So it's over, and (as they say) the good guys won. I have to admit, I was pretty nervous while watching the returns, despite the fact that I was in a room full of Kerry supporters and they seemed to be getting more and more depressed as the night wore on. But, the result is pretty unambiguous. George W. Bush won a majority of the popular vote and increased his party's share in Congress.
This was an election unlike any other I've seen (which really isn't saying much). It was the first election since the attacks of September 11th, and foreign policy was on the ballot. A lot is being made of the fact that "moral values" seemed to be the defining issue of the election, but I don't think that holds a lot of water. "Moral values" is a vague and meaningless term. Also, this was the first election in which values were listed on the exit polls. That might have had something to do with why the exit polls suggested that people voted based on values. Of course, as we found out, the exit polls themselves were pretty useless, so I really don't buy the moral values argument at all. Furthermore, I don't buy that moral values is code for gay rights. Yes, all eleven states that had a gay rights initiative on the ballot voted overwhelmingly for those initiatives, but the fact is that the unpopularity of extending the term marriage to include gay couples is a bi-partisan phenomenon in the U.S. In fact, Kerry won two of the states that passed such initiatives. Bush is a strong, principled leader, and in times of war, these qualities are more important than any particular policy. Maybe that explains the whole moral values red herring.
No, this election was about the war and Bush's leadership. The fact is, for the last four years we've seen a lot of vitriol and hate directed at the Bush administration, and the average person was sick of it. The American people have given the Bush Doctrine their seal of approval, and it will be interesting to see where Bush goes with it. Like I've been saying throughout this campaign, the election was a referendum on Bush's war leadership. Unless you believed that Bush was further endangering the American people, you would be irresponsible in voting against him. It's pretty clear that people were voting either for or against President Bush, and the against argument just seemed too angry and unseemly.
As for Kerry, I don't think he made any particular mistake that cost him the election (except perhaps picking Edwards as his running mate). From when the campaign began Kerry had a lot to prove, and he consistently met and exceeded expectations. During the primaries he had to prove to Democrats that he would be an electable candidate, and by the Iowa caucases he had done that. His next job was to prove to the rest of the American people that he had the ability to be the Commander-in-Chief. After his convention, that doubt was put to rest (for the most part). His next task was to prove that he could be an effective counter to Bush, and during the debates he did just that. At the end of the day though, I think the Democrats just did not have the numbers. I don't think a decidedly more anti-war campaign would have helped him. In fact, I'm certain that such a course of action would have led to a thumping Bush victory. The Democrats did everything right, and what they needed was a major screw-up from the Bush camp if they were to win. Since this was a referendum on Bush, Kerry had to hope that there were enough people in the country who wanted to fire Bush. It now looks like those numbers were just not there.
I find this fact very encouraging. Despite the bad news coming out of Iraq, and the gravity of the times we live in, America has opted for strength and resolve over vacillation and paralysis. It was a little too close for my liking, but then I would have liked a landslide. The thing to do now is to focus like a laser-beam on moving us along to victory in the war. I think Bush is right. He has earned political capital, and now he should spend it pursuing the radical, totalitarian Islamists. His Presidency has received the vote of confidence it badly needed. Time to pull out all the stops.