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Four years on, five days later

There isn't really much more to be said about the events of November 4 - not much of any significance that I can add, anyway. It was my first election as a United States citizen, and a first vote I shall always cherish as my small contribution to a genuine historic moment in time.

But watching the TV pundits' reactions, the declarations that the Republican Party is in danger of being marginalized - just four years afer those same pundits declared the exact opposite - prompted me to dig up an op-ed I wrote one week afer the re-election of George W. Bush four years ago. It wasn't picked up for publication - and as I look back on it now and cringe at some of the phraseology, I recognize and applaud the wisdom of the nation's editors. But I like to think that buried within its crude construction is a hint of presience:

From The Ashes, A Rising?
Kieran Mulvaney

To anybody who had been playing close and objective attention to the polls—and, more importantly, doing the necessary Electoral College math—the results of last Tuesday’s election were scarcely a surprise. But to many of my liberal friends and colleagues, the sheer collective hatred of President Bush, the shared conviction that the man is a moron and that only another moron could vote for him, is so ingrained that the result has set off a bout of depression, disbelief, and denigration of the 51% of voters who cast their ballots in his favor. The only counterbalance to the dismissals of Bush voters as ignorant sheep has been the insistence that they are in fact evil hypocrites.
That reaction—the failure to consider that maybe we lost the argument fair and square, the immediate embrace of the comforting notion that those who didn’t take our side are idiots—is dangerous. It is dangerous because it prevents an accurate assessment of our weaknesses and failings; and it is dangerous because it highlights some of those same weaknesses and failings: namely, a self-righteous sense of intellectual superiority, and a refusal to contemplate that alternative world views contain any shred of legitimacy.
Shocking as it may be to segments of polite urban society, not all of those who voted for Bush are knuckle-dragging, Bible-quoting, homosexual-hating, war-loving, America-firsters; the moral values which many cited as a factor in their vote do not necessarily equate to an orthodoxy that aborting fetuses is a crime against humanity while bombing Iraqis is a blow for freedom. Outside of the evangelical base, there were a lot of voters—from members of rural communities to fiscal conservatives and traditional Republicans leery of pre-emptive war—who were prepared to dump Bush if the Democrats could give them a convincing reason to do so.
Liberals are incredulous that the faltering economy and disastrous venture into Iraq should not be reason enough; but while undecided voters may have agreed with specific policy points of the Democratic platform, many found the broader picture either too vague (defined too much in terms of how it differed from the Bush agenda) or too unappealing. Liberals may scoff, and rightly so, at corporate Republicans’ claim to represent the values of small town America, but at least conservatives make a convincing pretense of caring. Too many liberals not only do not care about such values, they are openly dismissive of them.
Yet there is hope, for in its victory, the Republican Party has sown the seeds of its own demise. It is now hopelessly dependent on, and indebted to, its evangelical core; and while Americans may be broadly conservative, they are largely tolerant, and fundamentalism does not appeal. Most Americans are pragmatists, not idealists; the opening is there for a Democratic Party that eschews demagoguery and pandering and instead seeks creative solutions to vital issues such as the tax code and social security, and reflects and respects traditional values of family, hard work, and religion, which are so important to many and which should not be dismissed.
This does not mean in any sense an abandonment of its base. The country needs a party that speaks for the secular and the liberal; but it does not need a liberal, secular constituency that demands its party speak for it and it alone. If Democrats can maintain that core while reaching out to those who are increasingly uncomfortable with the extreme fringes of modern Republicanism, then they can build a broad-based majority platform of pragmatic progressivism. And if that happens, the reelection of George W. Bush may prove to be one of the best things that could have happened to the Democratic Party, and to the country, after all.
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