Yet Bush came closer than any wartime incumbent ever to losing his office in terms of his margin of victory. Indeed, 51% to %48 would be the worst percentage margin for any second-term winner since Woodrow Wilson in 1916, and depending on the ultimate decimals might not even match Wilson's 3.2 margin. Then Bush's would be the narrowest second-term margin ever. In terms of the margin in the total popular vote, Bush's margin is the worst for a winning incumbent since Truman in 1948, a 4-way race in which the Dixiexcrats and Progressives took away more than a million Democratic votes. Bush won, but there ain't no "mandate," and we can't let the media forget that. Kerry's defeat is not even in the ballpark of McGovern or Mondale or Dukakis, to say nothing of Goldwater and Dole.
The situation in Congress also needs to kept in perspective. By historic standards, Congress will still be closely divided. The GOP increased the strength of its hold over Congress, but only by a little, and has not yet matched the advantage that the the Democrats enjoyed as recently as the mid-1990s. The Republicans are nowhere near the almost 2-1 advantage that the Democrats had in the mid-1970s, and have few prospects of getting there. At the same time, Democrats are barely even contesting a large number of seats that would be far from safe if we found good, energetic candidates to run for them. (Targeting has gone way overboard in my opinion, especially here in the Midwest.)
Rough times are ahead, but we've got to be tough and meet them. Reform the party for sure, formulate a clear message to get out, and quit nominating presidential candidates from Boston; at the same time, stow the deathbed talk and handle this like the Republicans would. Remember how they acted in 1996? We need to aggressively belittle Bush's victory, deny its historical significance, keep working toward media parity, and confidently plan to make Bush's second term as difficult for the Republicans as possible, setting the stage for our big comeback in the 2006 midterms and after. The disastrous nature of Bush's policies should make the last bit easy if we don't fall apart.
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