Political And Other Miscellany From A Stout Democrat In Dallas Texas.
"Politics is the only game for adults." --from Robert A. Heinlein's Double Star

Monday, November 08, 2004


If less than one hundred thousand votes had been different in Ohio, Kerry would have won the electoral vote. Leaving aside the legal fight that would be raging (because Karl Rove is NOT a "concession Republican"), we would NOT be discussing how "moral values" was the key to Bush's victory.

The survey showing that as the most-cited "issue" by voters has been dissected at length. The term itself was an undefined blank check, improperly confusing a general philosophical attitude with specific topics such as "Iraq" or "terrorism". Those with a theocratic agenda quickly filled in the blank, claiming that this category meant support for their positions, like oppostion to "gay marriage" and to "partial-birth abortion". None of those would have individually had as many poll supporters as "Iraq" or "terrorism", had they been listed separately. The vague conglomeration resulted in a plurality "win" for that "issue", and let the rightists make a false claim for a political agenda.

Most of the ones who chose that response may have supported rightist stands on one or more of those issues. Claiming that they all did ignored a large number of people for whom "moral values" would include opposition to the death penalty, or to preemptive war, or to lying to the public, or to cutting government aid to the poor. Many voters would consider "Iraq" or "terrorism" themselves to also be questions of moral values. It would be as absurd to claim that three-quarters of the public did not care about moral values, as it is to say that since over twenty per cent did cite that, therefore it was the deciding factor in the election. It is not only absurd, but dishonest, to claim that means opposition to gay marriage and abortion decided the election. That is not how voting works.

Elections for political office are not referendums on issues. Over and over again surveys of the public have shown support for various positions which have never been enacted by any party. For decades the polls have indicated most of the people want more government health care, and more controls over handguns. Those who like those unused ideas condemn corrupt politicians for selling out to lobbyists. The truth is that very few people vote for a candidate because of a precise comparison of their stands on specific issues. They vote for the one that on balance overall gives them the most comfortable (or least uncomfortable) feeling about the kind of person they would like in office for the next term.

Sure, there were dogmatic reactionaries who voted for Bush because he was closest to their agenda. There were also dogmatic socialists who voted for Kerry because he was closest to theirs. Such groups are never more than a tiny fraction of the huge American electorate. Surveys show that even most Republicans actually support various things Bush opposes, like the International Criminal Court, or the Kyoto Treaty. Some didn't know of his opposition, but many more did and voted for him anyway. The vast bulk of the public votes on their perceptions of character, not the results of ideological questionnaires. We may disagree with their judgment, but as with food or music "there is no arguing about matters of taste". I love Beethoven, but if someone prefers Stravinsky they are not "wrong".

I think that on balance Kerry would be better at making Presidential decisions than Bush, regardless of the specific issues which come up. (Of course, I think there are a lot of other people who would be even better than Kerry, but they were not on my ballot.) If someone feels that on balance Bush would be better at that, he is not "wrong", he just judges the two men differently than I do.

I happen to think my long experience in politics, my study and thought about history, economics, and philosophy, and my attention to the news from many sources, puts me in a better position to make an informed decision about Presidential candidates than most voters. So what? Unless we insist on a test for voters to see how aware they are of facts (and who would get to decide what is a fact?), each voter must make up their mind as best they can.

Sometimes we can look back from history and say winning candidates lied (for instance, about World War I in 1916, World War II in 1940, Vietnam in 1964 and 1968 and 1972, and Iraq in 2004). What we cannot know is whether if more people had recognized the lie, they would have voted for the other candidate. They didn't vote on that issue, they voted for one of two (or sometimes more) individual human beings.

Why did Bush apparently get the most votes? (Even if his electoral victory was stolen by voting machines in Ohio and Florida, he prevailed in the popular vote total.) I don't know, because I didn't vote for him. Leaving aside the unswerving party loyalists, the dedicated ideologues, and the single issue voters, who probably all cancel each other out, the bulk of the swingable voters narrowly picked him because of something they preferred in his apparent character to Kerry's.

I think it was along the lines of quick simple certainty as opposed to cautiously weighed rationalization. Kerry might give you a better answer, but with the perceived threat to the country people didn't trust him to respond quickly enough or surely enough. I disagree with that personal judgment of him, and see Bush as a stubborn ignorant dogmatist, but it is my subjective evaluation. More folks went with him. That doesn't mean they are stupid, ignorant, or malicious (though no doubt some were, just as some of Kerry's voters were). We'll never know for sure, because Bush won.

Voters didn't get to do a detailed psychological evaluation of the two men; they just formed an impression as best they could and voted accordingly, crossing their fingers in hope they were right. Ultimately that's all any of us can do, even the much better informed ones.

I believe Bush is the worst President in American history. His first term was a disaster, and his second will be worse. I am looking forward to the investigations and impeachments I expect after Democrats regain control of at least one house of congress in two years, following Bush's blundering fall into unpopularity when he pushes his unrestrained agenda further. I don't blame the public for what I see as a bad judgment call, not even the bare majority of a bare majority of those who were eligible to vote. If I'm right about him, they will suffer along with me.

We nearly beat the reactionary theocrats and corporate criminals this time. They are about to make their viciousness even more obvious, to help us next time. "Don't mourn -- organize."


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