An election that was not that close has blunted most of the pre-election claims of voter suppression and fraud. According to the Associated Press, 2004 voter turnout was reported to be the highest since 1968, the year Republican Richard Nixon beat Democrat Hubert Humphrey and Independent George Wallace. Roughly 60 percent of eligible voters turned out to vote. Compared to 2000, young voter (18-29 years old) turnout was up by 4.6 million, approximately nine percent.
The latter youth movement favored John Kerry, but the Republicans managed to get voter turnout up even more in the suburbs and rural areas by getting state issues (such as Ohio’s State Issue One) that sought state constitutional amendments to outlaw gay marriage and civil unions on the ballot. The social conservatives carried the day and mobilized their base beyond what many thought was possible, revealing that many Americans are, in reality, even further to the right than many conservative politicians (i.e. Governor Bob Taft who opposed State Issue One), especially on social issues. Hell, many American voters are apparently even more to the right than George W. Bush because even he said (possibly disingenuously), during a recent TV interview, that he supported state’s rights to provide for the existence of civil unions.
In addition, Bush did very well with Latino voters (44 percent to Kerry’s 46 percent) largely because he went against his party and gave lip service to more liberalized immigration deals with Mexico. Whether these worker exchange programs will materialize is another question.
While calling Bush ignorant is in vogue in the alternative press (sometimes this trait is quite obvious in his rhetoric), it is clear that either he or his handlers are extremely politically savvy. Bush’s first-term flip-flop on providing protectionist tariffs to U.S. steel also illustrated a willingness to pander to certain constituencies, even though he knew the World Trade Organization would later overrule his decision.
Most shocking to this editor is that the American people voted for the candidate who, even according to many of the Republican Party’s own pundits, lost all three debates. The debates were one of the few forums in the American political process where logic and rationality are allowed to be displayed. And yet, the results demonstrate that the voter must have been voting based on other principles — possibly a mixture of fear, faith or lack of certainty. Maybe they just believed that Bush meant what he said and Kerry didn’t.
Dick Cheney’s stump speeches were notorious for their fearmongering, but he was largely preaching to the choir of party activists (they had to sign loyalty oaths, after all, in order to get in). If you look at exit polling on issues important to the voter on Election Day, what is clear is that the “War on Terror,” an apparently permanent state of war, tends to favor the incumbent party, especially the one that has the most hawks in it.
Kerry certainly had his work cut out for him and his superficial “I’m a veteran” campaign, while seemingly safe and necessarily nationalistic, didn’t offer enough clear specifics to enough people in order to turn them away from the incumbent. Aside from his strong debate performance, he ran a campaign of not standing firm on any issue, engaging in rhetorical demagoguery (not much different from Bush here). All told, he earned the reputation of being a fence-sitter and not much of a leader. His vote and rhetoric on Iraq did not differentiate himself and he demonstrated little leadership during the primary season. While the petulant Howard Dean blazed the leadership trail on Iraq, civil unions and universal health care, Kerry stayed above the fray and ended up on top as the “safe” candidate because of his long Senate record and military service. But what seemed safe to Democrats didn’t translate to offering the voters much of a clear difference.
It’s going to be fascinating to see what happens to the Democratic Party next — whether they become the Zell Miller Democratic Party (basically a Republican Party clone) or the Howard Dean Party that clearly differentiates itself and continues to strive for civil rights improvements for all Americans and universal health care.
I, for one, would have rather seen the Democratic Party go with Dean, a much clearer alternative to Bush than Kerry, and I would have even paid to see a Dean-Bush debate. At the same time, I would love to see Ralph Nader, the Greens, the Libertarians and others included in future debates because it is clear that the marketplace of ideas is not well served by two corrupt parties and a sensationalist media universe more interested in high profits and schlock news coverage than it is in public service.