"O.K., Folks: Back to Work"
Much has been made of the support Mr. Bush has gotten from religious people. He's going to need all of their prayers that some miracle happens to suspend the laws of simple arithmetic and keep his fiscal house of cards from collapsing.
Meanwhile, the situation in Iraq, overshadowed by the election, is as grim as ever. Insurgents blew up a critical oil pipeline on Tuesday, the latest severe blow to efforts to get the Iraq economy on track. Three British soldiers were killed in an attack yesterday. The assassinations, kidnappings and car bombings continued. The humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders announced that it would cease operations in Iraq because of the unrelenting danger. And Hungary became the latest U.S. coalition partner to announce that it would withdraw its troops from Iraq.
In other words, nothing has changed. Mr. Bush's victory on Tuesday was not based on his demonstrated competence in office or on a litany of perceived successes. For all the talk about values that we're hearing, the president ran a campaign that appealed above all to voters' fears and prejudices. He didn't say he'd made life better for the average American over the past four years. He didn't say he had transformed the schools, or made college more affordable, or brought jobs to the unemployed or health care to the sick and vulnerable.
He said, essentially, be very afraid. Be frightened of terrorism, and of those dangerous gay marriages, and of those in this pluralistic society who may have thoughts and beliefs and values that differ from your own.
As usual, he turned reality upside down. A quintessential American value is tolerance for ideas other than one's own. Tuesday's election was a dismaying sprint toward intolerance, sparked by a smiling president who is a master at appealing to the baser aspects of our natures.
Which brings me to the Democrats - the ordinary voters, not the politicians - and where they go from here. I have been struck by the extraordinary demoralization, even dark despair, among a lot of voters who desperately wanted John Kerry to defeat Mr. Bush. "We did all we could," one woman told me, "and we still lost."
Here's my advice: You had a couple of days to indulge your depression - now, get over it. The election's been lost but there's still a country to save, and with the current leadership that won't be easy. Crucial matters that have been taken for granted too long - like the Supreme Court and Social Security - are at risk. Caving in to depression and a sense of helplessness should not be an option when the country is speeding toward an abyss.
Roll up your sleeves and do what you can. Talk to your neighbors. Call or write your elected officials. Volunteer to help in political campaigns. Circulate petitions. Attend meetings. Protest. Run for office. Support good candidates who are running for office. Register people to vote. Reach out to the young and the apathetic. Raise money. Stay informed. And vote, vote, vote - every chance you get.
Democracy is a breeze during good times. It's when the storms are raging that citizenship is put to the test. And there's a hell of a wind blowing right now.