American Exceptionalism: The Message of Tuesday’s Verdict

by Victor Davis Hanson

National Review Online

Tuesday’s election was the greatest turnout in American political history, the first majority vote for a president-elect since 1988, and the largest number of ballots cast for a president in our history. What are we to make of it all, besides the obvious fact that the citizens have spoken clearly and that their voices were recorded fairly and accurately?

Some of us have been saying for months that there was no way John Kerry was going to erase a stubborn 2-3 percent shortfall, for a variety of reasons. His unsolvable problems ranged from his Brahmin, aristocratic coldness and deductive pessimism, to his transparent and opportunistic flip-flopping, to the venomous “help” of the Michael Moore/Howard Dean/Al Franken extremist fringe, to the incongruity of billionaires voicing boutique leftism — whether that be the often-polarizing Teresa Heinz Kerry or the creepy George Soros. The electorate also sensed that a Kerry victory would represent to the Europeans, the Arabs, and our enemies in the field a repudiation of the current struggle against the terrorists.

Two multimillionaire lawyers from the East Coast were not populists in the manner of a Richard Gephardt, and it was the epitome of arrogance to pretend that they were. Now is not the time for the Democrats to harp about “a divided county,” but to ensure that next time Hollywood,, rock stars, and billionaire currency speculators do not headline their campaign, though venom and money they may bring. Perhaps someone in the Democratic party will tally up a Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry and conclude that there is a pattern here that leads to political suicide. And perhaps the world will conclude that America, thank God, still stands firm against the utopian socialism of the U.N., Europe, and its own privileged sophisticates.

In addition, most of us did not think that all the shrill and increasingly desperate efforts of Michael Moore, the New York Times, Dan Rather, ABC News, Ted Kopel, and Bruce Springsteen would turn the tide. In fact, most of us suspected that they might very well boomerang and ensure victory for President Bush — despite a supposedly “rocky” economy in key states, a war that was systematically reported, in biased fashion, as an American quagmire, and Kerry’s smooth debating skills.

Even the election-evening hysteria — exit polls supposedly presaging a massive Kerry turnaround; mythical talk of the radical youth vote, the new Hispanic muscle, etc.; the on-air commentary of mainstream, teary-eyed talking heads sexing up a Kerry upset while the polls were still open in the West — could not pull it off. Despite all that and more, George Bush still out performed Bill Clinton by being reelected with a majority vote and increasing his partisan margins in both the House and Senate.

Despite losing the majority of state legislatures and governorships, the U.S. Congress, the presidency, and soon the Supreme Court, our anointed elite still doesn’t quite get it. Middle America can be amused by, but still despise, Michael Moore. It can be uneasy with the pessimistic reporting from Iraq, but still be very much willing to finish the war and win at all costs. It may enjoy a trip to Europe, but does not wish to emulate the French, Germans, or Greeks.

The East and West Coasts and the big cities may reflect the sway of the universities, the media, Hollywood, and the arts, but the folks in between somehow ignore what the professors preach to their children, what they read in the major newspapers, and what they are told on TV. The Internet, right-wing radio, and cable news do not so much move Middle America as reflect its preexisting deep skepticism of our aristocracy and its engineered morality imposed from on high.

The Democrats now lament that America would prefer to be “wrong” with George Bush than “right” with them. They will no doubt adduce a number of other paradoxes, excuses, and sorrows. But the fact is that the Left was united, well-funded, and ran the most vitriolic campaign in the Democratic party’s history — and still lost, taking all branches of power with it. The New York Times and the major networks have undone their legacy of a half-century, and in the desire for cheap partisan advantage have ruined the reputations of anchor men, the very notion of fair front-page reporting, and, indeed, the useful concept itself of an exit poll. 60 Minutes, Nightline, ABC News — these are now seen by millions as mere highbrow versions of Fahrenheit 9/11.

