I must confess: I know nothing about politics.
That much is clear after I completely misread the outcome of last week’s presidential election, one that I thought for sure was going to end up in a victory for Democratic challenger John F. Kerry.
I knew it would be close, but I thought Kerry had it in the bag. I figured he would win by 2%, 3%, or maybe even 5%, thought maybe he would pull a couple of states that went for Republican George W. Bush in 2000, and had even predicted we would have a clear winner by the day after the election. I believed it would be Kerry, and the country would come to see the wisdom of their choice and revel in our return to normalcy and understanding.
But, apparently, I was wrong.
What was it that led me down this path of error and confusion? If I wanted to, I could blame the candidates for fitting into the preconceived notions I had about them. Blame Bush, perhaps, for getting my hopes up by alternately looking like a confused puppy and an annoyed teen-ager during the debates, and sticking to a set of talking points on the campaign trail that were little more than transparent lies anyone could see through.
Or maybe I could finger Kerry for the crime of acting like his Vietnam War record was going to make a difference, and for making me believe that defending jobs and expanding health care and protecting the environment were winning messages that would resonate with a majority of American voters.
But I can’t really blame the candidates. They only did what they had to do to win. Or, in the end, not win.
Then again, if I were a pundit, the kind of person who was paid to prognosticate about the state of American politics in 2004, I could always blame the media.
And I must admit, the thought is attractive—after all, it was the mainstream media, with all of its analysts and experts and colorful graphics, that led me to believe the polls were wrong because everyone had a cell phone these days and pollsters didn’t know how to get in touch of them. And it was the media who suggested that the youth vote was going to come out in record numbers and vote Democratic, and who brought up the idea that any incumbent who was tied in the week before the election was likely to lose. And so on, and so on.
But I can’t blame the media—not totally. At the end of the day, their real job is to tell the American people what they want to hear and do it entertainingly, so that TV stations can sell commercials and newspapers can sell ad space and everyone’s ratings can go up while their bottom lines get fatter. Not to report objectively on the health of the American polity.
Which means I only have myself to blame. It was me, after all, who wanted to believe that in the face of four years of the most appalling, self-centered, and disingenuous presidential administration since Warren G. Harding and the 1924 Teapot Dome Scandal, the American voting public might, just might, have sobered up enough to realize that the country was going off on the wrong track.
For that, I plead guilty. I really did think that any president that presided over the loss of 1.8 million private sector jobs and responded by giving tax cuts to the wealthy would be looking for a job of his own soon. I thought, mistakenly, that any administration that could turn a $236 billion surplus into a $422 billion deficit in four years would be thrown out on its ear. I believed, wrongly, that anyone who could turn a blind eye to the kind of corporate scandals represented by Enron and WorldCom and all the rest would one day have to face the wrath of angry voters himself.
What’s more, I thought anyone who allowed nine million Americans to lose access to health insurance during his administration would be trounced on Election Day. I held that a government who rejected a worldwide treaty to protect the environment, like Bush did in 2001 with the Kyoto Treaty on global warming, would be rejected at the polls.
In my erroneous delusion, I assumed that if someone violated the civil liberties of an American citizen by locking him up in secret without charging him with a crime, like President Bush’s Justice Dept. did with alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla, he would somehow be held accountable. And that if you rounded up 5,000 foreign nationals in antiterrorism sweeps and didn’t find a terrorist among them, people might be worried.
Even worse – and here’s the real kicker – I thought that if the person entrusted with the highest office in the land somehow managed to get the country involved in a war it couldn’t win by invading another country with no justification whatsoever, sacrificed American lives for political ideology and revenge, created hostility and hatred for American ideals around the world, and called anyone who criticized him “unpatriotic”, well, I thought for sure the American people would tell him to go fuck himself.
After all, I was banking on the idea that Americans sickened by the images of American soldiers torturing and humiliating Iraqi prisoners in Abu Ghraib would find some way to express their shock and revulsion over what has happened to their beloved country. And quite frankly, I thought a man who skipped service in the armed forces but managed to smear the record of a war hero – while sending American soldiers off to die – would have to pay in the end.
And I trusted that if the American people saw how their president failed to capture the one man who was responsible for ordering the greatest mass murder on American soil – Osama bin Laden – while still spending $140 billion dollars on killing innocent civilians elsewhere, they would rise up and vote George Bush out of office in a heartbeat.
But I guess I was wrong. Bush won, Kerry lost, and more than half of the country seems perfectly happy with the way things turned out.
See? I told you I don’t know anything about politics.
Mark Anderson is based in Chicago. Visit him at www.thesentimentalist.com.
I must confess: I know nothing about politics.