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BRIAN MCGRORY

The bitter aftertaste

One of the many frustrated Democrats trudging out the door of Faneuil Hall after John Kerry's concession speech on Wednesday made an observation that's worth passing along. He said that more people in Ohio lost their jobs over the last four years than switched their votes.

He's actually right. The state shed 237,000 jobs during George W. Bush's first term, yet Kerry came only 30,252 votes closer to winning Ohio than Al Gore did in 2000. So the obvious question of the moment is as follows: Is Ohio stupid?

The answer in a moment. But first, a quick detour.

I used to believe in the deepest corner of my heart that the two smartest groups of people in these United States were electorates and juries -- the misfits who decided O.J. Simpson's fate aside. I believed that if you threw enough Americans together in a room or a situation, they were going to make the right decision. I believed that voters, especially, have demonstrated an innate understanding of when change is needed and when it's necessary to stay the course.

I believed all that until this week, and now I don't know what to believe anymore. On Tuesday, this country did something that I can't quite fathom.

I truly don't get how we reelected a sitting president who inherited a record budget surplus and turned it into a record deficit. I don't get how we reelected a president who waged a war against a nation that never attacked us on pretenses that ended up being indisputably wrong.

I don't get how we reelected a president who has Dick Cheney as his vice president. I don't get how we reelected a president who turned a reservoir of international good will weeks after Sept. 11 into a deep pit of anti-American hatred. I don't get how we reelected a president who lost the nation jobs and whose answer to every problem is bigger tax cuts for the wealthiest citizens.

Sour grapes? An elitist liberal view? Maybe, but I don't think so, and here's why: I voted for the guy four years ago. As recently as January 2002, I was proud to have him as my president. But right now I live in fear of what he's done these past two years and where he's about to go.

I don't blame John Kerry for this. He can't help his own political limitations. He began this race an aloof Massachusetts liberal, and he ended it largely the same way, maybe because that's what he actually is. Still, he outworked Bush, outdebated him, and over the course of the campaign, outsmarted him. His problems, though, were structural more than strategic.

John Edwards liked talking about two Americas and, unintentionally, he got it precisely right. The two Americas now are the God-fearing Southern and inland states -- that great mass of red that extends from the Carolinas all the way to Arizona, Nevada, and Idaho, places awash in land, religion, and moral values -- and the blue states, like us, mostly crowded, colorful, and unkempt, always pushing from odd angles, places where faith is mostly a private thing.

So back to the initial question: Is Ohio stupid? No, not really. It's just different, and states like that don't understand us any more than we understand them. What Bush did so well was play and prey on that schism, driving evangelical Christians to the polls more out of fear than hope, fear, especially, of the huns along the two coasts trying to spread their immoral ways. It's a key lesson in why good politics isn't necessarily good leadership.

Maybe the Democrats are what the Red Sox used to be, forever resigned to making strong but losing bids for the ultimate prize. The Republicans have all the firepower in the form of morals. In the middle of America, gay marriage is suddenly more important than good jobs at good wages.

People somewhere in the political center are left to pine for comity and common sense. We have a divisive president overseeing a divided nation, with prospects even worse than what we have now. And there's not an indication to be found that anything's about to change.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

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