‘The people have spoken, the bastards.’ While John Kerry’s concession speech didn’t include this gem of a quote by congressional candidate Dick Tuck, it certainly could have. Kerry made the usual entreaties for national unity, healing, and an end to the partisan divide, but they rang hollow. His running mate John Edwards claimed that ‘the fight will go on’, but it’s hard to see where we have left to fight.

George Bush won the popular vote by over three million, solidifying his party’s leads in the House and Senate, and defeating the Senate majority leader. By anyone’s count, it was a good day to be a Republican.

Republicans will likely interpret this victory as overwhelming. Compared to the squeaker in 2000, it is a mandate from the people. But given how he governed when he lost the popular vote, I shudder to imagine how this victory will manifest itself in his policy proposals. He will almost certainly get to appoint three or more Supreme Court justices, as well as the new Chief Justice. There is renewed momentum for a ban on gay marriage, which will legally have to come as a constitutional amendment. Our preemptive foreign policy will continue and expand. The Patriot Act will be reinforced. The tax cuts will be made permanent. Social security will be privatized. America will continue to spread freedom from the barrel of a gun.

But before Democrats become utterly despondent, let’s remember that 48% of the country, over 55 million people, voted against George Bush and his ideology. This was not a blowout, and we put up a good fight, but we were clearly beaten.

Whatever it was, John Kerry didn’t have it. Maybe he pulled out of Missouri too early, or spent too much energy on Florida. Maybe he was too negative, or not aggressive enough. Maybe the campaign outsourced too much of the ground work to the 527’s. He was probably too nuanced and equivocal. There will be plenty of time for recriminations and accusations among groups on the left. The now leaderless party will wallow in its own self doubt and pity for the next few months. It’s hard to tell whose head will roll that hasn’t already been cut.

Before we degenerate into finger pointing, let’s savor this moment of sadness. There is a lesson to be learned here: a majority of Americans support Bush. Why exactly is a matter for the pundits to argue, but it’s undoubtedly true. Americans see something powerful in their plain spoken leader; something that we who get our news from the New Yorker and the Nation don’t. Although some of us would like to dismiss Bush as an ignorant cowboy, his victory forces us to realize that he is more than that. He is the man a slight, but clear majority of us chose to lead in these troubled times.

Bush promised in his victory speech to try to earn the trust of Kerry’s supporters. It’s hard to see how he will, but I’ll try and give him the benefit of the doubt. He didn’t steal this election, we lost it fair and square. Now it’s time to see what Bush will do with a lock on all three branches of government.

As our military surrounds Falluja yet again, ready to reinvade, I’m not hopeful about the future. Bush often says that history will judge his mistakes. Now that he doesn’t have to fear the electorate again, this is certainly true. But history is a harsher judge than the American people, and this chapter is Bush’s to write.