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The Sound of Inevitability

The election is over and we know who won. But the political landscape is still full of uncertainties. What happens next?

1:55 AM, Nov 3, 2004 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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THE 2004 ELECTION may not be over, but it is finished, and Wednesday-morning quarterbacking always makes results look perfectly rational. At every point in the campaign (save the first presidential debate) John Kerry was the candidate who had the embarrassing iconic moments: windsurfing, botox, fake-tan, Swift Boats, Mary Cheney, $87 billion, saying "fuck" in Rolling Stone, "global test," goose hunting. Every Dukakis-in-a-tank moment in this campaign belonged to Kerry. And when you lose a race, all anybody ever remembers are the Dukakis-in-the-tank moments.

So looking back, Bush's victory appears almost inevitable. Of course it wasn't. Had Kerry won, observers would be making the same inevitability argument: recession, net job loss, unpopular war--there was no way this faltering incumbent could have won!

The point is, few things in politics are ever really inevitable. And even with Bush's second term secure, there are a number of important open questions going forward.

The future of the Bush haters. Just a few days before the election, Michael Moore, the patron saint of Bush haters, issued an incredible proclamation in which he good-naturedly joked about Osama bin Laden's apparent affinity for Fahrenheit 9/11: "There he was, OBL, all tan and rested and on videotape (hey, did you get the feeling that he had a bootleg of my movie? Are there DVD players in those caves in Afghanistan?)"

Over the course of the last four years, liberalism's lunatic fringe has moved ever closer to the Democratic party's mainstream. Motivated by single-minded Bush hatred, these leftists coalesced around Howard Dean and showered him with campaign donations. Powered by these radicals, Dean failed to garner even 20 percent of the vote in the Democratic primaries.

Nonetheless, the Bush haters attempted to hijack Kerry's campaign, and at many critical moments, the Democratic nominee gave into their mindset.

In the coming days, this fringe will make the case that Kerry lost because he didn't go far enough in attacking President Bush. The Democratic party will have to decide whether they want to tack toward the center, as Republicans did after Clinton won his second or give in to the Bush haters.

Deaniac Nation. Although he was the standard-bearer for the Bush haters, Dean has his own political future to consider. His embrace of Kerry was always pro forma. Even at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Dean dismissed Kerry as being "only part of the solution" for fixing America's ills. On Election Day, Dean's Blog for America began with a post titled Dean, Man of the Year. The Blog for America did not mention Kerry until 7:47 p.m.

Will Dean stay on the Democratic reservation and challenge the Democratic establishment or head out into third-party territory? Will his followers stay with him or melt back into the countryside and drop out of politics?

The American Catholic church. The Catholic church dodged a bullet with Kerry's defeat. Had Kerry won, there would have been a showdown among the Catholic bishops over whether or not to deny Kerry the Eucharist. Whatever course the bishops would have chosen carried its own set of unpleasant consequences.

At some point, the Catholic church is going to have to confront the issue of high-profile Catholic politicians. Kerry's loss gives them the luxury of confronting it in their own time.

John Edwards. The first thought to come to mind when Kerry selected Edwards as his running mate this summer was, Why is he giving up on North Carolina so early? Edwards proved to be a fine choice as a party unifier, but performed poorly in his two big moments--the Democratic convention and the vice presidential debate. He was largely invisible during the final weeks of the campaign. He lost his home state by 13 points. And now, having given up his Senate seat, he sits with no political perch. What happens to his political aspirations now?

The Media. The mid-Election Day exit poll made fools of both the new and old media. The poll got the race spectacularly wrong--in John Kerry's favor. Now the exit poll may have simply been a statistical error which you would expect from the margin of error. But the history of the media's role in this race has been a consistent effort from many quarters to take down President Bush. From avoiding the Swift Boat story to 60 Minutes's forged document to the hyping of the missing explosives to the ludicrous claims of 100,000 dead Iraqi civilians, the media threw everything it had at the president.