Much of the world — in Europe, among the dictatorships and autocracies of the Middle East, and indeed among the terrorists themselves — realized that the presidential election was a referendum on America’s will in both Afghanistan and Iraq. So be it. Thus the president’s victory is a strong message to the Arab League that democracy is coming to the Middle East as it did earlier to Germany, Japan, South Korea, Panama, Serbia, and Afghanistan, and a message to the terrorists that their beheadings, their sick infomercials, and their deified mass murderers will only earn a rendezvous with defeat if not annihilation. The farmers of Utah, the plant workers of Ohio, and the immigrants of Florida are not the same folk as those of Spain. America saw the election-eve face of bin Laden, heard his pathetic rant — and shrugged that he, not it, was going down.

Finally, with the Kerry defeat we should lay to rest the Left’s latest revisionism that was much in vogue during the last few months in the mainstream media — promulgated by journalists and pundits in places like Harper’s, The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, and the Atlantic. We were lectured ad nauseam that the terrorists did not — as did extremists of all ages such as the Nazis, Japanese, and Soviet totalitarians — hate us for our allegiance to consensual government, modernism, and the freedom of the individual, but rather had understandable grievances because of our support for Israel, the war in Iraq, or the presence of oil companies in the Middle East. That canard too was rejected by the voters.

Bin Laden’s allegiance to fundamentalist fascism and hatred of the West may stay constant, but it is ignored by our intelligentsia, who instead gives credence to al Qaeda’s various grumbles that have ranged from the U.N. embargo of Iraq to U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia to, most recently, the supposed toppling of high-rise buildings in Lebanon. That there is now no embargo of Iraq, but U.S. aid; that there are no troops in Saudi, but increasing U.S. criticism of the monarchy; that Americans were butchered in Beirut and did not really retaliate but instead saved Arafat from his doom — all that apparently does not register with Bush’s critics. In contrast, the majority of Americans insists with the president that the Islamic fascists have no more gripe against America than did a Tojo, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, or Khomeini — and that such nightmarish figures, not our values and policies, must and will pass away.

The revisionists kept repeating in this campaign that Afghanistan was lost to the warlords due to “taking the eye off the ball in Iraq” and “outsourcing” the fighting and thus losing bin Laden. George Bush ignored these second-guessing experts, assured the American people that, like our forefathers who won WWII, a much richer America could still fight and win two conflicts at once, and that bin Laden, in the manner of a Karadzic or Mladic, was a doomed man — his end a detail of when, not if.

The harpies shrieked that Saddam’s petrofueled barbarity was not connected with al Qaeda or even the larger wave of Islamic terrorism — as if, say, Aryan Nazis could not have had anti-democratic alliances of convenience with Asian imperialists in Japan; as if the first World Trade Center bombing, the North Africa killings, the career of Zarqawi, and the al Qaedists in Kurdistan were either nonexistent or irrelevant.

In response, George Bush maintained that Islamic fascism is global, fed by self-induced failures of Middle East autocrats, who hand-in-glove with terrorists diverted the frustration of the Arab Street against America — a hyperpower that is not, pace bin Laden, libertine Sweden but rather their worst nightmare. Autocracy is their illness, and democracy, not American apologies, is their cure.

The administration maintained, without wavering, that those who were blowing up Americans in Kabul, or Baghdad, or Westerners in Madrid and Bali were of the same ilk. Their differences were the stuff of legalistic nit-pickers who might have equally parsed Mussolini’s fascism from Hitler’s Nazism or claimed that Mao’s Marxism so differed from Stalin’s Communism that the two could never have teamed up in Korea with yet a third wild-card totalitarian.

George Bush — through the beheadings, the kidnappings, Abu Ghraib, the hysteria of a Richard Clark, Joe Wilson, Anonymous, Rathergate, the 9/11 Commission, CIA rogue analysts, cheap European slurs, insane remarks from Walter Cronkite to Bill Moyers, and last-minute media fabricated “scandals” — has never faltered, so confident was he in the exceptionalism of America and the unshakeable resolve and competence of the U.S. military.

Most of the American people, of course, agreed all along.

©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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