After a campaign that was so closely contested, the results of this year’s election seem jarringly decisive. For President George W. Bush ’68, Tuesday was a “great night” — one that secured him a second term and seemed to validate his first. For Sen. John Kerry ’66 and his supporters, Wednesday morning brought second-guessing and a profound sense of disillusionment.
Like much of campus, we supported John Kerry on Tuesday. For us, too, the day after has brought us disappointment, anger and anxiety. We are disappointed because our generation, which seemed to understand the importance of this election in a way that was unprecedented, did not live up to its promise of high turnout. We are angry because we believe the president has not been held accountable for his failures. And we are anxious about the decisions Bush may make in a second term, especially possible appointments to the Supreme Court.
But unlike the election that first earned him the White House, Bush’s claim to the presidency this year is indisputable. He earned a majority of the popular vote, and his party strengthened its hold on both houses of Congress. There is no doubt as to whom the American people have chosen as their president.
Beyond our concerns about the president’s agenda for the next four years, it is perhaps that decisiveness that most troubles us and other Kerry supporters. To us, the failures of the past four years — exemplified by violence in Iraq, record deficits and a bitter divide in the nation’s politics — were damning. How could we believe so strongly that Bush did not deserve re-election, and yet be so forcefully repudiated by the rest of the country?
Yet for those who were drawn to the polls in the hopes of denying the president a second term, disappointment and anger are not enough. On this campus and throughout the nation, those who voted against the president must not take his victory as a reason to give up on politics. And those who are so disillusioned by the election’s results must try to recognize why so many Americans supported Bush even as they continue to express their opposition to the president’s policies.
There is no doubt that Tuesday’s election offers President Bush the opportunity to shape the national agenda. We hope — albeit with skepticism — that the president and his supporters will also use the next four years to bridge the political divisions that were so evident in this campaign. And we hope Democrats, in turn, seek ways to accomplish their goals in a Republican-dominated government without compromising their principles.
But at this University, the many students who found compelling reasons to go to the polls or get out the vote this week must not forget why they did so. In two years, voters will return to the polls in congressional elections that will likely be seen as a referendum on the president’s policies. Will Yalies show the same interest and passion in November 2006 that they did Tuesday? We hope so, just as we hope more take the passion they showed on Election Day to a career in public service.
The occupant of the White House for the next four years has been determined; the course of the nation has not. For those on campus who feel bitter and disillusioned today, that is a point worth remembering.