Mark Steyn

A catastrophic night for the Democrats

America is a conservative country, says Mark Steyn. John Kerry was defeated by the President’s determination to expand liberty abroad and promote opportunity at home

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America is a conservative country, says Mark Steyn. John Kerry was defeated by the President’s determination to expand liberty abroad and promote opportunity at home

New Hampshire

Thank you, Lady Antonia Fraser! In 2000, Clark County, Ohio went to Al Gore. This time round, after the local citizenry were targeted by the Guardian to be the beneficiaries of Lady Antonia’s voting advice, and John le Carré’s and Richard Dawkins’s and many others, Clark County went to ...George W. Bush!

How about that? Alas for the Republican party, Lady Antonia and her chums never got round to writing to New Jerseyites and Pennsylvanians and Oregonians, or we’d be looking at a Bush landslide. Instead, Republicans had to settle for a little less. But, despite the best efforts of the US media, the Guardian, some even phonier than usual ‘exit polls’, Bruce Springsteen and ‘Rock The Vote’, Puff Daddy and the ‘Vote Or Die’ rap-the-vote movement, George Soros and Steve Bing and the million trillion bazillion dollars they poured into Ohio, respected foreign leaders like Yasser Arafat and Kim Jong Il, the Arab street, an attempted ‘October surprise’ by the UN’s Mohammed al-Baradei and the New York Times, and a late intervention by the late Osama bin Laden (which seemed awfully close to ‘Vote Kerry or die’), it was still a Republican night.

You might not have gained that impression from the BBC or even from my friends at the Telegraph, who claimed in Tuesday’s issue to be detecting last-minute swings to John Kerry. But just to run through what happened: in the House of Representatives the Republicans have picked up five seats; in the Senate they’ve picked up at least three, maybe four, including David Vitter winning a Louisiana seat that’s been Democrat since post-Civil War reconstruction; it looks like they’ve knocked off their chief obstructionist in the Democratic caucus.

And, oh yes, the most hated man in the world has become the first President since 1988 to win over 50 per cent of the popular vote.

In other words, it’s the perfect hat trick: a Republican President, a Republican Senate and a Republican House have been re-elected for the first time since President McKinley and the GOP Congress of 1900.

How’d that happen? There was a big increase in turnout, adding something upwards of 15 million people to the polls. We were assured by all the experts that an increase in turnout foreshadowed a Kerry landslide. Why, everyone knows an increase in turnout must be that big youth vote we always hear about, roused by elderly gentlemen like Mr Springsteen playing songs that were hits when their parents were courting into stampeding to the polling booths to vote against a return of the draft and Bush’s intolerance of gay marriage.

But, as noted here last week, the ‘Rock The Vote’ crowd didn’t show up for Howard Dean, and they didn’t show up for John Kerry either. They never show up. Or, to be more precise, if they do show up, they’re not a monolithic voting bloc. The Kerry campaign was fantasising if it thought that ‘young people’ trend Democrat in large enough numbers to compensate for all their fraying demographics — blacks, Hispanics, Catholics, rural whites, women, etc. Even with the collapse of the third-party Ralph Nader vote, Senator Kerry could only hold Al Gore’s states with much smaller margins: Gore won Connecticut by 17 points, Kerry by 10; Gore won New Jersey by 16 points, Kerry by 7. The ‘red’ states — the Bush states — got a little bit redder, the ‘blue’ states — Kerry’s — got a bit redder too.

So the story of the election is yet another catastrophic night for the Democrats. If the Kerry campaign goes into full legal mode sending the chad-chasers into Ohio, it will be doing so from a much wobblier footing than in 2000; this time, their man lost the popular vote decisively, by four million votes. Legally speaking, you can bring the boys in, but, morally and politically, suing your way into victory is a trickier proposition when your guy’s such a clear-cut loser. At 2.30 on Wednesday morning John Edwards came out to address a demoralised crowd in Boston’s Copley Square, pledging ‘to make every vote count’ — which is Dem code-speak for ‘lawyers’. But it sounded kinda lame when, vote-count-wise, George W. Bush is likely to beat Ronald Reagan’s 1984 record and wind up with more votes for President than any man in the history of the republic.

It didn’t look that way at the start of the evening. As is now traditional, election night began with a bunch of bogus ‘exit polls’ that proved to be even junkier than the ones in 2000. The networks refused to call Virginia and the Carolinas because they had exit polls showing Kerry ahead. Had those polls been correct, it would have been a landslide for the Senator. But they weren’t correct: they were bunk, and the only thing stopping me from calling for a fraud investigation is that I’ve begun rather to enjoy it. At 7 p.m. Eastern time the networks come on the air with their big specials, and you can see the anchors and the pundits and the Democratic spinmeisters are all excited because they think things are all going their way and the Republicans are in big trouble, and by 9 p.m. nothing’s gone their way and they’re all discombobulated. They don’t seem to understand the point I’ve been making for years now — that the Democrats and the media reinforce each other’s delusions.

That happened again this time. The notion of a ‘youth vote’ scared up by the Democrats to vote against an entirely mythical draft is essentially a spontaneous invention of the Democrat-media bubble. Out in the real world, meanwhile, 11 states voted for ‘gay marriage’ bans by overwhelming margins. The ‘youth vote’ is largely fictitious, the anti-gay marriage vote is real. That may be unfortunate or in deplorable taste, but, if the national media ignore real constituencies in favour of fake ones, it’s hardly surprising that the Democrats wind up, in the words of CNN’s Candy Crowley, ‘depressed and bewildered’.

