As I mulled over their comments, I asked myself the same question that has been repeating itself in my mind since Election night: "How did Bush pull it off?"
With no apparent effort, the White House subordinated important questions about matters that should concern Americans—jobs, the economy, the deficit, the mess that is Iraq—and deflected attention toward issues that don't directly impact more than one in 100,000 voters—gay marriage, abortion and other social hot button topics.
Bush was re-elected even though most Americans believe the Iraq war is going poorly, that health care costs are rising, that their jobs are threatened, that their taxes will not go down and that the economy is precarious.
But despite those fundamental concerns, the Bush team's perfect game plan centered on "values."
The marching orders were clear: "Don't talk about anything important. Make sure you label Kerry a 'Massachusetts liberal.'"
Take, for example, jobs. Voters refused to either press Bush on that vital subject.
Here's an example. On Election Day, the New York Times published a story by reporter Elizabeth Becker titled "Textile Quotas to End, Punishing Carolina Towns."
Becker wrote about Leann Herrington. Once a North Carolina textile plant worker who earned a living wage, Harrington now considers herself lucky to be employed as a waitress at the Towel City Junction Cafe making $3.00 an hour plus tips.
The mills that employed Herrington have been systematically closed over the last decade. Apparel manufacturers have off-shored their plants to Third World countries in their tireless search for the cheapest labor.
Now, however, things are poised to get worse for struggling workers like Herrington.
Pursuant to World Trade Organization demands made over a decade ago, the global quota regulating the $495 billion textile market will be eliminated in January 2005.
North Carolina will soon become dotted with ghost towns. Even a modest job at the local café may vanish as people realize that budget restaurant meals are a luxury they can no longer afford.
The cruel irony comes when you realize how little Bush has done to help North Carolina.
In an April address at the Piedmont Central Community College, Bush said:
"In North Carolina, you've seen progress of your own here. First of all, I fully understand that there are people who hurt here. Industries like the textiles and the furniture manufacturers are struggling, and that is an issue that we've got to deal with." (Remarks by the President on Job Training and the Economy)
Obviously, there has been no "progress" in North Carolina. And Bush never did "deal with" the lost jobs in the textile industry. In fact, at no time did Bush so much as lift a finger to help anyone.
Nevertheless, the North Carolina voted overwhelmingly for him, 57%-43%.
I ask again: "How is it possible?"
Oregon Democratic Governor Ted Kulongoski may have the answer. Said Kulongoski:
"The Republicans are smarter. They've created these …social issues to get the public to stop looking at what's happening to them economically. What we once thought—that people would vote in their economic self interest—is not true, and
We Democrats haven't figured out how to deal with that." [Democrats need to connect with heartland, By Nicholas D. Kristof, November 4, 2004]
Actually, if I may correct Kulongoski, what the Republicans have done is "exploit" the social issues, not "create" them.
Not that the Republicans needed any help but the hapless Democrats infinitely aided the G.O.P. on its road back to the White House.
If Kerry had one iota of charisma, he would be the president-elect. But he is so bland that he became the first candidate in presidential history to win three debates but lose the election.
I don't know where the Democratic Party goes from here except into a state of deep soul searching.
One thing is certain: Hillary Clinton, who shares Kerry's eastern liberal elitist credentials, will not be the party's 2008 nominee unless it wants to suffer an even bigger humiliation than it did in 2004.
Regular readers of my column know that I have beaten up on Bush routinely over the last four years. But what's done is done.
During his acceptance speech, Bush said: "A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation."
Accordingly, in anticipation of Bush's conciliatory gestures toward those Americans who make up the half of the nation that did not vote for him, I wipe my slate clean of all past grievances.
I take Bush at his promise that it is his "duty to serve all Americans."
And I hope I am not disappointed.