As the inauguration of G W Bush in his second term as President approaches, a silly demonstration of disappointment is being prepared by those who want to show that what Bush has done, or may do in his second term, is “‘not in our name'”:http://www.nion.us/. Of course it is in the name of the USA, including constructively all US citizens, that Bush acts as President. That’s what a democratic election is for. The subscribers of the ‘Not in Our Name’ document—many of whom are public and academic figures—should know better than to urge others to disavow a democratic result thatthey disagree with: it’s called fouling your own nest. I’ve “said before”:http://www.inquit.com/article/372/what-did-the-election-results-mean that I don’t think that the apparently strong electoral victories of George W Bush or of John W Howard are either as strong statistically or as politically indicative as the winners, naturally, want us to believe. But I share the puzzlement of many who expected to see Mr Howard and Mr Bush punished by the electorate for their policy mistakes, lack of imagination and deceptions. Some of the reasons why the electorate withheld a deserved rebuff are suggested in an “essay in the Financial Times”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/6acf2528-651a-11d9-9f8b-00000e2511c8.html, this weekend, by its Washington Bureau Chief, James Harding. Harding tries, and by his own admission fails, to find an enduring Republican key to the character of suburban ‘middle America’. After spending some time in Springfield, Ohio, talking to local political organizers on both sides of politics he is left without a solid analytical ‘hook’ on which to hang an explanation of the Republican victory other than arbitrary characteristics of the declining suburban environment (the distance between houses) and home-spun platitudes from community organizers:”authentic but unscientific.” bq. The exit polls said that “moral values” were America’s chief priority. But I came away from Clark County thinking that suburban values – the morality of the mortgage payment, the independence of the single acre lot, the separation from black people left in the cities, the sheltering of the family from the pollution of other people, self-help rather than state safety net – dominate the thinking of the voting majority. (“Financial Times”:http://news.ft.com/cms/s/6acf2528-651a-11d9-9f8b-00000e2511c8.html) He points out there is no reason to think that the majority will necessarily continue to identify these values with the Republican (much less the Bush Republican) party. He reports that in suburban Ohio even the Republicans are embarrassed by Iraq and the Bush deficits. He argues, too, that the Bush conservative message on abortion and on homosexual marriage is an attack on modernity and individual freedom of a kind that has not succeeded for long in earlier periods of US political history. bq. It all made me wonder whether Bush and Karl Rove, the strategist who has wanted to win not just the 2004 election but also an enduring majority for the Republican party, have won the battle but may yet lose the war. After all, suburbia is not going away, but it can change. The Gipper swung the so-called “Reagan Democrats”. George Bush Sr showed what a few tax increases could do to the Republican hold on suburbia. And Bill Clinton knew how to talk to the “soccer moms”. Suburbia today is Republican, but tenuously so. I agree with Harding that the factual grounds are too thin to support grand theories or to discern deep political trends. The way personality is perceived on television may well still be the greatest force determining voting choice, but it is a light-weight motivation and—even in the case of the 2004 election in the USA—delivers an ambiguous, light weight, political mandate. bq. Many forces shape the American vote. Bush won thanks to a mixture of 9/11, his Christian appeal, his straight-shooter likability, the tepid persona of his opponent and a campaign run like a military operation (only more successful). But let’s not forget, 57.4 million people from all walks of life and all corners of the US voted Democrat, and presidential candidate John Kerry notched up more votes than any other man before him, bar Bush. The suburbs of Springfield are as likely, I suppose, to be typical of the US electorate, as the suburbs in the electorate of Dunkley where I live, in the southern bayside suburbs of Melbourne, are likely to be typical of the Australian electorate (they returned the conservative Lower House member with an increased majority in 2004). In Springfield, as in the electorate of Dunkley, nice people apparently assume there is some link between personalities whose apparent values they endorse and the policies of governments led by those personalities. Most voters, thanks in part to the triviality of the mainstream media, haven’t the slightest idea where policies come from.
Peter Gallagher is a leading Australian consultant on trade and public policy.[bio].
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