Progressives need to build on the (partial) successes of 2004

In the weeks after Election Day, the staff of Mother Jones was bombarded by phone calls and emails from people insisting that it could not be true that George W. Bush had been reelected. This sentiment was not just lingering resentment over the 2000 debacle, nor simply the refusal of blue voters to understand why any American would cast a vote for a president who’d led us into a misguided war and the depths of deficit. Rather, for most of those who contacted us, angry, suspicious, and devastated, the source of their conviction was that they had seen, with their own eyes, the enormous energy, dedication, and devotion that amassed to defeat Bush in the final months of the campaign. But I was there, they’d say. I went to Nevada / Ohio / Florida / Pennsylvania — I saw the volunteers pouring in, I saw the predominance of Kerry-Edwards signs and supporters. I just can’t believe we lost.

Some bloggers were quick to feed the notion that if Bush had come out on top, it must be due to a conspiracy of state registrars and voting-machine manufacturers. The truth is somewhat harder to accept: Bush won. Not by a lot, but he won.

And now comes the difficult work of ensuring that the grassroots movement that rose to defy him does not splinter, that the people who canvassed their neighbors or journeyed to swing states do not fall into despondency and cynicism. As Todd Gitlin writes in this issue (“A Gathering Swarm,” page 36), the mobilization to stand up to Bush — an unprecedented coalition of activists bridging generational and political divides — will one day be seen as either the high-water mark of a liberal upsurge, or the beginning of its revival.

There are strategic lessons yet to be learned from the election results. There is, as Michael Kazin points out (“Life of the Party,” page 40), an urgent need to build a Democratic Party worthy of the name; to learn, as Republicans did long ago, that an effective political machine must not just draw votes, but energy and ideas from the people it claims to represent. There is plenty of thinking still to be done about how democratic ideals such as adequate health care and true educational opportunity for all can be woven into the national discussion of moral values.

All this must be done, and done while facing down the Bush administration as it attempts to further tilt the nation’s economic policy toward the rich, reshape the Supreme Court, and generally treat national and international affairs like a bully in a sandlot. Our hope is that the election of 2004 may have sowed the seed for all the nation’s citizens — both red and blue — to reengage with public life.


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