Monday, November 08, 2004

Election 2004: Dumb and dumber?

In the aftermath of the Presidential election, much of the analysis has focused, inevitably, on why Kerry couldn’t defeat a President who has brought America into one of the most divisive wars since Vietnam; presided over the biggest haemorrhage of jobs since the 1930s; combined tax cuts for the rich with what the Economist described as the “fastest fiscal deterioration in US economic history” – along with a mangled syntax and delivery which must surely cause even his most ardent supporters to cringe?

Fairly typical was this piece from Simon Schama in the Guardian. The gist for those who understandably feel they have better things to do with their time is that “Godly America” is bigger than “Worldly America” and the former are red-necked, isolationist, homophobic, sexist, gun-toting, Muslim-bating – and, above all – stupid. And it was these, who are so tragically less civilised than himself, Schama thinks, that won the election for Bush.

As someone who wanted Kerry to win, this is a happy and convenient world-view: the reason my preferred candidate didn’t prevail, I have to understand, is simply that the primitive mid-Westerners are all suffering from false-consciousness through watching too much Fox News, and/or have been indoctrinated by Evangelical pastors because they’re too stupid to listen to the likes of Richard - if I were chocolate, I’d eat myself - Dawkins who joined in the Guardian’s understandably deeply unsuccessful attempt to tell American voters what was in their best interests.

But this view is, I would argue, is largely false and if Democrats persist in this self-satisfied “analysis”, they’ll keep losing. The truth of the matter is that Kerry supporters broke one of the central tenets of political combat: never “misunderestimate” your enemy.

One of the fatal assumptions of the Kerry campaign was to believe their own rhetoric about crazed fundamentalist Christians taking over the Republicans and pushing for an extreme anti-abortion position. But fundamentalists only account for 25% of Bush supporters – making them around 12-13% of voters. Moreover, it is simply inaccurate to assume that all fundamentalists want abortion criminalized. (It's pure speculation but I also suspect that even some of the hard-core pro-lifers would flinch at making all abortion illegal, once the implications of this position have sunk in.) In other words, most Americans and most Republicans favour a women’s right to chose, so if the Democrats are so clever why didn’t they realise that this is an issue that they could afford to tackle head-on? It was frustrating watching Kerry failing to do over this issue what you have to do in American politics: emote and personalise. Why didn’t he bang the metaphorical table and challenge Bush by saying something like: "How would you feel if your daughter died in a back-street botched abortion, a**hole?”

Or the economy: some have argued that working class Bush supporters have been brain-washed by evangelicals into supporting economic policies that are to their detriment. Nothing to do with the fact that Kerry wasn’t offering an alternative to neo-liberalism, then? As I mentioned briefly, Bush’s economic policies have been something of a disaster – but what was Kerry offering? Tweaks around the edges; a bit more protectionism here, a mild increase in taxation there. Shouldn’t they consider the possibility that the dumb proles actually know perfectly well that a change in Administration ain’t gonna change their circumstances one iota? Could they not be bothered to harness a critique of the economy to “family values” – perhaps by making the point that rampant, free-markets are bad for family life?

Or the war: what can one say except next time it might be an idea if they pick a candidate who actually has a position on these sorts of issues? And why did any Democrat allow themselves to be associated even a wee bit with Michael Moore’s appalling Fahrenheit 9/11? It comes over like The Hardy Boys Discover Capitalism, and is the most ahistorical documentary I have ever seen. Yet a number of Kerry supporters were drooling over this bilge, which is as stupid and insular as anything that spews out from the Christian Right, even claiming that this would swing the election for Kerry.

I could go on but I’m getting depressed. In some ways, the news of Election 2004 isn’t all bad, in that I don’t believe that America has lurched to the right: over-weening corporate power is treated with suspicion, the majority support a woman’s right to chose, a majority want better access to health-care and so on.

The bad news is that, with this being true, a Bush victory could have been avoided – had the Democrats not run a campaign that was incohate, lazy, patronising, and, above all, stupid.

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