Report from the battleground that wasn’t – Election Day 2004

Election 2004 | Language/Structure

Well, we tried. Not that it mattered.

In the last weekend before Election Day, I feel that I personally persuaded maybe four people to vote through my canvassing efforts. And perhaps a few more on election eve, asking people to honk for Kerry, standing on the highway of SW 10th St. in between the Operation Bubbe headquarters at the Comfort Inn and the I-95 ramp in Deerfield Beach. Many of the big rigs honked for us; some SUV driver asked us whether Kerry was running for President of France; a reporter from the Forward stopped by to ask directions to the hotel (he would file this article). But it didn’t matter, as we were blown out of the water in Florida.


I had taken leave of my “Bubbe” cohorts for the election day. Instead I helped watch the polls in a couple of voting sites in Lauderhill and Miramar in Broward County Florida, just north of Miami. I wanted to do a favor for Sanford Dickert, who was dispatching volunteers out of the Plantation campaign office. At the precincts we did vote counts– mostly of African-Americans, ebullient to knock out the President; there were a few of his supporters though, stoic-faced and quickly walking past the line of Democratic activists at the polls (see my questions about the effectiveness of coordination). There were very few problems with registration; most were handled. At Miramar, the local jefe for the Cuban-American Democrats remarked that the 1100 votes were more than his Republican counterpart had challenged him to get (while less than Plantation had asked for…) So I felt satisfied taking off an hour before the polls were closing. As night fell I found my way to Florida’s Turnpike to get to the hotel at the other end of the county– fully confident that the it had yielded its fruits that day.

Back in Deerfield at 7pm, I re-joined my companions. We toasted our success in the hot tub, and mugged for the documentary crew filming our effort. At that point Virginia and North Carolina were “too close to call”. But when we checked in later, Pennsylvania in that category as well, and by 9pm the networks had added to that category the Midwestern states which were must-wins as well. Food arrived, and the rest of the hotel guests, a seeming bunch of red-staters, yielded the bar to us. We had no fun flipping between the networks as Jon Stewart was on none of them.

For a change of luck, we sought a change in venue. Around 11pm, a few of us drove up to the America Coming Together campaign warehouse in Delray where their staffers and volunteers had gathered to watch the results. A satellite dish provided the same unwanted television signal. Sandwiches remained uneaten. I wandered in a daze, and got a phone call from Roben Farzad in Boston, Floridian and White House intern of 1997. Roben and I were born on the same day, eight-and-a-half time zones apart (he in Tehran), and at this moment we were both in trying to answer the question “what happened?” The one antidote to the depressed mood was the presence of Cheryl Oring, outfitted in her 1950’s dress. She set up her manual typewriter on a fold-up table one more time to take dictation for postcards to Bush. For this project of polite protest entitled “I Wish To Say,” Cheryl had been featured as the ABC News “Person of the Week” during the week of the Republican National Convention. The previous day we had canvassed some territory in West Boca Raton together so I obliged her with a dictation. The time for articulate paragraphs was over; I could just think the “Pottery Barn rule” which Tom Friedman coined and Colin Powell repeated to his boss. “Dear Mr. President, We had a future. You broke it. Now fix it.” Just like John Kerry in the debate, I had mangled the imperative. Not that it mattered.

But our crisscrossing through Broward and Palm Beach could not summon up any more votes from the asphalt. As I would read in the Times analysis today, these two counties were 1-2 in giving largest vote differential to the Democrats in the state. However, not only had the Democratic margin eroded away in those two counties, but an additional two hundred thousand vote margin was delivered hundreds of miles to the north in the I-4 central corridor from Tampa Bay through Orlando to Daytona Beach. Back at the hotel, I announced to no one in particular that at least I wasn’t in Boston awaiting in the inevitable. And both places were preferable to Fallujah, where “Operation No Political Fallout” was likely to begin following the reelection. As the night wore on individuals broke away, much like the final Vegas scene in the remake of Ocean’s Eleven. I wasn’t keeping count as to whom had paired up during the week, if anyone, but by then the spirit of Bob Dole, pitchman of electoral dysfunction, had permeated the night.

I woke up in the morning, and turned on the TV to make sure that the world was still there. Rudy Giuliani was, which wasn’t the reassurance I was looking for. The first order of business of the day was to go to the car and clear the trunk of all the remaining campaign literature. I then ate breakfast with Abe and Rami, and then we took off Fort Lauderdale Airport. After having driven 400 miles over five days in the Nissan Altima, it was now time to actually pay for the gas. So I asked other people to pay for it. That’s leadership. ($36 for gas from Abe and Rami. True, I had rented the car for $260.) We listened to public radio for all of two minutes before switching to the dance music station, which just two nights ago had pumped us up, on the way to the John Edwards rally, with a dance remix to the words of John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech. Wednesday morning it was Duran Duran’s “Come Undone.” And that was it.


