Politics in the ‘New Normal’ America

John Kerry
John Kerry; drawing by David Levine


During the spring and summer of 2004 some Americans, most but not all of them nominal Democrats, spoke of the November 2 presidential election as the most important, or “crucial,” of their lifetimes. They told not only acquaintances but reporters and political opinion researchers that they had never been more “concerned,” more “uneasy,” more “discouraged,” even more “frightened” about the future of the United States. They expressed apprehension that the fragile threads that bound the republic had reached a breaking point; that the nation’s very constitution had been diverted for political advantage; that the mechanisms its citizens had created over two centuries to protect themselves from one another and from others had been in the first instance systematically dismantled and in the second sacrificed to an enthusiasm for bellicose fantasy. They downloaded news reports that seemed to make these points. They e-mailed newsletters and Web logs and speeches and Doonesbury strips to multiple recipients.

These Americans had passed the point of denying themselves broad strokes. They kept one another posted on loosened regulations benefiting previously obscure areas of the economy, for example snowmobile manufacture. They knew how many ringneck pheasants Vice President Cheney and his party had brought down during a morning’s stocked shoot at the Rolling Rock Club in Ligonier Township, Pennsylvania: 417, of the 500 released that morning. They collected the vitae of Bush family associates named on the Web site of New Bridge Strategies, LLC, “a unique company that was created specifically with the aim of assisting clients to evaluate and take advantage of business opportunities in the Middle East following the conclusion of the US-led war in Iraq.” They made Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 the most commercially successful documentary ever distributed in the United States, earning in its domestic theatrical release $117.5 million. (By comparison, Moore’s 2002 Academy Award–winning Bowling for Columbine had earned less than $22 million.) They were said to be “energized,” “worked up,” motivated in a way they had not been even by Bush v. Gore, which had occurred at a time, nine months before the mandate offered by September 11, when it had still been possible to imagine the clouded outcome of the 2000 election as its saving feature, an assured deterrent to any who would exercise undue reach.

The July week in Boston of the Democratic National Convention, then, was for these citizens a critical moment, a chance to press their concerns upon the electorate, which had seemed during the month preceding the convention to be at least incrementally moving in their direction. By late June a Washington Post–ABC News poll had shown the President’s approval rating on the management of “the war against terrorism,” previously considered his assured ace in the hole, down thirteen points since April. In the same poll, the percentage of those who believed the war with Iraq “worth fighting” had dropped to 47 percent. By the week…

This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account.