Until some as-yet-unreported source of missed Ohio votes appears, I assume that it’s over for Kerry. Items upon which I take only small comfort:

1. I wasn’t the only one who expected a clear Kerry win; in the final runup all the buzz on both sides of the fence was going his way, and it appears that both campaigns were equally surprised at the ultimate result.
2. Bush will now have to face his own mistakes and their consequences.

In my heart of hearts I was holding out for a very strong Kerry victory—clinching Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Florida all before midnight, or something to that effect. But new voters and increased voter turnout didn’t sway to the left; they stayed pretty much even, and so we got another razor-thin result that tilted Bush’s way.

Before I swear off paying attention to polls ever again, there are two things that struck me about the exit numbers reported last night. First, the Bush lead on the question of “who’s better to fight terror” was huge, and this despite the fact that when it comes to Iraq (mistake or not, success or failure, relevant to WoT or not) the results were more or less even. These numbers aren’t new, but seeing them verified in the voting booth reminded me of them, and of the fact that they make no sense to me at all and never will.

The other thing that struck me were the high numbers that put “moral values” as their number one concern. More did so than put “terrorism” or “the economy,” according to a couple of sources on TV last night. That, coupled with across-the-board passage of measures opposing gay marriage, tells me that the culturally conservative segment of our society is bigger than I thought, or at the very least way more motivated than I thought. It’s that resounding victory on the cultural front that makes things look especially bleak. Republicans have cemented their Congressional leads and now have a President who actually won the popular vote. Democrats are demoralized and will likely turn to if-only games and petty squabbling—at the very least they’ll be off their game for a while. Er, more off their game than normal.

Here’s a hopeful take on things, one that my mind tells me is valid even if my heart isn’t in it right now:

After 9/11 Bush had approval ratings in the nineties. These have steadily eroded since then, and will continue to erode—it just so happens that at the moment of the election he still had it together enough to squeak out a victory. He did this thanks to a highly motivated cultural conservative base and a significant segment of the populace that takes solace, against reason, in his “tough guy” approach to terrorism. That latter group is going to keep shrinking, and history is against the cultural conservatives too, though that may take more time. And let’s not forget that the margin of victory was miniscule. It feels like a big defeat, but as I noted yesterday, the election results were still basically a statistical blip on what is essentially a divided nation. There is all the chance in the world of a comeback in four years.