The Dems have a long-term problem: their vote is becoming more and more concentrated in a few enclaves on the Pacific coast and the Atlantic north of Washington, even as the population shifts to the south and the mountain states. What have traditionally been Democrat states — Tennessee, West Virginia — and what have traditionally been swing states — such as Missouri — are looking lost to the Democrats in perpetuity. No matter how many movies Michael Moore makes, America is basically a conservative country. If you don’t believe me, look at Tom Daschle, the Democrats’ Senate leader and the first such party leader to be defeated in over half a century. Daschle’s going down to defeat in South Dakota by a big enough margin that even the traditional Democratic trick — finding a few thousand extra ‘late votes’ lying around under an abandoned pick-up on one of the more distant Indian reservations — is unlikely to suffice. Daschle has spent years as a doctrinaire liberal Democrat in Washington while posing as a ‘bipartisan’ ‘moderate’ ‘centrist’ back in his conservative home state. This year it caught up with him.

Look at John Kerry’s campaign, which is — as Democratic national campaigns invariably are these days — deeply evasive: despite a long anti-gun voting record, he fired off guns and shot at animals everywhere he went; despite voting as an abortion absolutist, he insisted that he ‘personally believed’ life begins at conception; despite voting against the Defence of Marriage Act, he declared that he was opposed to gay marriage. And the red states still wouldn’t buy it.

The Democratic party have got themselves out of step with a huge chunk of the population. They’d probably do well in Belgium and much of southern England, but unfortunately neither of those jurisdictions is a US state. And, in the places which are, the party is increasingly uncompetitive. None of its issues resonates with rural America, and most of them — abortion and race-baiting — just sound stale: Selma, Alabam’ is 40 years old, Roe vs Wade is 30 years old, and the scare talk about Bush’s Supreme Court appointees just doesn’t work. The party is intellectually exhausted and short of talent, which is how a vain, mediocre senator ended up with the nomination. There are still enough tribal Democrats to make it impossible for even the worst candidate to fall below 40 per cent, but they’re so concentrated in New England, New York and California that the party can’t break beyond that. Hence, the White House, Senate and House in Republican hands.

I think the party needs to stop suing and go on a long retreat to try and figure out what it means to be a Democrat in the early 21st century.

As for Bush, I’m glad he survived, if only because every anti-American on the planet was looking forward to dancing on his political grave like those nutso Palestinian women in the streets of Ramallah on 9/11. But I’m annoyed that it was this close. Two years ago I wrote that the President had missed an opportunity. In August 2002 I wrote in these pages, ‘President Bush has won the first battle (Afghanistan) but he’s in danger of losing the war. The war isn’t with al-Qa’eda, or Saddam, or the House of Saud. They’re all a bunch of losers.... In a unipolar world, it’s clear that the real enemy in this war is ourselves, and our lemming-like rush to cultural suicide.’ Transformative leaders use turbulent times to reshape the nation, as FDR did with the Depression. Back in his 90 per cent approval-rating days, Bush could have used the new war to shift the culture, to toughen it.

The 43rd President is a radical, at home and abroad: had Kerry been elected, not only would he have abandoned this administration’s broader ambitions in the Middle East, but, unlike Bush, he would have made no serious attempt to reform social security. The Texan moron is, in fact, the kind of leader people always say they want: not poll-driven, with the courage to take the tough decisions, etc. But he’s very poor at selling them to the American people, and what seems obvious to him isn’t necessarily that obvious if you’re in one of the many cities with a reflexively anti-Bush monodaily. It should have been a bigger victory, and Republicans need to examine carefully why it wasn’t.

One constituency that’s more or less dead after this election is the liberal warmongers — the fellows like Andrew Sullivan (of Britain’s Sunday Times) and Thomas Friedman (of the New York Times) and my compatriot Michael Ignatieff. Before the Iraq war, they were some of its biggest boosters. In recent months, they all turned, and most of them persuaded themselves that Kerry was the man to fix the mess in Iraq and see things through. I found this extraordinary. The defeat of Bush would have been seen around the world as a repudiation of his view of the war, and especially the aspect that the moulting hawks were once so keen on: his commitment to bringing liberty to the Middle East. John Kerry couldn’t have been more explicit that that was not his aim. The moulters’ willingness to abandon the long-term goal because of a nickel’n’dime jailhouse scandal and a rate of combat fatalities that any earlier generation of Americans would have regarded as the blessings of a merciful God speaks very poorly for them. Even as an armchair warrior, I wouldn’t want to be in a foxhole with these guys.

In the last few days, John Kerry wore himself hoarse shouting that America was crying out for ‘change’. But Bush is the candidate of change, and Kerry was the one running as the status quo candidate — work through the UN, the IAEA, the EU. Bush is promoting radical change in foreign policy, change in domestic policy, but both consistent with ‘red state’ values, expanding liberty abroad and promoting opportunity at home. As long as the Democrats have nothing to offer and stay on the wrong side of the guns’n’God issues, they will continue to decline.

On a personal note, New Hampshire narrowly went for Kerry. Shame on my wussier Granite State neighbours. The southern third of the state is full of transplants from Taxachusetts who’ve evidently forgotten why they moved up. Personally humiliating for me, and disastrous for the state if it were to succumb to the policies that have enervated the rest of New England. But don’t worry; we’ll claw it back for the Republicans in 2008.