Jewish World Review Nov. 15, 2004/ 2 Kislev 5765
The deafening pitch of hooting and hollering coming from despondent Democrats over the reelection of George W. Bush is likely to continue for several more weeks, but once the holiday season begins in earnest, most Americans will go about their daily lives, leaving the inflammatory rhetoric to a dwindling number of partisans. Unlike 2000, when no winner was declared until December, Bush's narrow victory allows for regret and recriminations maybe a candidate from the South or Midwest could've been more persuasive than a billionaire (by marriage) senator from Massachusetts? but no rational discussion that the election was stolen.
It's maddening nonetheless that instant historians, meaning mainstream journalists, are interpreting John Kerry's loss as the result of a surging religious bloc of the country that cast their ballots solely on the nebulous term "moral values." Never mind that contrary to the Democratic message, the economy (almost always the top concern of voters, no matter what they tell pollsters) continues to rebound, with last Friday's report of over 300,000 new jobs created in October as the latest evidence.
Kerry and his advisers tried to convince Americans that the President was presiding over a Hoover-like depression, despite the relatively low 5.5 percent unemployment rate and low inflation (unlike Jimmy Carter's dismal record, for a more recent and accurate example). Interestingly, in the pivotal state of Ohio, where Bush's win was interpreted as a backlash against gay marriage, voters, according to final exit polls, favored the President on economic issues by a margin of five percent.
And while both Democrats and Republicans are uneasy about the situation in Iraq, a large majority preferred Bush to Kerry as the leader who'd be more aggressive in waging the terrorism war.
Yet as New York Times columnist David Brooks succinctly wrote on Nov. 6, it's the fault of the media that the past election has been reduced to shorthand. He writes: "Every election year, we in the commentariat come up with a story line to explain the results, and the story line has to have two features. First, it has to be completely wrong. Second, it has reassure liberals that they are morally superior to the people who just defeated themů This year, the official story is that throng of homophobic, Red America values-voters surged to the polls to George Bush over the top."
Brooks blames the wording of the polling question about "moral values," correctly suggesting that it's a vacuous phrase that can mean almost anything.
For example, I think it's immoral that avaricious trial lawyers are able to wrest immense judgments against employers, both small and large, by filing trivial lawsuits. In addition, my "values" don't include affirmative action, estate taxes, appeasement of Palestinian terrorists or the incarceration of recreational drug users and prostitutes. And on this year's most sensationalized issue, gay marriage (Democrats can thank self-aggrandizing San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom for breaking his state's law and allowing same-sex weddings to occur en masse earlier this year), I don't care one way or the other.
So I suppose that makes this Bush supporter a "moral issues" voter, although not in the bleak, apocalyptic and bigoted way that most liberal pundits imagine.
You can't read a newspaper or magazine or watch television without being bombarded by the alleged division in the country between the "red" and "blue" states, as if the vote totals were 100 percent for Bush and Kerry, respectively. This is nonsense, as the most cursory scan at the actual results reveals. In California, where angry Democrats talk wildly about secession and mass emigration, over four million people voted for Bush, a million less than for Kerry. Pennsylvania, another "blue" state, had a smaller margin; 51-49 percent for Kerry, and there was no gay marriage initiative on the ballot there. Florida, a "red" state, was similarly divided, with the President prevailing by a five-point margin.
Brooks' Times op-ed colleague Maureen Dowd is typical of journalists who champion America's democracy, as long as their side wins. She wrote on Nov. 7 that, "W.'s presidency rushes backward, stifling possibilities, stirring intolerance, confusing church with state, blowing off the world, replacing science with religion, and facts with faith. We're entering another dark age, more creationist than cutting edge, more premodern than postmodern. Instead of leading America to an exciting new reality, the Bushies cocoon in a scary, paranoid, regressive reality. Their new health care plan will probably be a return to leeches."
I've no idea what "exciting new reality" Dowd is referring to, but her absurd portrayal of Bush's alleged desire for a return to the 1950s is just pure demagoguery. The President's ultimate legacy won't be known for decades, but if he's successful in overhauling the anachronistic Social Security system, impossibly intricate tax code, initiating an admittedly idealistic doctrine of spreading democracy in the Middle East, while protecting the homeland from the attacks of religious zealots, his eight-year tenure will be judged as the most progressive in generations.
I don't care for Bush's pandering to extreme social conservatives, who are just as intolerant as their liberal counterparts, but one hopes that with his last campaign completed, Bush will concentrate on issues of war and peace, economic and judicial fairness, rather than inconsequential matters such as gay marriage.
Speculation to the contrary, I'm betting he will.
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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press (www.nypress.com). Send your comments to him by clicking here.
© 2002, Russ Smith