So a second Massachusetts JFK presidency is not going to happen. John Forbes Kerry, planning for the presidency since Yale - complete with hokeyed-up Swift Boat stories to rival Kennedy's PT 109 - wound up running worse than Al Gore. John Kerry proved he is no John Kennedy.
You remember the 2000 election. The message went out that the Republicans stole it from Al Gore in Florida. Visceral Democrats detested Bush for that, never forgave him, and insisted they would prove their point and take back the presidency in 2004. They would gin up votes among minorities, women, immigrants, the young - you name it - and they would field legions of lawyers to prevent the Republicans from stealing again.
It didn't happen, or to the extent it did the Republicans matched the Democrats vote for vote, and called them. Kerry took but one state from Bush's 2000 win column - New Hampshire - and added two Gore states to it - Iowa and New Mexico. That's it. Gore won the popular vote by 540,000; Kerry lost it by about 4 million. In state after state, and especially so in the South, Bush's victory margins this year were astoundingly larger in states he carried in 2000. Behind Kerry, the Democrats lost four seats in the Senate and about the same number in the House - making Bush the first incumbent to win re-election with corresponding party gains in both houses since 1964.
As late as noon on Election Day, gloom pervaded the Bush election nerve center; the game seemed lost. But a number of things gave the president a famous victory:
- Veterans and the military, who (1) love Bush, (2) resent Kerry the poseur with his bogus medals and his phony Vietnam stories and the damage he did as a leading peacenik, and (3) comprehend better than most the lunacy of changing commanders in chief in the middle of World War IV.
- Hispanics, notably in Florida.
- Women, who narrowed the "gender gap" perhaps because they didn't trust Kerry or they couldn't take Teresa ("just call me Mama T").
- Small business people, who understand the salvational importance of the Bush tax cuts.
But it was Middle Americans - the people who get up early each day to raise the kids and make this nation work - who just blew John Kerry away. He couldn't connect with them, didn't get it even in his concession speech that they voted against him in droves. These real people with a keen nose for the phony, clearly sensed this windsurfer looked down on them, even disdained them. In President Bush, up against the greatest debater since Cicero, they saw a man with whom they could relate: one of us.
The election results exposed several myths. For instance:
- The myth of the all-seeing, all-knowing polls: The polls were wrong in the month leading up to the election; the exit polls were broadly wrong, as well.
- The myth of the impartial press: The Establishment Media, lopsidedly for Kerry, failed to discuss in much detail either Kerry's undistinguished Senate record or to demand he authorize the release of all his military records. Dan Rather, who epitomized the bias, will not have to apologize now.
- The myth of higher turnout - that it would help Kerry, that notably the young would turn the tide. Higher turnout generally helped Bush. Fewer than one in 10 voters 18-24 voted - about the same dismal performance they have been showing right along.
- The myth of the role of Ralph Nader. Many Democrats blamed Nader for Gore's loss in 2000; this year the Kerry camp worked sedulously to keep Nader off the ballot in many states - with but rare success. As it turned out, Nader was not a factor in a single state that Kerry lost.
- The myth that Kerry was the palatable Democrat, the plausible Democrat who could win. Howard Dean - he of the primal scream - was the early Democratic primary leader. In challenging him and ultimately defeating him, Kerry had to out-liberal Dean - an easy thing for Kerry to do, given his 35-year record of championing leftist causes and becoming the Senate's most liberal member. Yet having reminded the voters of his abiding leftism, Kerry never could overcome - never could successfully occupy the middle ground he had to have to win.
George Bush has culled more votes than any president in history and rolled to a convincing mandate - contrary to the conventional wisdom from pollsters and from talking heads who spend most of their time massaging one another's egos.
We heard there would be fraud, that the voting system would bomb, that independents and undecideds would break for Kerry, that for Bush the debates were a bust. We heard about the inevitability of another terrorist attack, that Kerry - self-appointed master of the how - had a better way for success in a war he termed a "distraction," in a war in which he said we are joined by "the bribed and the coerced." We heard that Kerry is the truer moderate, the smarter candidate against the dunce, the more nuanced and genuine candidate of compassion and family values. And we were reminded of the risks inhering in Bush's re-election by none other than the dread Osama himself.
The American voters, good and discerning, saw through it all to the heart of the matter. They concluded Bush is the more honorable man, the preferred leader, the more compassionate unifier, the more trustworthy and resolute.
At last it's over. God bless the voters.