"This country is going so far to the right you are not even going to recognize it," remarked John Mitchell, Richard Nixon's attorney general, in 1970. Mitchell's prophecy became the mission of Nixon's College Republican president, Karl Rove, who implemented the strategy of authoritarian populism behind George Bush's victory.
In the aftermath, the Democrats will form their ritual circular firing squad of recriminations. But, finally, the loss was not due to the candidate's personality, the flaws of this or that adviser, or the party's platform. The Democrats surprised themselves at their ability to raise tens of millions, inspire hundreds of thousands of activists, and present themselves as unified around a centrist position. Expectations were not dashed. Turnout was vastly increased among African-Americans and Hispanics. More than 60% of the newly registered voters went for John Kerry. Those concerned about the economy voted overwhelmingly for him; so did those citing the war in Iraq as an issue. But the Democrats' surge was more than matched.
Using the White House as a machine of centripetal force, Rove spread fear and fused its elements. Fear of the besieging terrorist, appearing in Bush TV ads as the shifty eyes of a swarthy man or a pack of wolves, was joined with fear of the besieging queer. Bush's support for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was underscored by referendums against it in 11 states -- all of which won.
The evangelical churches became instruments of political organization. Ideology was enforced as theology, turning nonconformity into sin, and the faithful, following voter guides with biblical liberalism, were shepherded to the polls as though to the rapture. White Protestants, especially in the south, especially married men, gave their souls and votes for flag and cross. The campaign was one long revival. Abortion and stem cell research became a lever for prying loose white Catholics. To help in Florida, a referendum was put on the ballot to deny young women the right to abortion without parental approval and it galvanized evangelicals and conservative Catholics alike.
While Kerry ran on mainstream traditions of international cooperation and domestic investments, and transparency and rationality as essential to democratic government, Bush campaigned directly against these very ideas. At his rallies, Bush was introduced as standing for "the right God." During the closing weeks, Bush and Cheney ridiculed internationalism, falsifying Kerry's statement about a "global test." They disdained Kerry's internationalism as effeminate, unpatriotic, a character flaw, and elitist. "You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig," Cheney derided in every speech. They grafted imperial unilateralism on to provincial isolationism. Fear of the rest of the world was to be mastered with contempt for it.
This was linked to what is euphemistically called "moral values," which is social and sexual panic over the rights of women and gender roles. Only imposing manly authority against "girly men" and girls and lurking terrorists can save the nation. Above all, the exit polls showed that "strong leader" was the primary reason Bush was supported.
Brought along with Bush is a gallery of grotesques in the Senate: more than one new senator advocates capital punishment for abortion; another urges that all gay teachers be fired; yet another is suffering from obvious symptoms of Alzheimer's. The new majority is more theocratic than Republican, as Republican was previously understood; the defeat of the old moderate Republican party is far more decisive than the loss by the Democrats. There are no checks and balances.