I let my thoughts come together at 37,000 up, looking out the window for the red-blue patterns on the landscape. The only red I saw was the Bloody Mary I had ordered for lunch. Down below I just saw brown and green, having made land over the Carolinas. The first landmark I was able to make out was the 20-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. A fitting symbol, perhaps, as the span appears disjoint from the air; it becomes a tunnel in the middle to make way for shipping lines. (For the record: The county on the peninsula side of the bridge, Northampton, went blue, but all the rest went red up until New Castle, Delaware.) And on my yellow pad I inscribed this thought:

It’s like the bad breakup, or worse than the worst breakup ever, from what seemed to a good relationship. What’s worse is after the breakup having to get back together with a GWB– a Girl With Baggage. This being the baggage: can’t stand looking at her or hearing her voice, she never has anything intelligent to say, touts abstinence, she has the most annoying parents, buys things on my credit card, lies to me, invaded Iraq without a plan to win the peace, and cut off funding for after school programs.

Later in Boston, giving this description in myfirst debriefing at the Washington Square Tavern, my friends asked which girlfriend had invaded Iraq and which had cut off those after-school programs? The latter may have been among the hoariest of Senator Kerry’s campaign exhortations. Bush’s errors have been much more damning. There were some unofficial after-school activities at the Seacoast Elementary School at the polling place in Miramar. Among the locals was a little schoolgirl who handed out literature to every potential voter and repeated her cheer: “Push Bush in the bush! Vote for Kerry, he’s not scary!”

That was then. In the airplane, I tuned in to CNN to watch the latest from Boston. I wheeled my memory, searching between “concession speeches” and “concession stands”, and I remembered the old Kennedy line. Google which quotes as such: “For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die.” (A surprise to no one, this most famous concession line was penned by the now infamous advisor to losing candidates, Bob Shrum) So I watched Kerry’s speech. And after I saw it, the anchors on CNN did in fact reference “the dream shall never die” speech and immediately I forgot what Kerry had said. Democratic voters who were less pro-Kerry as I, which is quite numerous, would have had less motivation to internalize his concession. That’s what I expected to find in Boston.


Back at Logan, I waived off a woman who chose the baggage terminal to lay out her emotional baggage of her bad experiences encountering Bushies at the Boca library. On shuttle and T to Government Center, I heard from a volunteer lawyer who was more sedate; he offered the theory about the anti-gay marriage petitioners pushing ahead the Bush vote (I’ve since read many dismissals of that theory). My own second guessing on campaign strategy was whether retiring Florida Senator Bob Graham could have helped carried the state; I have been reading his book, where he demonstrates how he knows more about 9/11 and Al Qaeda than perhaps any member of Congress. Upon returning home, the first armchair quarterback analysis I turned to was Will Saletan, who in Slate argued that Kerry should have wrapped everything around a simple and compelling theme: Responsibility. Seems good to me, we’ll see if we can remember it for next time. Maybe I could have come up with abbreviation “GWB” as “Guy With Baggage” a little earlier — it sure would have been a more catchy contribution to the language of campaigns than “W” stands for “Wrong”.

I opened up my copy of Arthur Schlesinger’s The Cycles of American History, a book which I have not read more than the first few chapters. But these are important chapters and they instruct well for the situation at hand. Schlesinger quotes Woodrow Wilson remarking to his Assistant Secretary of the Navy, “It is only once in a generation that a people can lifted above material things. That is why conservative governments are in the saddle two-thirds of the time.” The man he told this to, of course, was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who would lose a vice-presidential election, and subsequently use of his legs, before getting elected President in 1932 and bringing forth the New Deal. This was repeated with Kennedy-Johnson in the 1960’s, and the 1990’s brought Clinton’s “Third Way” liberalism. Whether, and how, this would have been extended under a Gore administration, who is to say, but we are now back in the saddle of conservativism.

So while we wait until 2020 (along with the 2020 Democrats), there is work to done. Those who have been inspired by the pithy “United States of Canada” to migrate Northward should advised that they’re going to needed here to defend states’ rights. That the country will be socially conservative for some time should worry us, but it shouldn’t mean we should give up. Think also of the bright side. Those tax policies that benefit the rich are handy, since a majority of those taxes are paid by– residents of blue states.

So here’s a shout-out to our red-stater, red-baiter, bed-hater, pay-it-later government: we’ll keep our money after all. You can own the fiscal mess. Not that it matters to you. If history is any teacher, you won’t be in office very long after the dam breaks.

NOTE (November 14th): The first version of this piece referred to ACT as “America’s Coming Together”. I have changed it to remove the ‘s.
NOTE (November 16th): I mischaracterized Roben’s connection to Florida and the Gore campaign. This was in the years after college when we didn’t talk and I didn’t know where he was. Now that he’s in Boston we get falafel every week.
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    life [email protected] Nov 08 ’04 1:32PM