In 2000, it was easy to blame everything on Al Gore. He was a lousy candidate for 100 reasons (at least 20 of which were named Joe Lieberman) and his repudiation of Bill Clinton rang as false as his loping, sissified speaking voice. Naturally, he's a brilliant man in real life, but not every brilliant man is meant to be president. John Kerry is also a brilliant man--did you see the debates? They were like public floggings of President Bush, and not in the easy fake liberal sense, either. Kerry spanked Bush three times in a row, outed him as the rube he was and will always be, and brought out--though few seemed to notice--the true class dynamic of this election. Though Kerry took the snob rap hard, it was Bush who appeared offended by the very idea of being asked questions, of sharing the stage with this Catholic, this Massachusetts liberal, this senator. I don't know about the rest of you, but Kerry's response to Bush's faux-teur was what won me over for good and all: His answers were stirring, but his facial expression while Bush drowned--amused, patient, gentlemanly--was a priceless display of old-world condescension toward an unworthy nouveau riche opponent.
But most people seemed to miss this subtext, opting only to perceive Bush's "just-folks" simplicity and Kerry's erudition. Sure, Kerry was shaky on abortion and nowhere on Iraq, but the emotional component of the campaign allowed us to pretend he wasn't, because we knew in our hearts that he'd still be a better leader than the one we already had. If we'd been able to stand back a bit and admit Kerry's obvious shortcomings, and apply some intellectual skepticism to the proceedings, it's likely that Bush's victory wouldn't have felt like such a personal defeat, collectively and respectively. That's not to say we shouldn't have gotten behind our man--there's no denying our little dream felt great while it lasted. The regret is that we allowed our involvement in presidential politics to become emotional. We called our parents, volunteered to register voters, gave whatever money we had, shunned those who disagreed, and beat each other's brows ceaselessly. Maybe next time we could try holding our candidate--as well as our party--to a higher standard.