By now, I've told you quite a bit about Jason's adventures: how he lived in Gyeeds, journeyed through Droydania, and visited a few other verses. Just as he was taken from Earth at the beginning of my story, so did my narration leave his homeworld behind. Now I wish to digress from Jason's personal circumstances for a while and tell you a story about our own planet; specifically, a part of it Jason knew he would never visit again, the United States. Though permanently separated from it, he kept one eye on it his whole life, and he watched these events unfold just as I tell of them.

George W. Bush began his presidency on a sour note. In the 2000 election, he lost the popular vote (albeit by a slim half-million), and he would've lost the election as a whole had not the Supreme Court decided the controversy over Florida's electoral votes in his favor. Yet in the months following his assumption of office, he proved an effective executive, working closely with Congress to push through several bills. Among them were a trillion-dollar tax cut and the No Child Left Behind Act, a right-wing sort of approach to education reform. His approval rating among Americans stayed over a half despite the steadily weakening economy.

Of course, after September 11th of 2001, everything changed. Bush's approval rating shot up to roughly 90%. Those Americans who hadn't met with a grim end (in the World Trade Center, in the Pentagon, or onboard an airplane) were scared half to death. Primarily they were surprised, as they had been decades earlier when the Japanese had assaulted Pearl Harbor. They were used to being entirely insulated from the violence rampant throughout most of the world; it was a terrible shock to realize that they weren't so invincible, after all. Their pride wounded, the American people hungered for revenge.

Everyone's first thought was to kill the terrorists who were responsible, not least to help prevent future attacks. While the hijackers themselves, like honey bees, had killed themselves to hurt their enemy, the men who had planned and funded the whole sordid business were still alive and well. US troops immediately invaded Afghanistan, toppled the local government, and rounded up as many terrorists as they could. Yet when all was said and done, the American desire for vengeance had still not been slaked. In particular, the terrorist leader who had become so closely associated with September 11th in the public mind, Osama bin Laden, was still at large.

In this climate of fear, anger, and nationalism, it was inevitable that the United States would go to war. Even if it was impossible to wage war against terrorists, who were as subtle and unstoppable as the Viet Cong guerrillas, the government declared a War on Terrorism, much as Lyndon Johnson had declared a War on Poverty. And meanwhile, in search of some more vulnerable foe, the country's gaze came to rest on Iraq. There was some discussion about how the Iraqi government was, according to all available intelligence, maintaining a stock of chemical weapons in violation of international law. At once, this was seized upon as justification for war, and under the aegis of "Operation Iraqi Freedom", the US and a few allies invaded Iraq.

The tiny Iraqi army melted away in a matter of weeks; it wasn't long before President Bush gave his famous "mission accomplished" speech aboard the USS "Abraham Lincoln". The difficulty came afterwords, as the "coalition of the willing" tried to reconcile the various warring factions and bring democracy to a country that knew only dictatorship. It quickly became apparent that the Iraqi insurgency would be no easier to quell than international terrorism, and the parties who were cordial enough not to kill each other were still generally unwilling to compromise. Furthermore, the much-ballyhooed "weapons of mass destruction" were nowhere to be found.

The Bush administration was undeterred. From the beginning, Bush himself had described the US's struggle with its international opponents as a battle of good versus evil: as "freedom", "liberty", and "democracy" versus "brutal oppression", "the ideology of hate", and "the axis of evil". Such a neolithic, black-and-white view of the world could easily accommodate arbitrary additions to the evil side. All the administration had to do to convince Americans that the war in Iraq was worth fighting was to vaguely associate Saddam Hussein with 9/11 and Osama bin Laden. It no longer mattered that the chemical weapons had never actually existed; who would object to a fight against evil? Such combat was justified by definition. The irony of the fact that in the Middle East, this perception was exactly reversed—that the Iranian government not infrequently referred to the United States as "Great Satan"—went largely unnoticed.

Yet as body counts increased unabated and the insurgents refused to back down, Americans' patience with the war began to wear thin. The federal budget deficit kept growing. The public heard of the administration's retributive revelation of an undercover CIA agent, the torture and abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib, and the lucrative no-bid reconstruction contracts awarded to Halliburton, a corporation with close ties to Vice President Dick Cheney. The popular view of Washington began to dim, and the Democrats dared hope they might deprive Bush of a second term. He was obviously a terrible leader, they thought, an impulsive, unintellectual fundamentalist who represented no one but filthy-rich born-again Christians. Four more years of the US under Bush meant he and his friends would have four more years to try writing their neoconservative worldview into law. The question was, the Democrats thought, has Americans learned?

For much of the Democratic nomination battle, it seemed as if the most liberal of all the candidates, Howard Dean, had the greatest momentum. Before the actual primary voting began, Dean raised the most money and rated highest in opinion polls. He had the eyes of the nation upon him: his bold left-wing rhetoric (he claimed to represent "the Democratic wing of the Democratic party") and explicit dovishness ("If you're a Democrat and did support the Iraq War, it calls into question your judgment") made him very attractive to young idealists who wanted someone as different from Bush as possible. Al Gore and Jimmy Carter officially endorsed him. His fans were called "Deaniacs".

