Like a lot of other thwarted voters, Tailpipe spent last Wednesday digging up information on the cost of living in British Columbia and Costa Rica. Faced with four more years of the Bush agenda, this rattled, rusty cylinder had some rough moments. The 2004 presidential election, with its phantom groundswell of right-wing Christianity, had shown the unseemly side of America. Think about it. The war, the floundering economy, the loss of jobs, all the issues that made Dubya 1 a disaster and stirred Tailpipe to outrage -- all, for the Bush voters, were secondary to gay-bashing and abortion-stopping and the all-important "Which candidate would you most like to have a beer with?"
As stunned comedian Jon Stewart put it the day after the election: "All of [the Bush screwups] were trumped by two dudes kissing."
And now, here comes Dubya 2.
Hold on while Tailpipe takes a couple of deep breaths of velvety carbon monoxide. This tube isn't about to relinquish the country because the Bush-leaguer won the presidency. The sly cylinder has worked his way through the phases of grief, and the black smoke is starting to spew again.
What went wrong? In South Florida, the Dems didn't turn out. Sure, in Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties -- the three biggest strongholds of sanity in Florida -- Kerry won hands down. But a closer look showed big trouble for the lovers of the preppy lug. Those margins of victory were, in what was bruited as "the most important election in our lifetimes," actually lower than those of the lackluster 2000 election.
For example, in Palm Beach, a long-time Democratic stronghold, the Kerry margin of victory was 17,000 less than Gore's. "Take the big Democratic counties and shorten their impact and the effect is going to be huge," says an exuberant county Republican chairman, Sid Dinerstein, whose crackerjack organization exceeded its goals by 50,000 votes on Election Day. "If the Democrats don't win big in those three counties, it's a very hard night for them."
Dinerstein says the Republicans made big inroads by going after Jewish votes with a pro-Israel message and minority votes with the "moral values" package. Like the 'Pipe, the disorganized Democrats just sputtered and sneezed.
Tailpipe spent Election Day taking note of the signs of looming disaster. Take the one that was planted on the grassy swale in front of Julie Beck's front yard in the Riverland section of Fort Lauderdale. Beck, age 44, the owner of a print shop, tacked her anti-Kerry sign ("Save America: Flush the John's") to a vintage Nixon/Agnew placard. "Who wants that next to their house?" groused Beck's next-door neighbor, Rick Cooke.
Tailpipe figured it for a brilliant stroke of irony -- spotlighting a pair of Republican scoundrels, both of whom resigned from office on suspicion of criminality.
Beck sees Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew as part of a storied legacy. "Nixon got a bad name," she said. "Nothing could be proven. We should give him honor. After all, he passed away." Take that, Watergate.
Still scratching his rusty pate, Tailpipe shot over to the east side of town, where, at the busy intersection of Federal Highway and Oakland Park Boulevard, a swarm of young teens in school uniforms suddenly materialized. They flooded the lane divider, darting away from oncoming cars, waving Bush-Cheney placards, chanting "Bush! Bush! Bush!" This was not some get-out-of-school rebellion, it turned out, but a parent-sanctioned activity by the Teenage Republicans at Westminster Academy. Sean Joynt, club president, had mustered 150 young Dubya-lovers to show their support -- and get out of school for a few hours.
Students from other schools also began to mass on the four corners of the intersection, jumping and waving with youthful exuberance as cars zipped by inches away.
Tasia Irby, 12, and Erica Briggs, 13, both in the uniforms of Bethany Christian School, were there. "Bush is the best," Tasia pronounced. "We need a president like him to lead the country."
Janet Briggs, Erica's mom, was there to accompany the group. She wasn't worried about the children missing school, the dangers of the passing cars, or the fumes emitted by yours truly. "This is our future," she said. "It's their future." She got that right, Tailpipe figured, though after last Tuesday, the future looked like bombs and bankruptcies.
There were strong signs of the Republicans' unabashed squelch-the-vote campaign at some polling places in Broward County. At 3 p.m., Kerry poll watchers waited apprehensively near Precincts 35A and 10Z in west Deerfield Beach. The two had been combined at the last minute at a neighborhood clubhouse, to the confusion of many voters in this largely Haitian, working-class neighborhood.
If the new location was meant to shrink the vote, it worked. The seven or eight Democratic monitors often outnumbered actual voters. Parking was scarce and inconvenient.
A young Haitian man named Daniel, a first-time voter, approached Darcey Welch, a Creole-speaking attorney from Boston who's been down here for a week canvassing for Kerry. "I don't have a registration card," Daniel said. "I only have this." He showed his Florida driver's license. Welch tried to get only one message across: If you have any trouble, come back out here and get me.
Ten minutes later, an old woman with badly dyed red hair came out hopping mad about Daniel. "The first guy he went to said he needed two forms of I.D.," she said. "I said, 'You don't know what you're talking about.' So he went to a different line, and they let him vote."
The exchange apparently irked some of the poll workers, because a few minutes later, Mary, the precinct captain, stormed over to the gathered Kerry monitors. "I'm getting complaints about you guys bothering people trying to get to the polls," she bellowed. "They say you're harassing them, hustling people about who they should vote for. If I get any more complaints, I'm calling the sheriff's office."
As she marched back inside, one Kerry monitor yelled, "You know, there's a bunch of Republicans in there who are telling lies!" But there were also indications of the Democrats' habitual disarray.
In Riviera Beach, fliers distributed in predominantly black and poor neighborhoods encouraged voters to do their civic duty. Just one problem: The flier listed the wrong polling station.
A right-wing conspiracy?
Emily's List -- a nationwide political network that funds and backs pro-choice, Democratic female candidates for local state, and national office -- distributed the flier. In Florida, the organization endorsed Senate loser Betty Castor and congressional winner Debbie Wasserman Schultz. By noon, more than a dozen black voters -- the same liberals Emily's List hoped to attract -- had shown up at the Lindsey Davis Senior Community Center when they should have gone to a polling station on the other side of town. "A limited amount of literature had misprints," admitted Emily's List spokesperson Ramona Oliver. "Right now, we don't know what the source of the error was."
One thing's for sure, the 'Pipe thought: The Christian Coalition would have had the right polling station.
Political consultant Ron Gunzburger, one of Broward's smartest political observers, says the Republicans just "out-strategized" the Democrats. "The same thing happened in Florida as happened everywhere else," Gunzburger says. "It's fascinating. Self-described liberals voted for Kerry 86 percent to 13 percent. Self-described moderates went for Kerry 55 to 45. Self-described conservatives went for Bush 85 to 15. By rights, then, Kerry should be president now, shouldn't he? But what happened was the Republicans increased the number of conservatives who turned out, from 29 percent of the 2000 vote to 34 percent of the 2004 vote. That translates to millions of additional voters for Bush."
While Kerry meandered from left to right during the campaign, first going after Howard Dean supporters, then catering to Democrats with Bush tendencies, the president pounded away on the right, Gunzburger says. "Bush ran to the right and stayed to the right," he adds.
"We had a candidate who was just trying to be too safe," he adds. "Remember that bumper sticker that said, 'Dated Dean, Married Kerry'? The idea was that Dean was your first love, but the guy you brought home to meet your parents was Kerry. There just wasn't any passion there."
Gunzburger summed it up, remembering the words of late Arizona Congressman Morris Udall, ending his 1976 presidential campaign: "The voters have spoken -- the bastards."
-- As told to Edmund Newton