Well, it's been a week since the election and the United States hasn't slid into the sea (seas?) However, there's been much yappin' by pundits that the U.S. in actuality looks a little something like this:
It's easy to focus on the whole "moral values" issue that exit polls indicated was so important. It's fun, too, because everyone can make pronouncements about Bud-swillin' NASCAR dads and right-wing survivalist nut jobs and bible-thumpin'"Babtists," (as Joe-Bob Briggs likes to pronounce it.)
Personally, I think the reason Kerry lost was the reason that Gore "lost." He's a stiff! The zombies in "Shaun of the Dead" had more personality! Neither candidate had the charisma to sell a used car, much less convince voters of their qualifications for running the country. And let's face it, that's what the President is: a salesman. He (or perhaps she in 2008) can set policy, but the administration has no legislative power. All the President can do is make a sales pitch and hope Congress goes along. Or, barring that, gain favor with the populace, which controls Congress.
So the presidential election always comes down to a popularity contest. And in times of uncertainty, people stick with the devil they know, or at least the devil with whom they're most comfortable. Thus, the most likeable candidate usually wins it in a walk (see Reagan vs Carter, Reagan vs Mondale, Bush I vs Dukakis, Clinton vs Bush I, Clinton vs Dole, etc.). Likeability usually trumps other factors. Thus, Clinton was re-elected in a landslide despite his questionable ethics because 1) people liked him, and 2) Dole was a big stiff. It's hard to imagine a person who comes across as a bigger stiff than Bush I (although I respect the man), but damned if the Democrats didn't manage to field Mr. Excitement, Michael Dukakis.
I think the only reason W had trouble in his election the first time around is because people didn't know what to expect from him. Based on ability, Al Gore should have cleaned his clock. But Gore came across as a golem, particularly in the debates. To paraphrase Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, voters couldn't shake the feeling that if you poked Gore with your finger, nothing would come out but a little dirt and some straw.
Same with Kerry. I think the only reason the election was close was that Bush had made such an enormous mess in Iraq. But the masses were willing to overlook that because, gosh-darn it, they just liked Bush more, despite the fact that W is (arguably) the most reckless, irresponsible president the U.S. has suffered in the last 100 years. Yes, yes, the presidential election should be about who is the more capable candidate. But it hasn't been decided on that since the advent of television. And probably before that.
So the Democratic Party can talk all they want about unity and finding common ground. But what they really need is a candidate who doesn't remind voters of the robotic bears at Chuck E Cheese. Let's just hope Bush & Company don't completely mortgage the future of the country in the meantime with deficit-exploding mix of military spending, deferred-payment health care and tax reduction.