Where Bush’s victory came from

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.

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