Stunned

Boy, were we wrong. Yesterday’s triumphal confidence in the final polls have turned into the grim realization that Gallup was probably living in the real world and the rest of us were following polls which weren’t. The youth vote didn’t matter, and possibly didn’t materialize. Despite long lines at polling places, it looks like turnout wasn’t as high as many (including myself) expected. And John Zogby has prudently deleted last night’s final projection of a Kerry blowout from his website.

There’s no particular reason to be hopeful about Ohio, but those who filed provisional ballots have the right to a determination of their voting status. This means that the final election result won’t be certifiable for some time, but it won’t be in much doubt in anyone’s mind. (UPDATE: Senator Kerry conceded the race shortly after this paragraph was written.)

And thus the post-mortem begins.

The nation has never booted a "war-time" President, and the Bush campaign has successfully leveraged that trend. Fear was their best weapon, made doubly potent by the conscious and cynical exaggeration of the threats posed to this country by our current enemies. The Democrats ran a thoughtful, experienced war veteran who understands the limits of conflict and the value of peace; the Republicans countered with an inexperienced xenophobe. In our manufactured fear, arrogance and the illusion of strength seemed like the rational choice.

As progressives, we have to change the dialogue that made this choice seem rational. Now that the election is over, I hope to start seeing some rational analysis of the "war on terror." Folks like Jeffrey Record, whose expert analysis of the "war on terror" was virtually ignored during the election cycle, should be our point of departure. The public understanding of Islamic fundamentalism must be bolstered by familiarity with Richard Fletcher, Nabil Matar, and Fareed Zakaria, as antidotes to the dangerously fanciful "clash of civilizations" being peddled by Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington. More on this in future posts.

The social conservative victory last night deepened. All 11 referenda on banning same-sex marriage won, presenting progressives with a decade of work to repeal state constitutional amendments, if it can be done at all. The Democrats ran a tolerant, moderate progressive; the Republican candidate is not only allied with social conservatives (like Bush Senior and Ronald Reagan) but seems genuinely one of them. This view won’t be shared by everyone reading, but last night faith and fear won out over reason and tolerance.

Domestically, we need to fight a rear-guard action to ameliorate (to the extent possible) the effects of a second Bush term and expanded GOP control of Congress on the Supreme Court, Social Security, fiscal profligacy, and civil rights. Last night, GOP leadership was already talking about an aggressive legislative agenda, and we must make common cause wherever possible with Richard Lugar, Chuck Hagel, Olympia Snowe, and the remaining Republican moderates to stop the more egregious instances of the conservative agenda.

Sitting bleary-eyed over coffee this morning, I keep wanting to ask Christopher Hitchens if this is really the outcome he wanted, deep down. Bush’s re-election will represent a mandate to continue the foreign policy that Hitchens endorses, while further entrenching the very same forces of intolerance and fundamentalism here at home. The nature and depth of this tradeoff is incalculable at present, but the gloves are off and the next four years will show us how far an unfettered conservative Republican establishment is able to go, and how much a weakened Democratic minority is able to fight.

Having just finished Azar Nafisi’s incredible book Reading Lolita in Teheran, I keep thinking this morning that we’re in for our own fundamentalist revolution, and I am filled with sadness for my country and my society. And filled with apprehension about what it will take to repair the damage that lies ahead.

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  15. That, clearly, is the greatest threat we face. In the interests of a forward-looking discourse, I won’t repeat the litany of things the current Administration *hasn’t* done about nuclear materials proliferation. But I will say that John Kerry gave every sign of understanding that problem and placing it at the top of his agenda.

    In my view, and of course it’s only mine, part of the problem we face in the “war on terror” is our inability to talk about it in detail. Somebody — and in this case that somebody is you — automatically stops the discussion with the spectre of WMDs in an American city.

    OF COURSE our major concern and effort must be placed into curtailing proliferation and preventing nuclear materials from being accessible to stateless terrorist groups.

    That said, it’s time we talk about the rest of the plan. How, precisely, is it appeasement to discuss the political, cultural, and economic causes of the current crisis? How, precisely, does it hurt us to understand how our support for repressive regimes creates popular support for Islamist rebels and terrorists?

    These are the questions we need to be asking, because although fighting terrorism is clearly not just a police matter, it’s painfully obvious to most terrorism experts that it’s not *just* a matter for the Marines. The UK has long experience with counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency in Malaya, Cyprus, and Northern Ireland, and the big lesson is to find ways to separate terrorists and insurgents from the general population in terms of support and sympathy.

    We’re not gaining ground in the “war on terror” because we’re losing the battle for Muslim minds, as Gilles Kepel reminds us. That, again, doesn’t automatically mean appeasement. But it does mean trying to figure out how we restore a good working relationship with ordinary Muslim communities in Europe and elsewhere, and then with Muslim communities in the Middle East. Doing so would accomplish more in stopping the recruitment and support of Islamic extremists than we’ll accomplish in a decade of military action.

  16. Stephen,

    When a cobbled up nuclear device detonates in downtown Chicago, or Denvar, or Atlanta what will you say then of Hitchens and Berman? What happenes to all your wonderfully nuanced words when we are dealing with 200 or 300 thousand dead Americans?