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Archive for Friday, November 5, 2004

Fear trumped Kerry support

November 5, 2004

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— It's 8 a.m., and a huge bulldozer sits in Copley Square waiting to demolish the stage for the victory party that wasn't. A rain-soaked Kerry-Edwards poster is crumpled under the barricades near the elegant old public library, and one lingering sign reminding folks to vote is still chained to a lamppost as if someone might steal it.

It's the morning after the long night before and nearby, at the foot of Beacon Hill, just blocks from John Kerry's house, a line of sleep-deprived Bostonians snakes out of the Starbucks as if it were a methadone clinic. The morning headline reads, "Not Over Yet," but the neighbors have read the handwriting on the wall.

Just days ago, the city was alive with Red Sox fever. The Curse of the Bambino had lifted. The bargain with the devil -- if you could only choose one winner, would it be the Red Sox or John Kerry? -- had been recalibrated into the hope you could have both.

But the Red Sox cap perched for good luck on Kerry's head didn't work. Nor did that four-leaf clover he's carried since Iowa. In the long roller coaster of Election Day, even the tantalizing exit polls turned out to be less reliable than the traditional Weekly Reader survey that showed how schoolchildren and their parents were voting: for Bush.

By Wednesday morning, the country had chosen Bush over Anybody But Bush by a margin of 3.5 million votes.

Last winter, normally contentious Democrats voted with their head. They never fell for the senator. They nominated him on the adorably practical grounds that he could win.

On the bell curve, Bush supporters liked George more than Kerry supporters liked John. Kerry supporters hated George more than Bush supporters hated John. The Web sprouted sites such as KerryHatersforKerry.com offering slogans like "He's awful and I'm for him." The question was whether there was enough anti-Bush to heat up the lukewarm Kerry support -- and the answer was no. Kerry never got from ABB to JFK.

John F. Kerry was a Vietnam vet and the "Swift Boat veterans" wounded him anyway. John F. Kerry came out against gay marriage and got tarred with it anyway. He shot a goose and the NRA hated him anyway. He said life begins at conception and the Catholic Church came after him anyway. He could barely utter the L word and he got tagged as a "Massachusetts liberal." He won the debates and it didn't matter.

In the end, a majority of Americans -- 52 percent to 46 percent of likely voters -- were dissatisfied with how things were going and still voted for the man in charge. A majority -- 47 percent to 41 percent -- thought we were on the wrong track and still re-elected the conductor. Given the choice between the commander in chief of the war and the guy who promised only a "smarter, more effective war," they decided to go home with the guy what brung 'em to the battlefront. Fear didn't just trump the long-jawed hope. It trumped the economy, it trumped health care. It trumped John F. Kerry.

Are you an armchair analyst? Kerry wasn't liberal enough, conservative enough, tough enough, straightforward enough. The young people didn't vote enough. The new voters weren't Democratic enough. Choose one from column A.

But with my morning-after coffee clutched in my hand, I remember that episode of "Sex and the City" when the women sat around psychoanalyzing all the reasons why a guy didn't call them. Finally, a male friend gives the no-brainer: "He's just not that into you." The voters were just that not into John F. Kerry.

So this is where we are. According to the Pottery Barn rules, the wreckage of American foreign and domestic policy remains in George Bush's hands. There's a war in Iraq that won't be won in 30-second ads. "Freedom is on the march" doesn't impress Iran and North Korea.

Meanwhile, even if you don't believe in global warming, the Arctic goes on melting. There's a chief justice of the Supreme Court in chemotherapy. There's a deficit that's being passed on to our kids. And there's a national map that's red and blue instead of red, white, and blue.

Good news? You want good news? The weekend before the election I was watching CNN when a new poll came crawling across the screen. It announced that mustard lovers preferred George Bush by roughly four points.

Pollsters, pundits, mustard and ketchup lovers, blue and red folks, it's over. You may now get a life.

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