It seems that Bush has been granted the right to continue wallowing in his own filth...and perhaps that's as it should be. What will come of this is anybody's guess, but I suspect it'll prove to be a Pyrrhic victory. Bush is the same person he was a month ago, and that person has proven himself emotionally and intellectually unfit to lead this country. It's hard to imagine anyone deriving long-term benefits from this situation, least of all the ordinary people who are rejoicing over it today.
There's been a lot of talk about gay marriage, and how we shouldn't have made it an issue in this campaign. All of that talk is nonsense. It's a vital issue, and we're right about it. If we'd tried to run from our position on this issue, Bush and his creatures would've dragged it to the foreground anyway; they would've run the same misleading ads and made the same phony calls to voters, and ultimately forced us to address it directly. Equal rights is a core principle, legally and morally, and there's precious little glory in running away from it. The only possible course of action is to explain why we're right, and hope for the best. If anything, Kerry and Edwards should've been more forceful about it.
But ultimately, we didn't lose by choosing the wrong issues. We lost by allowing those issues to be misrepresented by people with ugly minds and dead eyes and hearts like cinders.
The Left has problems. It's contentious, disorganized, and often too magnanimous in victory; it's also prone to be utterly abject in defeat, and to hysteria at all times. But above all, it lacks patience. The political blows and disappointments the Right has suffered over the years - the far-right, in particular - are countless, yet they simply do not get discouraged. Paranoid, violent, and delusional, certainly...but never discouraged. We can't get discouraged either!
The Right understands local politics well. It understands the value of states as incubators for its schemes, and the values of communities as the stepping-stones to controlling states. The Left claims to understand grassroots effort, and has made huge strides in the last couple of years, but it too often wants the instant gratification of a big national win without laying a reliable foundation for it. This has been the Green Party's failing, in particular.
Much of the American Left, though not Marxist by any means, still believes in the historicist myth of a mass movement that sweeps aside all resistance. If it were a game of Checkers, the left-wing player would be eagerly trying to find a way to take eight pieces in one move; meanwhile, the right-wing player would be methodically taking a piece at a time. Add to that the right-wing player's aptitude for cheating - or more accurately, his enjoyment of cheating, for its own sweet sake - and you've got a player who's bound to win more often than not.
Another problem is that the Left lacks a simple, easy-to-grasp moral message. And it's not because we don't have a moral foundation; on the contrary, our moral values are enshrined in the founding documents of this country, and in each step we've taken to extend human rights beyond a small circle of friends. These ideals have their roots as much in the Enlightenment as in the ancient religious truth that you should treat others as you would have them treat you. To turn one's back on the weak and the helpless is essentially to commit sacrilege against that person and oneself; this belief is older, wiser, and far more noble than the fundamentalist's vision of a cosmic Bingo game in which a rather unpleasant old man with a beard dispenses lurid punishment and cold comfort to people who deserve neither.
Speaking of sacrilege, there's nothing uglier in the Social Darwinist line than the Republican argument against "national healthcare." Of course, we have an incredibly expensive and inefficient national healthcare system already, by virtue of laws that forbid hospitals from refusing help to the poor, making the emergency room the primary provider of healthcare to literally millions of Americans. These laws will not change, and God help us if they did; it would mean that our doctors and nurses had learned to watch people die without feeling any compulsion to save them. That's an odd vision of morality indeed. It's a vision we on the Left don't understand, let alone share. Good for us!
On the economic side, we seem to have decided, as a nation, that the economy can best be aided by impoverishing consumers - a shaky proposition at best. And though we talk of aiding corporate "job creators" with tax breaks, the fact is that the increase in corporate profit has coexisted with downsizing for a good many years now, and there's no reason to assume that will change under a second Bush term.
Meanwhile, in brighter lands, eminently sensible investments are being made in education, and health, and ordinary human happiness. These things mean security if anything does. They mean prosperity, too, and power equal in some ways to military might, and superior to it in most others. Once America has devalued such things beyond a certain point, it'll become appropriate to ask ourselves what terrorists could possibly take from us, beyond the stark physical fact of life itself. Many great figures - people we constantly profess to admire - would wonder what we're getting that's half so valuable as what we're in danger of losing.
Had Kerry won, we could've allowed ourselves perhaps 24 hours of jubilation. Since he hasn't, we can't afford the luxury of even 12 hours of despair. As I see it, we're in a plane preparing to make a crash landing. Certain steps make everyone more likely to survive, and we need to take them, and hope for the best. We're unfortunate in that we have no one, really, to rally around. I admit that it's been hard, at times, for me to see Kerry's concession as anything but a betrayal...a betrayal more profound than any of which the Right accused him. And Nader has been fading like a Cheshire cat for years; today, there's nothing left of him but a ghoulish leer and the faintly sulfurous smell of false piety.
That leaves us where we probably should've been all along: taking care of each other, trying to be of use in our own communities, and encouraging others to do the same. It's not going to be easy, but it wouldn't have been easy if Kerry had won either. And the fact is, very many things may happen in the coming months...wonderful things, horrible things, or some amalgam of the two. But again, that was true no matter who won the election.
What really strikes me is that many people have gone through - or are going through right now - far worse things than we face. The volume of wholly avoidable human misery being what it is in this world, Americans add insult to injury if we pretend that our woes are too many and our burdens too heavy. To express self-pity in our situation would be ugly and childish, and would wring sympathy from no intelligent person on earth. To quote Charles Peguy,
It is faith that is easy and not believing that would be impossible. It is charity that is easy and not loving that would be impossible. But it is hoping that is difficult....the easy way and the inclination is toward despair and that is the great temptation.
Well, I've always been hopeful, and I'm hopeful now. Far less privileged people than ourselves have suffered far greater defeats, and have still found reason to stay cheerful.
If you're not deaf to your own conscience, if you wouldn't steal from a poor man, if you wouldn't drop bombs on children for money, if you would rather tell the truth than lie...then you have infinitely more reason to rejoice today than the men who won this election.