As the death toll rises in Iraq, thoughts turn to the next strategy for stopping this war. The easiest way would have been to elect John Kerry, but that didn't work. It might not have worked even if he had won the election -- he only promised to be a better warmaker -- but it was worth a shot. Now the job gets harder. We're going to have to start taking on the war directly rather than trying to stop it covertly by defeating Bush. The old arguments have to be argued again: that war doesn't work, that killing breeds violence, that peace is a better way to peace.
Same for domestic policy -- there's work to do. The environment needs more vigilance than ever. The poor need housing, health care, and jobs. Schools need more money, not more tests. Gays, made the objects of fear, need civil-rights protections. And on and on. The job would have been easier had Kerry won the election, yet the job remains.
One of the most galling conclusions of the post-election analysis was that George Bush won on "moral values," as though standing against gay marriage, abortion rights, and stem-cell research entitled him to higher ground. A friend from Michigan expressed the feelings of many of us on the other side: "I voted for Kerry based on my moral values. I find the war immoral. I find it immoral to go against the United Nations to invade Iraq. I find it immoral to show such lack of care for the environment. I find capital punishment immoral. Bush's record in Texas shows me where he is on this topic. I find the deficit immoral. I find the defense budget of the United States immoral. I find it immoral the way that Bush uses God's name to further his own agenda. When Bush speaks of his Christian faith, it is so hard to take him seriously because his actions and decisions don't seem to match. So when I voted, I voted based on my moral convictions."
Because the religious right is credited with winning the election for Bush, it needs to be said that the religious right is often wrong. The problem, said Thomas Friedman in the New York Times, is the way in which Bush and the Christian right "have used religious energy to promote divisions and intolerance at home and abroad." We who are Christians on the other side need to keep reminding that Jesus stood for peace and for the poor. As several commentators have noted, the political left must find new ways to speak to Americans' moral and spiritual yearnings.
Just as "religious" doesn't mean "Republican," "Democrat" doesn't mean "liberal" -- or anything else, for that matter. A theme of the exit polls was that Democrats don't have a coherent message or a consistent vision. Kerry did a good job under the circumstances, and his positions were clear, but what about Barack Obama? Illinois Republicans did voters a disservice by handing Obama a free pass. Now he is a national rock star, untested and unknown. Let's hope he uses his standing to stand for something.
Now it's back to work. "The election's been lost," writes columnist Bob Herbert, "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."
This nation has alienated much of the world by its recent arrogance, but so far this behavior is regarded as an aberration, not its true self. Peace, justice, equality, and freedom are still hallmarks of this land and can be redeemed. But each generation must re-win liberty; the task is never done. In Illinois and around the world, people are still counting on the promise of America. They're counting on those of us who lost the election, so we mustn't stay defeated for long.