Democrats Proved Nader Right
...about him not being the problem they had/have, about Bush being a symptom of system failure, and the necessity to fight for convincing others on issues rather than try to get them based on already held views with a 'Centrist' platform.
However, while the title may leave that impression, this post is not about crowing, but about the future after the US elections. I address Kerry voters here, because while I didn't like your candidate and didn't share your enthusiasm, I think the grass-roots movement you created and have been part of is a great achievement, and one that needs to be kept alive, strenghtened and improved, even if Kerry lost, as seems likely - I'm echoing Steve Gilliard's honest post here.
(At the moment I'm writing this, Kerry would need to pick up 131,000 votes from Ohio provisional and absentee ballots to win, which if there are 250,000 of these, would mean those split 190,500:59,500 - not too likely. And even if he wins Ohio, and even if Diebold stole the elections in Florida - as seems likely, given that both young and minority voters became more active, but it was Bush who 'picked up' half a million votes -, Bush got the popular vote overall, plus the Senate and Congress, which would mean such a weak mandate that it could be counted as a defeat.)
This time, a Democrat Presidential candidate lost important states by margins wider than Nader votes (Gilliard laudably acknowledges this) - pointing to the fact that the DNC and activists must have done some things wrong on their own (which should be corrected, and which I will analyse below). The eagerly, uncritically and almost universally accepted scapegoat for the loss in 2000 was just an excuse to not admit own errors. The tireless destruction of the 2004 Nader vote gave us a real-life test of this, a lesson learnt four years late.
The Nader issue merits only one more paragraph, and even this only as symptoms of what I write about below. The main achievement of the anti-Nader campaign has been a million or two people switching from third-party voter to non-voter, while those who would have chosen a major party candidate if he resigned included a lot of Republicans [evidence on this and other demographics discussed below can be found in CNN exit poll] - and the seriousness of the Democrat errors hidden behind the 2000 Nader-bashing could have been guessed from the two facts that both the number of registered Democrats voting for Bush (by 150%) and the number of disenfranchised voters (by 100%, IIRC) exceeded Nader votes (this year 13% of registered Florida Democrats elected Bush and 0% Nader, while Ohio Democrats pulled a Katherine Harris on Nader who thus wasn't on the ballot).
(Before I proceed, I note that my arguments are not only based on outside observation of the USA, but similar developments in my own country - whose political system is getting close to devolving into a similar two-party system as yours; which in 2002 had a scandal elections with features of both your 2000 and 2004 elections; and in which I could observe how the outcome plays out when the not-really-prepared-to-fight Left won narrowly, but seems to lose on the long run.)
So what were the errors I see?
One is of course the myth of the Centre. Since Clinton's victory, the dogma is that elections are won by getting the votes of people in the political centre, and that this vote can be won by peddling wishy-washy positions. However, the non-static nature of the political landscape doesn't just mean that this centre is shifting, but that election campaigns themselves will shift it. And this is not a simple issue of where is the mean value, and not even just one of losing voters at the edge while gaining at the centre. If a candidate supports a war but criticises it, if a candidate's supporters campaign about growing troop casualties but the candidate wants to send more troops, if a candidate won't use clear and strong arguments for fear of alienating some centre voters, the centre voters won't see a convincing presentation, they will see confusing one - and a little campaigning from the Evil Side will be enough to get many of these voters (the voters who can't see the danger in the Bushistas we see, as, well, they are in the centre) to choose the 'clear' candidate - and the Republicans will shamelessly use this opportunity. So it happened, 44% of moderates for Bush.
This brings us to another error I see, one more a characteristic of the 2004 elections than of that of 2000. There was a lot of enthusiasm about bringing out the vote, getting non-voters to vote. It's not just that this had a limited success with participation rising from 54% [with absentee ballots] to only 58-60% of eligible voters. The problem with getting non-political non-voters to vote with a lot of buzz is that even if it gets them to accept that elections are important this time, most ex-non-voters will still be superficial, and decide uninformed. Even those voting for Kerry. But the lot activated by the buzz, as they are clueless, was just as likely to buy into the spin abounding in the media and vote for Bush - that's how Bush getting 44% of those who didn't vote in 2000 can be explained. And that's one reason I didn't share the optimism of those (including Michael Moore) who discounted poll results because of record registrations (another is of course the 'balancing' effect of Republican vote fraud and supression). The solution to this is implied by the previous paragraph; it is not enough to persuade non-voters to vote, they must be 'educated', in a lasting way, using clear arguments not slogans.
Now I get to the maybe most important error: it seems to me you are still underestimating whom you're up against. A biased imperial media, thuggish Republican spinmeisters and lying officials may be enough explanation for vooing superficial voters (both those who are part of the voting Centre and those who were part of the non-voters previously). But the vast majority of Bush voters is not this group, but those who seek out biased sources of information and offensively discount facts contrary to their beliefs even if confronted with them - the community living in a faith-based virtual reality. I'm of course harking back to Robert Suskind's much-quoted quote about the reality-based community, which people read more in the context of Bush's 'thinking' rather than his supporters' 'thinking'. In the months preceding the Suskind article, on several ocassions I met outright refusal from leftist Americans to accept that some 35-40% of the US electorate could be like this, as if that would be a reality too hard to bear.
It is time to recognise that the main weapon of the conservative movement is not the subverted media, not neo-con 'think-tanks', not government lies and power abuses, but the uneducation of America. The creationist push through schoolboards, the budget cuts for public education, the steady infantilisation of public discourse in corporate media (both news and entertainment) combined to create a vast layer of people for whom reason is a bad word, and Republicans are preying on this. (The youth majority for Kerry doesn't change my point - 44% for Bush is still scary and stupifying, and you have to factor in uninformedness and rebelliousness among Kerry voters - the latter will go away, the first can be exploited, and there would go the Democrat majority in this generation, as it did among babyboomers.)
Note than in parts or at whole, the above errors, if went uncorrected for four years, could work against you in 2008 even if Kerry will win narrowly this time - combine that with the almost certainty that the conservative media would go full-throttle to blame failure in Iraq or economic problems connected to debts and deficits (exclusively) on Kerry.
My fourth and last point is about your grass-roots movement itself. At blogs like Atrios's and Steve Gilliard's, I saw both the bloggers and hundreds of commenters sharing the above mentioned illusions about a high turnout and lying opinion polls, about Kerry's appeal, about Nader's role, more I didn't mention; and uncritical acceptance of some claims. This has disturbingly reminded me of - excuse me, don't take this as an insult - the ways freepers operate. This is an issue not so much because of the extent to which your movement parallels freepers now (not much, OK?), but because of the question of what direction it will develop towards. The two bad alternatives are either that 1) with shattered illusions, your movement collapses, or that 2) you will find new scapegoats and excuses and create your own faith-based virtual reality.
The good alternative I hope for (and, in the Comments of the Steve Gilliard artice linked to at the top, see encouraging sings for) would be that 3) you correct these errors, use the chance of being freed from defending Kerry to reinvigorate your policy views (as Steve already did by again coming out explicitely for stopping the Iraq war), push candidates within the Democratic Party (or outide if they have chances) with a platform closer to these (rather than surrendering to the leadership as in Boston), expand their alternative to the established media, take on the Republican power machine, and get the majority of the voting-age population to recognise the fact when Bush drowns in the Iraqi quagmire or ruins the economy.