Forget Ohio. Forget the mathematics. Forget all the lawyers. By any measure, in terms of direct – not indirect, Electoral College democracy – George W Bush has won this referendum. A president who was never above a 50% approval rate in the past few months, who lost all three debates with challenger Senator John Kerry, but now has a majority of almost 4 million in the popular vote, has in fact won the referendum on himself.
Fasten your seat belts: it’s going to be a bumpy ride. Control of the presidency, Senate, House. A popular mandate. Four more years. Possibly four more wars. In a nutshell, chief strategist Karl Rove got the evangelicals out in force. According to a series of Gallup polls, 42% of Americans declare themselves evangelicals or born-again Christians. Bush always had a head start of 42%.
The widely sung-and-danced-to youth vote never materialized. The 18-to-29 generation voted in exactly the same numbers as in 2000: first-time voters – a pro-Kerry majority, worried about the economy and the war on Iraq – were only 10% of the electorate. The 30-to-44 group was even more scarce. So much for great expectations. An army of Democrats, an army of pollsters and even a few Republicans made fools of themselves. The youth vote meant, in essence, “damn politics, let’s dance”.
The exit polls were all horribly wrong. The blogosphere was basically calling a Kerry victory as soon as the polls closed. A Harris poll was also predicting Kerry. The exits had Kerry leading Bush among men by 51%-49%, and among women by 53%-47%. The final exits for Ohio had Kerry winning 52%-48%. Blogger Kevin Drum was saying that “in a way it’s the ultimate in navel gazing. The bloggers all read the media and the media call bloggers to find out what they’re reading.”
Then the blogosphere went dead for an hour, an hour and a half, two hours – as if the virtual world was trying to absorb the avalanche of red states and the news from Florida and the nail-biting Ohio crawl. There was widespread talk that the Republicans were trying everything to steal the election in the courts, trying to get the courts to stop voting while people were already in line when the polls closed, trying for a ruling against provisional ballots.
Desperate Democrats started spinning that provisional ballots in Ohio would decide everything. It would take at least 11 days, according to the Ohio state secretary. All this while Bush’s lead in Ohio was increasing.
The United States may have gone to the polls as a divided, uncertain, paralyzed-by-fear nation. Today it’s still a divided, uncertain, paralyzed-by-fear nation, but now with a clear mandate for the state really to rock the geopolitical boat.
The “most important election of a lifetime” has sent a clear message to the whole world: the face of America in the next four years – barring a Richard Nixon-style impeachment – will be of unilateralism, the “war on terror” possibly progressively escalating into a clash of civilizations. And pay attention to the “axis of evil” hit list – the official and the bootleg. Bush II will attack what it defines as “state terrorism” – Iran, Syria – instead of the global jihadi network. It will continue to rely on Pakistan to “decapitate” the odd “high-value al-Qaeda”. It won’t engage in diplomacy to address the political causes of terrorism. It won’t engage in a cultural and ideological effort to try to counteract the global jihad – especially now that Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri have changed the rules of the asymmetrical game from a religious clash to a political struggle against imperialism.
Total concentration of right-wing power – legitimized by the popular vote: this is the new neo-conservative dream turned reality. So the road ahead is to flatten the Sunni stronghold of Fallujah in Iraq, bomb Iran because of its supposed nuclear aspirations, depose President Hafez Assad in Syria, crush the Palestinian resistance, and remodel the Middle East by “precision strike” democracy.
There will be serious blowback. A new pan-Islamic nationalism, for example, featuring Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s Shi’ite masses allied with the Sunni triangle to kick out the Americans from Iraq, eventually supported by both Iran and Saudi Arabia. Iraq crisscrossed by guerrillas and Iran penetrated by US intelligence, both leading – plus Shi’ite eastern Saudi Arabia, where the oil is – to a new, catastrophic oil shock.
And then the neo-conservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC) – which virtually took over the US government – will create a major confrontation with China. Asia, beware.
The faith-based, apocalyptic evangelicals have won this battle against the “reality community”. Bush won despite Tora Bora, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib. The crusade continues. In God we trust – and also in Osama bin Laden. He got exactly what he wanted.