The Democrats’ Rough Road to Acceptance

American Association of American Voters
Nov, 2004

In her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, Swiss-born psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross outlined the five emotional stages that one goes through when dealing with death. As the 2004 presidential election was coming to a close late Tuesday/early Wednesday, it brought to mind the author’s insightful observations. It occurred to me that Democrats would be going through a similar process.

According to Kubler-ross, there are five stages of grief one experiences when confronted with the death of a loved one or dealing with one’s own terminal illness:

1) Denial
2) Anger
3) Bargaining
4) Depression
5) Acceptance

I thought it might be instructive to go through these stages in context of John Kerry’s presidential campaign which, in its own way, had become “terminal” in the waning hours of the incoming election returns. The “five stages of grief” might be an ideal template through which to observe Democrats in their election defeat.

1) Denial: As the numbers in Ohio started to look good for George Bush, Democrat strategists refused to concede, insisting that provisional ballots would still win the day. CBS, CNN, and CNBC could not bring themselves to admit that a Bush victory was only a matter of time. As the numbers continued to add up in favor of George Bush, Kerry Campaign manager Mary Beth Cahill released this statement: “The vote count in Ohio has not been completed. There are more than 250,000 remaining votes to be counted. We believe when they are, John Kerry will win Ohio.” Even as John Kerry was preparing his concession speech on Wednesday, CNN, ABC, and CBS refused to give Ohio to Bush. Dan Rather still hasn’t conceded.

2) Anger: In the ensuing weeks, we might see Democrats looking for people to blame. They’ll look for “logical” explanations as to why they lost. They’ll say it was stupid voters who got fooled into voting for Bush. They’ll claim that Democrat voters were the victims of disenfranchisement and voter fraud. Weird conspiracy theories that defy the imagination will dominate their discussions. Their hatred for Bush will intensify.

3) Bargaining: Kerry voters will perhaps calculate and recalculate electoral vote combinations in an unrealistic hope that if some tally results are challenged, the numbers could still change in their favor. There will be a few Democratic Party holdouts who will concoct a number of legal schemes in hope of attracting the sympathetic ear of any judge willing to listen to their desperate case.

4) Depression: I predict that many Kerry voters will slowly sink into a confused apathetic funk. “How could this happen?” they will ask themselves. “We had George Soros and the press on our side. We had Michael Moore and Bruce Springsteen. Where did we go wrong?” Even as reality sets in, Democrats will find no answers to console them.

5) Acceptance: This is the most difficult step of all. In fact I’ll bet that many Dems will never make it through this stage. Just ask Al Gore supporters. Many of them still haven’t accepted their unfortunate fate in the 2000 election. If Kerry supporters are going to recover, they’ll need to accept their defeat.

Between now and the inauguration, you’ll see a lot of media pundits and Democrats experiencing one of these five stages of grief. Some will be found somewhere in the middle of steps One, Two or Three. Some might make it to step Four and find themselves stuck there,unable to make that last leap to Acceptance.

I’m no therapist, but you don’t need a degree in psychology to understand that life goes on. Most of us intuitively understand that we need to find ways of getting over our failures and shortcomings. Yet since the Republican surge of 1994, Democrats have seemed unable to face up to the many errors of their ways.

Democrats might start with following some of their own advice. According to the Kerry flunkies at, they’ve declared, “It’s time for a change in leadership.” Although that directive was aimed at unseating George Bush, the Democrats might want to consider a change in their own leadership. “Heal thyself” might make a good first step in their political recovery program.

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