It can be difficult to separate the important from unimportant on any given day.
Reflections mean to do exactly that — by thinking about what happened today, we can consider
what might happen tomorrow.
As of midnight Central Standard Time, George W. Bush appears to have won re-election. Several TV networks have called Ohio for Bush. If that remains the case, Bush is assured of a tie, to be resolved in a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Moreover, there are several states — particularly New Mexico — that appear likely to go to Bush. Put differently, Bush is maintaining a 51-48 lead in the popular vote. It would be unprecedented for a candidate to have that large a lead in the popular vote and lose the electoral vote. It could happen, but it is not likely. Sen. John Kerry's last hope at this writing lies in provisional votes that are uncounted in Ohio. But for those to matter, the spread in Ohio must tighten considerably, the courts must rule that the provisional ballots need to be counted, there must be a substantial number of ballots and Kerry must have a lot of votes in those ballots. That is pyramiding a lot of uncertainties to reverse the situation in Ohio. It therefore appears to us that Bush has won a largely legally uncontested election by a reasonable margin. The outcome was startling, since during the afternoon, pollsters, particularly James Zogby, started releasing data showing that Kerry had been the beneficiary of a last-minute surge in the vote. Even if Bush cannot pull together an electoral college victory, we know that there was no last-minute surge for Kerry. In fact, Bush came out at the level that the average of polls over the last week predicted — about 3 percent. Exit polls are notoriously wrong, and this election's exit polls will be studied for years not only for the mistake that was made, but also for the effect it might have had on the election. The polls were opened everywhere when the exit polls started to leak, potentially influencing outcomes. They certainly depressed Republicans and gave Democrats a jolt of elation. In probing the election results, we can see that the structural issue we talked about from the beginning of the campaign held. Democrats from outside the South don't win, because the South turns solidly Republican when Northern liberals run. That happened Tuesday night. Between the solid South and the mountain states, Kerry had to be consistently victorious. He could not afford to lose many states. By the time Florida went for Bush, Kerry had to sweep the table. That, of course, does not explain Bush's 3-point lead. On that, we have nothing to say but the obvious, which is that Kerry failed to persuade enough people that he was more capable of executing the war than Bush. Kerry had the problem of appealing to the center by showing that he would win the war, and appealing to the Democratic left by showing that he would end the war. Trapped between the two imperatives, he chose to campaign by attacking Bush. In the course of that, he failed — just barely, but still failed — to persuade the majority that he had a coherent policy. In that sense, we have just seen a perfect example of the limits of negative campaigning. In the end, he could not persuade enough voters that he was better than Bush, even though he might have persuaded them that Bush was awful. In the meantime, U.S. troops are standing by outside of Al Fallujah, waiting for orders to attack. At the same time, Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's negotiators are talking to Sunni leaders, asking them to convince the guerrillas to stand down. With Bush seeming to win the election, Allawi now has an ace in the hole. The Sunni leadership now knows there will be no let-up in the war and that they will be dealing with George W. Bush for another four years. For the dedicated fighters, this might increase their resolve. For the political realists among the Sunnis, this might provide a moment of thoughtful reflection. We find it interesting that the assault was ordered very publicly, but has not yet been launched.