Alas, the conviction and intensity that made Dean so popular was ultimately his undoing. When in December 2003 Saddam Hussein was found hiding in a small hole, support for the war (and Bush) surged. Dean said the dictator's capture "has not made America safer", which remark he was widely criticized for. His opponents had long characterized him as a raging lunatic; in a speech he made after his surprise third-place finish in Iowa, where he'd been performing well in polls, he made an enthusiastic shout that was shown on the network news over six hundred times in the next four days, much to his humiliation. Ultimately, since Dean had always been radical, he could never appeal to moderates, and so he'd been doomed from the start.

The actual winner of the primary was a candidate as moderate and hard to pin down as Dean was liberal and obvious: John Kerry. Kerry decisively won the two earliest contests, the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Once he took the lion's share of states on Super Tuesday, his last rival, John Edwards, officially dropped out, and President Bush gave him a congratulatory phone call. Immediately, the general campaign began in earnest; both Bush and Kerry drew as much attention to the contest then, in March, as previous candidates had only a month before the election. This may have been to Bush's advantage, as in the beginning he had ten times as much money to spend. The funding gap would've been greater still if Dean, in a conspicuous breach of the ethical high ground he claimed, hadn't broken the Democratic taboo against refusing public financing (to lessen the legal restrictions on accepting private donations), allowing Kerry to do the same without fear of public disapproval.

The legacy of Dean persisted in another way less favorable to Kerry, in the Bush campaign's favorite tactic. Dean had said of Kerry "If you agree with the war, then say so, but don't try to wobble around in-between."; the Republicans made much of Kerry being a "flip-flopper". While Kerry didn't change positions frequently enough to justify this charge, he did take notably less definite positions than Bush. Whereas Bush was obviously pro-war, for instance, Kerry said there were problems with the war and Bush's handling of it without being too specific about what was wrong. This was the consequence of Kerry trying to be all things to all non-conservatives, to make himself simultaneously acceptable to everyone from right-leaning swing voters to former Deaniacs. Meanwhile, Bush extolled his right-wing policies with impunity.

Over the course of the exceptionally long campaign, a variety of events favorable to each candidate transpired. Though Bush had his share of embarrassments, Kerry was hit more frequently and nearly always hit harder. Kerry's worst moment was when a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, funded by a Bush sympathizer, aired television ads challenging Kerry's Vietnam War record, which had formerly been considered one of his greatest assets. Though most of the organization's charges were unsubstantiated, the Kerry campaign's poor handling of it (at first, they tried to ignore the issue entirely, even though it had caused a national uproar) weakened Kerry's case, and essentially forced Kerry to leave off mention of Vietnam.

Perhaps the only time Kerry really shined was in the first official presidential debate. For once, he pointedly attacked Bush on the senseless of the Iraq War.

And smart means not diverting your attention from the real war on terror in Afghanistan against Osama bin Laden and taking if off to Iraq where the Nine-Eleven Commission confirms there was no connection to nine-eleven itself and Saddam Hussein, and where the reason for going to war was weapons of mass destruction, not the removal of Saddam Hussein.[… President Bush] promised America that he would go to war as a last resort.[…] I don't believe the United States did that.

Appropriately enough, after Bush had thanked the University of Miami for hosting the debate and Jim Lehrer for moderating, the first words out of his mouth were "September the eleventh". The debate's official topic was foreign policy, and Bush didn't preform well, but Kerry was unable to strip Bush of his trump card: national security. The public appreciated his good fortune of being president on September 11th, and his administration's earnest efforts to sate the general bloodlust by waging war in Iraq. No doubt it helped that in the debate, Bush consistently blurred the two issues, saying that the war was keeping "weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of al-Qaeda", the group responsible for 9/11, and insisting "Of course we're after Saddam Hussein—I mean, Osama bin Laden." In what might as well have been his administration's slogan, Bush said "[T]he best way to protect this homeland is to stay on the offensive."

The election itself, on November 2, 2004, was well attended by American standards: fifteen million more voters showed up at the polls than in 2000. It was also highly partisan: even more registered Democrats and Republicans voted for their party's candidate than in the 2000 election, which had already been thus polarized. Simultaneously, traditional demographic alliances eroded as African Americans and women, historically Democratic, crept a bit rightwards, and men, usually Republican, became a bit less so. Partisanship now had less to do with gender, race, and religion, and therefore more to do with personal conviction.

Bush won the popular vote—by the smallest relative margin of any victorious sitting president in American history. One might have expected a greater lead in light of exit polls that revealed national security, a euphemism for "mortal peril", to be the foremost issue in voters' minds. The people had upheld Abraham Lincoln's injunction not to change horses in midstream, for good or for ill.

There was some controversy over the results in Ohio. Had Kerry won that state, he would've become president despite losing the popular vote, as Bush had before. Rather than demand extensive recounts, however, Kerry quickly conceded the election, and George W. Bush got another term.

As in Gyeeds, the moderate had been blown away by the extremist. The chief differences were that the incumbent had remained so, and the sides were reversed: Death had won this round.