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Bits ’n’ pieces from Election Day

04 November 2004

As California voters streamed to the polls on Tuesday, a small crowd huddled inside the Moses Hall library, where the Institute of Governmental Studies had tuned a big-picture TV to CNN. At around 4:30 p.m., technical difficulties caused the loss of the satellite feed, and the already sparse gathering thinned out noticeably. One student entered the room, briefly took in the silence, and said, “It’s so quiet. Did Bush win?”

He hadn’t, yet. But the resumption of satellite service was generally not well-received by the Kerry-leaning crowd, which fluctuated between 20 and 40 people, according to exit polls. When Ken Mehlman, the Bush-Cheney campaign manager, projected what some viewed as a premature win in Florida, a viewer dismissed him with the mantra, “Spin, spin, spin.”

It wasn’t until 7:15 — when the channel was changed to Comedy Central, where Jon Stewart and his “Daily Show” confreres were putting their own special spin on the election returns — that laughter reared its head, however fleetingly, in the IGS library.

On the morning after, much of the laughter had turned to tears and other expressions of unhappiness for many on campus. Lisa Bauer, a manager for Campus Recycling, wore her feelings on her sleeve — and pretty much everywhere else she could think of. “I’m in black,” she reported by phone. “Black pants, black shirt, socks, shoes, earrings, and necklace. Every last inch of what I have on is black, including my jewelry. At work, so far, no one has figured it out. There’s a lot of black-wearing that goes on on campus, but this has an intention behind it.”

But Bauer, who called the Bush victory “yet another American tragedy,” wasn’t giving up hope. “We’ve got to make something good out of this, because it’s really bad,” she said. “My hope is that with eight years of Bush, we’ll be so disgusted with his inadequacy that we’ll actually put forward a good candidate who can get elected, and we’ll learn how to better them at their dirty-pool game.”

Larry Ruth, a policy specialist and academic coordinator at the College of Natural Resources’ Center of Forestry, reported a “split decision” in his office, where “some people have gone to the Dark Side.”

“Personally, I’m fine,” the Kerry supporter said, while adding that he was “surprised” by the result. As for his co-workers, “Some people [who voted for Bush] realize that this doesn’t solve anything. Many of them are involved in policy issues regarding the environment. They still have many questions about how the re-election will affect issues near and dear to them.”

A small, unscientific sampling of politically oriented faculty yielded a mix of sarcasm, resignation, and even a measure of relief that the season was finally over. Nelson Polsby, professor of political science, was reluctant to talk about the election — but did offer a thought on whether the photo-finish will lead to a more centrist second term for the incumbent president. “Bush had a mandate last time to be moderate, and we all know how richly he fulfilled it,” said Polsby. “He still has a mandate to be moderate. But I’m assuming that he will continue to give us in-your-face government.”

Ph.D. candidate Casey Dominguez, a specialist in American politics who has taught a class here on the U.S. presidency, suggested the closeness of the race could provide “some foundation for a compromise,” albeit a shaky one. “George W. Bush legitimately won the election,” she said. “But he’s won both of his elections in an unbelievably narrow way. Now, he can govern from the right, and believe this was a mandate for his ideas and his policies. Or he can govern from a position of compromise. I don’t see that happening, and I don’t see the divisions in the country being healed over the next four years. But that’s up to the Bush administration.”

“They had a really good turnout operation and they beat the Democrats,” she said. “But no, I don’t think this confers a mandate.”

To Jack Glaser, an assistant professor in the Goldman School of Public Policy, fear was a key to Tuesday’s outcome. “The psychological literature is quite clear: When people are threatened, they tend to embrace existing leaders and institutions,” he explained, adding that “any time people were thinking about Osama bin Laden, that was good for Bush.”

“I think it turns out to be a good thing that Bush won both the electoral and the popular vote,” Glaser continued, “though I personally think the Electoral College is obsolete and ought to be abandoned.” He concluded: “There’s always going to be drama….It’s a good thing we only do this every four years, or we’d all be exhausted.”

And for the last, poetic word, we return to CNR’s Larry Ruth:

Uruguay —

not far

enough away