In fact, he rhetorically backed up and drove over this territory a number of times. His religious views are terribly important to him, he protested. But he would never, never impose those view on anyone. It reminds me of the line that was once current about Sen. Teddy Kennedy, that his religious views were so personal he declined to impose them on anyone -- including himself.
We Bush supporters have had to become accustomed to his peculiar dips and rises. Had he been as focused, energetic, articulate and persuasive in Debate I as he was in Debate III, the election would probably be a foregone conclusion. But Bush has a habit of getting lazy, or distracted, or I don't know what and slipping down to within view of the precipice. The palms sweat. He then reaches down into himself and finds the wherewithal to scratch his way back up to safe ground.
Structurally, this should not have been a close election. The country has not elected a self-proclaimed liberal since Lyndon Johnson and hasn't elected a non-Southern Democrat since John F. Kennedy. Both Mondale and Dukakis, who believe all of the same things Kerry does, lost by crushing margins. Further, the savage attack on the United States revived Americans' desire for a muscular foreign policy -- an unequivocal advantage for the president. It should have been short work for the Bush campaign to quickly sketch Kerry's extremely liberal voting record for voters.
Yet they didn't. They painted him as a flip-flopper. If the Swift Boat Veterans had not charged into the breach, Bush might be behind today. (And ironically enough, if the Federal Election Commission had bowed to the Bush campaign's wishes to include all 527s under the campaign finance restrictions, the Swift Boat Vets would have been silenced.)
President Bush very much deserves to be re-elected. But he has made difficult what ought to have been easy.