Since 1996, it's been the case that every two years, an election is held and the Democrats lose it. In fact, with 1996 and 1992 as exceptions, this trend goes back to about 1976 (although I think we won a few midterms in there somewhere.) Also every two years, a torrent of articles (and now, blog posts) appear, making the case that we did this or that wrong, that if only we'd run to the center, run to the left, run somebody more charismatic, spent more money, gotten more volunteers, appealed to churches, appealed to values, not gotten impeached, run on our record, run away from our record, appealed to class interests, stopped appealing to class interests, ad infinitum, we could have won.
I'm sick of it. I know we're liberals, and reflexive introspection is basically our lifeblood; it's what makes us us. But we have to realize that it's killing us.
We ran a good race, and lost. It happens sometimes, and we need to start acting like adults. Losing by 3 points against a wartime president is, in the grand scheme of things, pretty good, and even if we don't really believe that, we have to say that we do. Nobody likes a loser; they may feel sorry for one, but they don't put their lives and livelihoods in the hands of one. Confidence builds confidence, and the sooner we stop whining and pretending that we're going to flee the country, and get our act together and grit our teeth and get ready to fight for every inch of ground, to fight judicial appointments and the privatisation of social security and the cutting of taxes and the defunding of arts programs and the suppression of free speech and liberty and civil rights and religious tolerance, the sooner we settle down to just do these things, the better off we'll be. They don't have 60 votes in the Senate, after all, and a united Democratic Party and a united Left behind it can still do a lot of damage. We have to fight, and we're not going to fight if we spend all our time whining about what went wrong.
The campaign was excellent. We matched the Republicans dollar for dollar and ad for ad (check out this one and this one and this one), neither of which we had been expected to do. We got people to the polls in record numbers: more people voted against this president than against any other in history. We won the debates, and we won the spin cycles after the debates. John Kerry won more votes than Al Gore in every single Ohio county that Gore won in 2000, often by fairly large margins (for example, he won 73,349 more votes in Cuyahoga county than Gore). Kerry won more votes than Gore in every Ohio county, save Darke (where he won 78 fewer), Mercer (288 fewer), Shelby (256 fewer) and Van Wert (183 fewer). Gore got 2,186,190 votes in 2000, or 46.5%; Kerry got 2,659,664 (almost 500,000 more), for 48.52% (info is here for 2004, and here for 2000.)
Much is now being written about what a poor choice John Kerry was to head the ticket, and I must disagree here as well. It's easy to say that we shouldn't have picked a boring Massachusetts liberal with no real accomplishments in 20-odd years in the Senate to run for President. But who should we have picked instead? John Edwards? How hard would it have been for the Republicans to paint him as too inexperienced to lead the fight against terror? (Never mind that Bush was just as inexperienced when he was elected; we all know the charge would have stuck.) Dick Gephardt? He was perhaps the only candidate even less personally appealing than Kerry, with the possible exception of Bob Graham, and his career in the Senate would probably have given the Republicans even more to work with than did Kerry's. I doubt anybody reading this blog lies awake at night wishing Lieberman had gotten the nomination, so I'm not even going to go there. Wes Clark would have been nice, but his campaign got started too late to really have a chance. After all of this, the only real alternative was probably Howard Dean. Much of what they said about Kerry would probably apply to Dean, especially after the way he ran his primary campaign. He was a centrist who ran like a Green, and if Kerry got in trouble for calling the Iraq war a "mistake" during the debates, one can only imagine what would have happened to Dean.
Ultimately, we were beaten in 2004. The only appropriate response is to sigh, pick ourselves up off the mat, figure out what went wrong, and get right back into it with everything we've got, and not let up until we have the White House again. Anything else would be counter-productive.