Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Red state/blue state

Well, it's been a week since the election and the United States hasn't slid into the sea (seas?) However, there's been much yappin' by pundits that the U.S. in actuality looks a little something like this:

It's easy to focus on the whole "moral values" issue that exit polls indicated was so important. It's fun, too, because everyone can make pronouncements about Bud-swillin' NASCAR dads and right-wing survivalist nut jobs and bible-thumpin'"Babtists," (as Joe-Bob Briggs likes to pronounce it.)

Personally, I think the reason Kerry lost was the reason that Gore "lost." He's a stiff! The zombies in "Shaun of the Dead" had more personality! Neither candidate had the charisma to sell a used car, much less convince voters of their qualifications for running the country. And let's face it, that's what the President is: a salesman. He (or perhaps she in 2008) can set policy, but the administration has no legislative power. All the President can do is make a sales pitch and hope Congress goes along. Or, barring that, gain favor with the populace, which controls Congress.

So the presidential election always comes down to a popularity contest. And in times of uncertainty, people stick with the devil they know, or at least the devil with whom they're most comfortable. Thus, the most likeable candidate usually wins it in a walk (see Reagan vs Carter, Reagan vs Mondale, Bush I vs Dukakis, Clinton vs Bush I, Clinton vs Dole, etc.). Likeability usually trumps other factors. Thus, Clinton was re-elected in a landslide despite his questionable ethics because 1) people liked him, and 2) Dole was a big stiff. It's hard to imagine a person who comes across as a bigger stiff than Bush I (although I respect the man), but damned if the Democrats didn't manage to field Mr. Excitement, Michael Dukakis.

I think the only reason W had trouble in his election the first time around is because people didn't know what to expect from him. Based on ability, Al Gore should have cleaned his clock. But Gore came across as a golem, particularly in the debates. To paraphrase Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, voters couldn't shake the feeling that if you poked Gore with your finger, nothing would come out but a little dirt and some straw.

Same with Kerry. I think the only reason the election was close was that Bush had made such an enormous mess in Iraq. But the masses were willing to overlook that because, gosh-darn it, they just liked Bush more, despite the fact that W is (arguably) the most reckless, irresponsible president the U.S. has suffered in the last 100 years. Yes, yes, the presidential election should be about who is the more capable candidate. But it hasn't been decided on that since the advent of television. And probably before that.

So the Democratic Party can talk all they want about unity and finding common ground. But what they really need is a candidate who doesn't remind voters of the robotic bears at Chuck E Cheese. Let's just hope Bush & Company don't completely mortgage the future of the country in the meantime with deficit-exploding mix of military spending, deferred-payment health care and tax reduction.


liz said...

Hey, where's the front-page link to your hip x-ray? I just told someone they ought to take a look at it, but now I can't find it.

Anonymous said...

Posted by Steve: As I was first reading this column I agreed and still do concerning the "he's a stiff" theory. But as I thought about it more I struck upon an idea. Now you all may say either "well duh" or blast me to HE(double toothpicks) as is your first amendment right. So here it goes. A great many in the general population agree that education is one of the most important and under-funded needs in our society no matter what your political affiliation. But somehow it always gets short changed on some level and know I know why. If more people were more educated we wouldn't have the political tragedy of Dubyas second term. It appears to me that the part of the voting population that actually got him elected were the under educated section of society. The people that if they really understood how his regime affected them they would vote him out in a second. But they don't. They see him as giving those terrorist nations "what for". How did the country western singer Toby Keith say it. The thunder of jets over the desert bringing democracy to the Middle East. As someone said many years ago "keep the masses ignorant and docile" and the rest is just parry and thrust at your opponent.You accuse them they counter and accuse you and the band plays on. The proverbial Ball of Confusion and what's really important is lost in the quagmire.

Anonymous said...

You have an interesting take on the presidency. I agree that a political candidate is more salesman than statesman, and that, regrettably, style generally stumps substance (or even a candidate's past substance abuse, apparently).
I think you largely miss the mark, though, in the case of a sitting president. While he is, like a candidate, part salesman (see Dubya's Social Security Scare Tour, now in progress), he is far more, and far more dangerous, than that.
The president may have tried to sell the American people, and the world, on the Iraq invasion, but the fact is he didn't have to. Check out the War Powers Act sometime.
Other things you seem to neglect-appointments, both cabinet and especially judiciary. Judicial appointments allow a president's idiocy to long survive his administration. If the thought of Antonin Scalia as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court doesn't give you the heebie-jeebies, you haven't been paying attention.
The president doesn't need legislative power. He has executive orders to undermine, overrule and generally usurp the legislative authority pretty much at will. He may not make the laws, but the executive orders determine how the laws will be enforced.
Your idea that the populace controls Congress strikes me as rather naive. Or maybe I'm just overly cynical. Being a blue voter in the reddest precinct of a red county can do that to you.
Civics lesson over.
I've read several times your remark that you respect Dubya's dad, and I'm still asking myself, "for what?". His bold pardoning of Casper Weinberger just before he was testify on Iran-Contra, which allowed him to weasel out of it? Maybe Poppy's courageous stand on the Tiananmen massacre? His "Vision Thing"? I personally was struck by his carrying Rush Limbaugh's bags when the pompous idiot spent the night at the White House.
I'll give you the puking in the Japanese Prime Minister's lap. Beyond being a hilarious piece of political theater, it struck a blow to Japan's world stature from which they have yet to recover.