Ostensibly, United States President George W. Bush's victory is not a striking one: After a long and exhausting effort, the Texan president succeeded in defeating his Bostonian opponent by a narrow margin of about 3.5 million votes. Only after a nerve-wracking night did it emerge that George W. had indeed crossed the line of 270 electors needed to win. Therefore, the Democrats indeed can argue that had they only brought about 100,000 Ohio voters onto their side the picture would have been different.
Had they only persuaded a number of Jewish retirees and Hispanic immigrants in southern Florida, Massachusetts senator John Kerry would have been elected president. And in any case there was no landslide here. There was no knock out. The Republican victory was a slim victory on points.
However, the truth is that Bush's victory is a dramatic one. A historic victory. Perhaps even a milestone victory. And this is not only because he succeeded in repelling a comprehensive attack by the liberals in American society. This is because he also beat down the East Coast elites and the West Coast elites.
This is because he brought about a stunning defeat of the enlightened American public. Israelis should understand very well what happened in the United States on November 2, 2004. After all, this is exactly what happened here on June 30, 1996. When on the morning after the elections for prime minister in which Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Shimon Peres, Israel split into two nations.
When the man most hated by North Tel Aviv defeated those who hated him. When a conservative whom the elites scorned succeeded in trouncing them. And when in Israel there was a kind of popular uprising of the periphery against the center. All the traditional and the pious against the secular. When even though the decision was by the slimmest of percentages, its significance was revolutionary.
The American system is indeed likely to allow Bush to succeed where Netanyahu failed. This is because now, after he won by an absolute majority of the popular vote as well as total control of both houses of Congress, Bush has a clear mandate to advance a radically conservative agenda. He has a mandate to change the face of the Supreme Court and to impose traditional and religious values. There is only one thing that George Bush doesn't have. He does not have one nation behind him. He has a nation that split in two this week.
Thus the biggest test that is facing Bush now is the test of healing. The test of mending and curing. During the course of his first term Bush did not display any talent in this area. His strength was in his determination, his simplification, his black and white beliefs. Now, however, on the day after the victory, Bush must cease to conduct fanatical crusades against all his opponents. He must be tough but he must listen. Tough but balanced. And he must learn to build coalitions of agreement both within and outside America.
If he does not do this, he will slash the international community entirely. If he does not do this, there will be a profound identity crisis in America the likes of which it has not known since the Vietnam War. Such a crisis is liable to cause the just war on terror to fail. It is also liable to prevent him from dealing properly with the challenge of his life: the Iranian bomb.
However, the Democrats also are facing a critical challenge. They have to ask themselves frankly why they failed. Why they lost touch with the common American public. And why they did not succeed in building a convincing worldview that is appropriate for the age of terror. Why they did not succeed in giving a real answer to the cowboy ethos of the president they loathe.
If the Democrats want to prevent a schism in America and prevent it from becoming a reactionary state, they must redefine themselves. They must shake off the limp diplomatic tradition of Jimmy Carter, Michael Dukakis and John Kerry. Today both America and the West need a Democratic party and a Democratic leader of a different sort. It is not worthwhile waiting. It is worth putting out the tender tomorrow: a new Harry Truman is needed.
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