A Grim Study in Red and Blue

What kind of mandate is a win of only 51%?

MARGARET CARLSON

Los Angeles Times

November 4, 2004

Get along? I don't think so. The truth is, we can't all just get along, not anytime soon, unless some things change.

To start, President Bush has to quit saying his side is good (God told him so) and the other side is bad. Republicans didn't just demonize John Kerry, they demonized his supporters (the Catholic bishops warned the flock they could go to hell just for voting for him). Republicans love their families and you, well, we don't know about you and your families.

When I first met conservative Bob Novak at CNN and said I couldn't do a show on Thanksgiving weekend, he was surprised to learn that I would be cooking for 20. In his mind, liberals live on brie and chardonnay and never turn on the oven. We surely don't bake apple pie.

The president revels in the red-and-blue map, two countries occupying one land, feeling about each other the way Iran feels about Iraq, wary and distrustful. Not only did he break his promise to be a uniter not a divider, he's proud of it. Asked as he came out of his polling station in Crawford, Texas, on Tuesday morning about the polarization he's created, Bush said, "I take that as a compliment."

For Bush, going for those 4 million evangelicals was worth alienating those who were told they were evil for supporting stem cell research and abortion rights and for not seeing Clarence Thomas as the model for the next chief justice.

I can see the bumper stickers now: "Thank God for God" and "Guns, yes; Gays, no."

Not that the six hours of the Kerry presidency was all sweetness and light. It lasted from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., when researchers polling the wrong exits reported a Kerry blowout. (By the way, the youth vote? It's a trick the young play on the old. Young people will always be young — and irresponsible — with a class, a date or a nap to attend to.) The brief Kerry administration engaged in some glee over the comeuppance of Bush advisor Karl Rove and the possibility that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who redistricted five Democrats out of their seats and with three ethics strikes against him, would be driven from power.

But Kerry's language on Wednesday was conciliatory and expansive. It had to be, of course. It's important to the future of the Democratic Party that Eastern elites show they have a heart and soul as well as a brain.

The hard part to take is that after a disputed election in 2000, Bush governed as if he were king by divine right. What kind of mandate does he think he has with a 51% win?

In his victory speech, he held out an olive branch: "A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation."

But he quickly switched moods and closed by specifically talking to Texas, a country all its own.

But maybe Bush will grow in his second term, not think he owns moral values because he appealed to those for whom morality is the highest requirement.

As judgmental as I find the president, he was able to speak to more than half of the electorate, which the vaguely patrician, intellectual Kerry couldn't.

We live in a time when you need to connect before you can compete. John Kerry was hurt by not having more of Bill Clinton's crossover appeal, a little bit Southern, a little bit Baptist, a little bit lip-biting, so effective that the Bible Belt let Republican prosecutors know they shouldn't impeach Clinton for that thing with the intern.

It hurts that Kerry was born so serious and wordy and grimly ambitious he was greeted on campus with kazoos bleating "Hail to the Chief." Always religious, he didn't frame what he stood for in Bush's language of good and evil, right and wrong. A Catholic, he lost Catholics, for God's sake.

On Wednesday, when the stoic became a loser, his wordiness cut short by the lump in his throat, we could see his heart beating and, too late, hear what he was saying.