Campaign ‘04, R.I.P.

Everybody loves a winner, and that goes double for middle-of-the-road newsweeklies. Says Time, sounding like a Bush campaign ad: “When it was finally over, the president who had become a radical champion of democracy’s power to change the world became a living symbol of how it works. He made his decisions and moved on … He saw his task as leading and never looking back, and only that night did he learn whether enough people had decided to fall into line behind him and allow him to carry on” — as opposed to all those other presidents who knew beforehand whether they’d win?

Newsweek has its own wrap-up, of course, and it also finds space for columnist Eleanor Clift to second the advice Democrats have been getting from every amateur political strategist since Tuesday: talk about “values” more. The prescription is muddled, though: “Kerry’s failure to address gay marriage was a fatal mistake,” according to the column’s sub-hed, and Clift asserts that Kerry “didn’t take seriously enough the threat” posed by the anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives. But nowhere does she suggest what Kerry might have said, which, given that most people in the states with ballot initiatives seem to disagree with him on the subject, would seem to be the crux of the issue.

Meanwhile in The New Yorker, Hendrik Hertzberg persuasively debunks the conventional wisdom that the country is shifting right: “The red-blue split has not changed since 2000. This is not a center-right country. It is a center-right country and a center-left country, but the center has not held. The winner-take-all aspects of our system have converged into a perfect storm that has given virtually all the political power to the right.”

And at The New Republic, Peter Beinart takes up the Democrats-need-a-southerner argument, since, “it is Southerners who most often possess an ease with overt faith that helps them connect to more religious voters, black and white.” He argues that, “the party should have been more wary of the New England political style, with its awkwardness about public declarations of faith.” Funny, we thought we remembered plenty of public declarations of faith from Kerry.

As for The Weekly Standard, it’s still all about the media. Stephen Hayes believes Bush won in spite of an organized effort by the news media to defeat him. He points to the ABC News “false equivalence” memo, the Dan Rather misstep, and the missing explosives story, among other instances of supposed liberal bias — and even takes issue with the idea that reporters should act as “truth-squadders, toiling away on the gray margins of political debate to elucidate … misstatements, exaggerations, and outright lies …” Hayes thinks the media didn’t hold the Kerry camp similarly accountable, but he must have missed all those painstakingly even-handed “fact-check” pieces that followed every debate. His real intention seems to be to beat back the growing consensus that reporters should act as more than mere transcribers of campaign rhetoric. History will not judge him kindly.

Zachary Roth

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Zachary Roth is a contributing editor to The Washington Monthly. He also has written for The Los Angeles Times, The New Republic, Slate, Salon, The Daily Beast, and Talking Points Memo, among other outlets.