Here on Redwood Drive, in the little house with the white picket fence, these first days after the election are good days, happy days, blessed days.
"Dear Lord," Cary Leslie is saying for the sixth time since waking up at 3:45 a.m. to go to work. He has prayed for strength not to hit the snooze button on the alarm clock. He has prayed for a safe day for his wife and three children. He has prayed for patience with the foul-tempered customers he deals with at the car-rental counter. He has prayed for a job that will pay enough for a struggling family of five to keep up with the bills. He has prayed for a quick resolution to the presidential election. And now, with the election decided, he is thanking God for listening to his prayers.
Tara Leslie, Cary's wife, has been praying for President Bush, too, and now she is saying, "I think it's so important to have a society of moral absolutes."
"It's really good to know our country had a decision to make, and there are so many people who feel this way," Cary says. "It's a victory for people like us."
The Leslies: They are George W. Bush votes come to life. The millions of voters who describe themselves as "white evangelicals," 77 percent of whom voted for Bush? That's the Leslies. The voters who said "moral values" was the single issue that mattered most to them, 80 percent of whom voted for Bush? That's the Leslies, too.
They are precisely the people the Bush campaign built its reelection strategy on -- people who would put faith-based moral values above every other consideration when it came time to vote, including the war in Iraq, terrorism, the economy and, in the Leslies' case, a life that has been in financial peril since Sept. 11, 2001.
He is 29. She is 27. They have a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old and a 6-month-old, and they are thinking of having one more. They oppose abortion, favor a constitutional amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman, and want more Supreme Court justices like Anton Scalia and Clarence Thomas. They eat at home and shop at Wal-Mart. They home-school their 5-year-old and are members of the nondenominational Church on the Rise, which is "committed to helping families hold down the family fort in the 21st Century," according to its literature, and where the senior pastor says 90 percent of the 1,200 congregants voted for Bush.
"Religious kooks," Cary says, imagining how some people might think of them. His own description: "We're pretty boring people. Normal people."
Normal people who, as this week has progressed, have found themselves increasingly happy about the state of America.
"We're definitely going to celebrate," Tara says of Bush's victory, but what that means is constrained by the changes in their lives that occurred during Bush's first administration.
On Sept. 10, 2001, Cary was earning about $55,000 a year. On Sept. 12, the decline began. No one was flying. No one was renting cars. Down went the commissions Cary gets when customers sign up for insurance coverage. "Maybe $35,000," he says of what he earns now, and that includes income from a second job he took a year ago, delivering pizzas on Friday and Saturday nights.
Forty hours a week at the car-rental counter, 12 hours a week running pizzas, the pinch of gasoline at $2 a gallon, savings drained, the realization that he and Tara are "kind of the working poor" -- and still it was moral concerns, rather than economic ones, that guided both of them on Election Day.
"I don't blame President Bush for anything that's happened with my income," Cary says. Rather, he looks at Bush as someone who believes in "personal responsibility," which Cary believes in as well. Don't complain. Solve. "There are jobs out there," he says, and as tired as he might be on Saturday night as he drives the streets of northern Ohio, he can use that time to listen to worship tapes, to think, to pray and to remind himself of what the priorities of a good life should be.
"Jobs will come and go. But your character -- you have to hang on to that," he says. "It's what you're defined by."
"It's been rough. Very rough. I mean scraping by," Tara says. But "to us, the biggest things were the moral things."
Because of this, Tuesday came with what they both say was "a sense of urgency." They voted for Bush. They voted for a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. Cary went to bed toward midnight, when the outcome was not yet clear. Tara stayed up till 2:30, too nervous to sleep, mostly watching Fox News. An hour later, the alarm went off for the first time, and while Tara slept, Cary did what he always does -- tiptoe out, dress down the hall, eat a bowl of Wheaties, drive to the airport, fiddle with the radio, pray.
By 7:30, when Tara awakened, Cary was already dealing with a number of customers wearing Kerry buttons, one of whom approached the counter singing a song about saving the world.
"We did that yesterday," Cary said to him. "What do you mean?" the man asked. "With the vote," Cary said, and as the customers kept coming, fleeing Ohio now that the election was settled, Tara was home-schooling the 5-year-old, and dressing the 3-year-old, and feeding the 6-month-old, and preparing the house so that when Cary walked in the front door after eight hours of whatever, he would know "that he's wanted. That he's home."
He walked in smiling, as he always tries to do, just as John F. Kerry was conceding defeat in faraway Boston, and an hour later, when Bush was declaring victory, he and Tara are in the thick of a day that would be the same no matter who won the election. A crying child with a bump on her head who needs a prayer. A neighbor who wants to borrow the minivan. A diaper that needs changing. A chair that the 5-year-old is trying to turn into a balance beam.
A typical day -- except with a particular hum to it that wasn't there the day before. The day before, they were the margins. Now they are the majority. "To know that he prays," Tara says of Bush, "and I really believe he does, that's a huge thing." The sanctity of marriage will be fine. The Supreme Court will be fine. The war on terror will be fine. The economy will be fine.
"It's not like a major euphoric outbreak," Cary says. "It's more like satisfaction."
"Validation," Tara says.
"I'm just kind of hopeful," Cary says.
"Definitely," Tara says.
A celebration, then, for two Bush votes as the next four years begin.
"Dear Lord," they say, one more time.