Richard J. Garfunkel
November 3, 2004
Well the people have spoken for what that is worth. For sure it would be insincere of me to say that I am not extremely disappointed, depressed and unhappy. We have reached the end of a four-year struggle to change the flawed mandate of the 2000 Election. Over the past four years we have all experienced an insane amount of angst, anxiety, grief, and heartache.
From the stock market collapse, to the 9/11 attack, to the disaster and tragedy of never-ending war, to the constant struggles regarding the expansion and contraction of “rights” and “responsibility,” the country’s patience and unity has been stretched thin. On top of all of that, our society is saddled with the awesome problem of paying for present and future entitlements, providing health care for millions, securing our borders, preventing future acts of terror, and growing our economy to provide revenues for our budgetary needs and our debt service. In other words tomorrow’s legacy for all of us is questionable. Even today in the NY Time’s business section, there was a small article on the declining inheritance revenues reaching the IRS from large estates. This portends more of the same as the individual personal exemption continues to grow until all inheritance taxes disappear. This impact regarding the generational transfer of trillions, not billions, will impact directly on the fabric of our society. It will start to impact on charity, and it will continue the trend of greater ownership by fewer hands. Frankly it is a forgotten issue, but nonetheless a critical one.
With all that in mind, I learned that the voters outside of “my world” were much less interested in many of the above issues. But they seem to be worried more about the so-called “moral value” issues. When the electorate shifted from the coastlines, the big urban centers, the Great Lakes and the like to the “Heartland” of America, the social and family concerns regarding values and personal conduct loomed large as the hidden “smoking gun” of this election. Whether it was the 11 initiatives on “gay marriage” that went crashing to defeat, or whether it was the “hip-hop” culture of the inner city, or whether it was non-European immigration, or whether it was MTV of VH1, or Whoopie Goldberg, or Michael Jackson, or Madonna, or whether it was the lack of censorship, or the wide-open frank subject matter of Hollywood, the Internet, or television, the “Heartland” trusts the Democrats less! As an example in North Dakota, where Democrat Byron Dorgan won his third term, 70% voted to ban “gay” marriages. In Ohio where “gay” marriages are banned they voted for a constitutional against “civil unions.” In South Dakota, those worried about moral values voted 90% for Bush. In Arkansas, as in Georgia voters approved a ban on “gay” marriage three to one. In Mississippi the same measure lost 7 to 1 and Bush won by a record margin! In Tennessee Bush carried 80% of the counties and nearly half the voters identified themselves the white religious right, almost double since 2000, and they overwhelmingly supported Bush. In West Virginia, that voted Republican in back to back elections for the first time since 1932, they elected a Democratic Governor with 64% of the vote. In Iowa Kerry did quite well with voters whose top issues were education, the economy and health care. Those interested in taxes and moral values favored Bush.
The perception from the “Heartland” is that mainstream Democrats depend too heavily on minority voters, single women, young people, unions, big government largess, the entertainment industry and the like. This albatross around the neck of the Democrats has become difficult to shake off. What that means for Democrats, progressives and their philosophical allies only time will tell. Unlike earlier landslides authored by Nixon, and Reagan that swept almost each state, this election just re-affirmed the cultural rift that has been deepening over the past decades. Interestingly the Democrats had more than adequate finances this year unlike 2000! They had the “target” of a President who had a dismal record on many, many issues. There were many, many reasons for change. Unlike 2000 when 85% of the public was happy with the economy, only 46% were happy this year. But the results were quite similar. The combination of perceptions regarding incumbency, fear of “change” in the midst of a war, the moral value issue, and the “Heartland” distrust of Kerry’s character, legislative record and the Democrats, overcame a great effort by John Kerry and his team. As a lifelong Democrat who has been active in campaigns for decades, I was quite impressed with Senator Kerry’s effort. I originally did not know much about him and was officially supporting another candidate, but I can say that he handled his campaign, the debates and the issues with aplomb. But again, I must reiterate that many people, especially in the Midwest and South hate and fear national Democrats for one reason or another. Even today, I received an e-mail from a client of mine, of the type that he would never say in person, that excoriated Kerry as a “traitor” and “good riddance to him and his repulsive wife.” I just ignored it and realized that this whole long episode is over, and answering it serves no real purpose.
The question now, that is always in front of us is, what’s going to happen? There will be changes that affect the Federal and Supreme courts, the tax structure, personal freedom and expression, and a myriad of other things. The Democrats have shown that they still have their base; Bush and the GOP had shown that they have their base and it is a bit larger. The next year will be a critical year where Bush will try to try to create a “new” majority. It will be therefore up to all of us to be vigilant regarding each issue. It is not the time to “play dead” and rollover. As depressed as I am, in regard’s to yesterday’s results, I will not be swayed from being critical of Bush’s conduct in office and supportive of those who stand up against his policies. But let us all be aware of these dangerous trends that have been promulgated and sustained by the radical right. They are out there, they are being embraced by a growing number of people, and they portend for a less tolerant, less thinking and less progressive America.