Two months ago, George W. Bush, a man I believe to be the worst president this nation has had in two centuries, was re-elected. The result was much closer than commonly portrayed these days, but it was clear.
We can’t blame the turnout. Sixty percent of Americans trooped to the polls, and a record number of them voted — and voted for more of the same. Democrats lost seats in Congress too. This week, that newly elected Congress, with a grinning Dick Cheney presiding, will formally count the electoral votes and certify Bush’s re-election. Then, get ready for four years of more war(s), assaults on civil liberties, appalling nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court and lots of other delights we can’t even imagine yet, like high inflation.
So now — what do we do? What can we do? Play dead? Try to accept that our economy is being ruined and our boys and thousands of civilians are being slaughtered every day in a senseless war? Not if we’re true Americans, and not if we’re true patriots.
There’s an old civil rights song that sums up our duty exactly:
I know if there was one thing we did right,
It was the day we started to fight,
Keep your eyes on the prize,
Listen up: The fact that Bush narrowly won the election and Republicans kept control of Congress doesn’t give him, or them, a mandate to do anything except try to govern.
There are no final victories in politics. What do you suppose the result would have been had people in the Deep South voted in 1964 on whether black people should have equal rights? Common decency would have lost in every state. Yet within a few years, nobody would dream of challenging blacks voting anywhere.
Republicans are talking as if they have a blank check from the American people to do anything they want, from mining the national parks to getting rid of inconvenient ethics rules. What if Bill Clinton had asserted that since he had been elected, nobody should challenge his decisions? Newt Gingrich would have rightly gone supernova.
Clinton, by the way, would have had far better reason to think that way; he won by more than 8 million votes the second time, with a far smaller turnout. Bush was re-elected by far less.
To the best of my knowledge, the final election returns haven’t been published anywhere. So here they are: George Bush 62,040,736. John Kerry 59,028,649. That is a margin of barely two points — 50.7 percent to 48.3 percent.
There were many reasons why people voted for Bush. Fred Manuel, a highly intelligent Detroit newspaper executive whom I have known for many years, wrote me a detailed critique of the column I did on that topic after the election.
Much of what he said was scathingly accurate. He notes that on the issue of the war, “Kerry offered nothing concrete and/or different.” Unfortunately, he was totally right. Manuel also added, “In the end, leaders have to make decisions; the perception of Kerry was that he simply couldn’t. He allowed himself to be so burdened by the pursuit of knowledge about an issue that he couldn’t reasonably come to a conclusion.”
Personally, I think that wasn’t true, but that was the perception, and, in politics, perception is usually everything. Kerry didn’t deal well with the outrageous Swift Boat smears spread by the draft dodger’s supporters.
Most damning, Kerry failed to articulate any kind of strategy for Iraq except to stupidly promise that he would “win” the war. He didn’t say how, or when.
Yet given all that, our great decisive hero president nearly lost, and outside the solid South, did lose the rest of the nation. Nearly every major state — California, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey — turned thumbs down on the shrub.
We would do well to remember that. Manuel ridiculed my belief that the Osama tape released the weekend before the election was decisive. “Nearly all surveys show people had their minds made up days before,” he argued. But if that was so, why did Kerry win more of the absentee votes? Bush’s margin declined in nearly every state as the votes cast long before were slowly tallied.
My guess is that in less than two years, there will be a rash of bumper stickers that say “Don’t blame me; I voted for Kerry,” and some will be on cars owned by onetime Bush voters.
This is not wishful thinking. The ignorant know-nothings who are making our policy now have sealed their eventual doom. In the meantime, what’s most outrageous is the perception that Bush supporters are more “moral” and have better “values.” That’s because corrupt or stupid preachers have successfully convinced media bubbleheads that morality and values are defined by crooked politicians who cynically denounce abortion and gay marriage.
On this topic, Fred Manuel seems to have been successfully snookered. “Please tell me with concrete evidence as to how you measure integrity (and defend your assertion) that Bush has little and John Kerry more?” he wrote, referring to my statement that Bush “beat an opponent who had more integrity, class, experience and intelligence.”
For once, I got a softball, over the center of the plate. George Bush has no public integrity worth discussing. He’s done perhaps the most evil thing any president has ever done: He lied us into starting a war, and the blood of thousands is on his hands. The killing goes on, of our soldiers and their civilians, and he hasn’t a clue how to stop it, or any realization that in Iraq and the court of world opinion, he already has lost.
Our war criminal president claimed, as did legions of surrogates and hangers-on, that he had absolute proof that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He didn’t. And we launched an unprovoked war against a small nation that had done nothing to us.
Additionally, Bush’s administration worked hard to deliberately mislead America about a supposed connection between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s regime. Every expert knew those were lies.
Now the man of integrity is continuing to run deficits that will mortgage our children’s future, and pursue environmental policies that may ruin all our futures.
Since the election, the moral and ethical Republicans in Congress have been working hard to change the rules in Congress so Tom DeLay can remain House majority leader even if he’s indicted. They’re taking other steps to weaken the ethics rules, and have threatened to remove their own chairman of the House Ethics Committee for being too concerned about, well, ethics.
George Bush is removing anyone with any independence from his cabinet, and installing his amen corner.
And in a bold new foreign policy move, the administration is now, according to The Washington Post, planning to detain suspected terrorists for life — including those it doesn’t have enough evidence to charge in any court. That’s the sort of policy Adolf Hitler would’ve loved.
We’re going to have four years of this stuff, and it’s up to all of us to put down the goddamn Game Boy or squash racket or remote and pay attention. And fight.
Sooner or later, America will get it. Until then …
I know if there was one thing we did wrong,
It was staying in the wilderness too long,
Keep your eyes on the prize,
Hold on. Hold on.