September 11 impacted not only our decadent belief that our way of life was self-perpetuating and secure, but it also crystallized differences in what we want from our leaders. That is really what this last election was about. There was little talk this time around about marital infidelities, or drug use, or other personal indiscretions. This election was about the big issues. It was about deciding what price we are willing to pay for national security. It was about whether we were scared to admit that the war in Iraq may have flowed from faulty intelligence. It was about whether we should turn our back on this historic opportunity to make the world safer and to transform the Middle East into something other than an incubator for anti-Western sentiment.
On a deeper level, it was about how we, as Americans, process information. Would we chose as our leader someone whose sense of the world was relative, or would we opt for someone whose most important decisions were informed by church and custom? Do we embrace a party that has swung so far in its dedication to the separation between church and state that many of its domestic decisions seem imbued with anti-religious prejudice? Or do we see ourselves reflected back in a party that treats abortion and gay marriage as categorical moral issues? These differences speak to the fundamentally different ways that we understand and interpret the world around us.
The majority of the country answered these questions by electing President Bush. On many levels this may be read as an endorsement of moral values. The proposed gay marriage amendment failed in all eleven states that proposed the initiative. That was not an accident. It was the people sharing their voice on what they consider a moral imperative. The gay marriage issue was representative of an election that galvanized a broad swath of the country?republican and democrat?around what they deemed a series of moral imperatives: unwavering views on abortion, same sex unions, and the role of religion in our public life. Time honored values carried the day.
It must also be noted, however, that Bush?s victory was hardly a mandate. The country remains polarized. These divisions run to the core of our society. Is it a mistake that CBS rushed to air a story falsely disparaging the president?s National Guard service? Is it a coincidence that The New York Times reported that tons of explosives were missing, when In fact they were not? Is it just a quirk that ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and The Associated Press reported exit polling results that showed an initial surge for John Kerry, when in fact the oposite was true? Perhaps, but I am skeptical. At very least, there should be an investigation. Their were strong repercussions when reporters at the New York Times (Jason Blair), USA Today (Jack Kelly), The Washington Post (Janet Cook) and The New Republic(Steven Glass), were found to be disseminating false information. But for some reason, everyone got a free pass for broadcasting misleading information on the election. If nothing else, this suggests that these polarizing differences in our culture go to the very structure of our society?to the very instruments that provide us our information about the world we live in.
This divide is Balkanizing the country and deadlocking Congress. Too much important legislation falls by the wayside because House and Senate are so closely divided. With a Supreme Court battle looming, this will probably get worse rather than better. But it doesn?t have to be that way. Kerry?s concession speech showed the sort of generous, bipartisan spirit that is so desperately needed. Despite the fact that Edwards was encouraging him to utilize lawyers to fight in Ohio and prolong the election, Kerry refused to drag the country through another election debacle. In the end, he cared more about his country than political maneuvering. His concession speech was one of healing and unity.
Now it is time for President Bush to reciprocate. He needs to create a bi-partisan commission to work on tax and healthcare reform. Maybe we cannot heal all the old wounds. But we must at least attempt to make this country a stronger union.