election simply astounds me.
The man who led us into a war on false pretenses with no discernible exit strategy and subsequently destroyed international good will is deemed the wisest choice for ensuring our safety and security.
The man who vowed to hunt down and kill the mastermind of 9/11 -- only to sweep us into a whole other war, leaving Osama bin Laden free to continue cranking out the home movies -- is considered the better choice to combat terrorism.
The man whose history of campaigns are textbooks in dirty tricks
and appears incapable of expressing himself without resorting to inane platitudes ("Freedom is on the march!") is depicted as the candidate of moral rectitude and righteousness.
The constitutional separation of church and state is under siege. A recent New York Times Magazine article
by Ron Suskind examines the President's unshakable faith. The author quotes Bruce Bartlett, a former advisor in the Reagan and elder Bush Administrations, who predicts that Bush's fundamentalist tilt will spark deep divisions in the Republican Party. "Just in the past few months, I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do," Bartlett said. ''This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He understands them, because he's just like them."
As a registered Republican, I can attest to the disappointment of a party leadership that handed off the baton from Tax Relievers to True Believers. I fear what might be in store from a commander in chief who has claimed to know God backs our war (quite the bummer for 100,000 dead Iraqis and more than 1,000 American troops).
It's troubling to think what Bush means when he promises to "send a wave of freedom" throughout the Middle East. Does that mean TV news anchors need to start brushing up on their pronunciation of Iranian and Syrian names? No less a right-wing extremist than Grover Norquist has reservations: " On foreign policy, the big question mark is, 'What has the President and the Republican Party learned from Iraq?' Did he learn it was a bridge too far and doesn't want to do three more of these? Or will he think, 'We got elected, let's do Egypt'? If this is perpetual war to achieve perpetual peace, then it's out of sync with conservative members of Congress and his own base."
Of more immediate concern to me is the likely composition of the U.S. Supreme Court now that Bush is likely to have two or three vacancies within the next four years. Gay rights, civil liberties, abortion rights, the separation of church and state ... we will see what the President means when he says he will appoint justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas (presumably he doesn't mean orgy-loving jurists with an affinity for Long Dong Silver flicks).
Liberals and conservatives will talk themselves sick over the next several months about what motivated the voters in the election of 2004. But let's not lose sight of the fact that it was a very
close election. One
state -- Ohio -- made the difference in the electoral college. More votes were cast for Bush than were cast for any presidential candidate in history, true, but there were also more votes cast against
him than any other election in U.S. history.
Ultimately, the reasons for the Bush re-election might remain as mysterious as the Michael Jackson-Lisa Marie Presley marriage. Undoubtedly there were many factors (the election, that is): Terrorism and national security; Bush's "regular guy" image; the same-sex marriage debate; the role of religion (er, Christianity) in government; antipathy toward "elite" media (the CBS memo scandal, while not directly linked to the Democrats, likely stirred up good ol' hatred of the dreaded liberal media); Michael Moore (a demagogue for the big-boned); the travails of an ultra-rich Massachusetts Democrat trying to connect with folks west of the Mississippi; a terrifically effective hatchet job of a campaign that successfully turned a bona fide war hero and courageous anti-Vietnam War vet into the bogeyman (on this note, I would urge anyone to check out the excellent documentary "Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry"
for a fascinating look at what a truly gifted man he is).
Was it morality? Values? Concepts of Right and Wrong? Some think so. If that's the case, then -- to twist an old country song -- if loving Bush is Right, I'd rather be Wrong.