How could Bush win?

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Elections, George W. Bush Views: 2573
2573

While traveling in the Middle East, I'm hearing from Arab friends who are still deeply troubled over the outcome of the US elections. "How could the American people reelect this man who has failed so badly and has betrayed American values?" was one of the more benign questions they asked me. 

The question, of course, was referring to the unfinished fragile situation in Afghanistan, the unraveling mess in Iraq, the long neglected Palestinian crisis, and the reports of civil liberties problems in the US. 

From the outside looking in at America, one might assume that in reelecting President Bush, American voters, fully aware of these situations, approved of those policies and decided to give the President a mandate to continue them for four more years. This, quite simply, was not the case.

It is important to note that many American voters, while concerned with the war and foreign policy in general, do not follow the news in any detail. And despite these concerns, they are not the worries that keep Americans up at night. Not Iraq, but, "will we have enough money to send Johnny to college next year," or, "do I trust Susie's new boyfriend," or, "will I be able to keep my job?" The lead story on most local television news stations and in most local newspapers is the car accident on Route 11, the fire on Main Street and topics like underage drinking. 

In this setting, the Republican campaign was able to effectively manage information and perceptions about the more troublesome issues the President might have had to face in this election. Iraq and Afghanistan were presented as "freedom on the march" with violence the result of thugs and terrorists who are enemies of liberty. Bush was portrayed, as a strong wartime president whose resolve and strength would see us through this period of uncertainty, while Kerry was portrayed as too indecisive and weak to provide the leadership the world needs.

And despite coming from rather similar backgrounds, both were born in the Northeast of wealthy parents and educated at Yale, Bush was transformed into a regular guy, while Kerry was portrayed as an elitist who could not understand the needs of average Americans.

For me, one of the more compelling images to emerge from this year's Presidential contest was a rather simple event that explains a lot.

It was George W. Bush, shirtsleeves rolled, arms holding the sides of the podium, leaning in toward the crowd below and saying in that "down home" Texan accent he learned to use, "I ask you for your vote" or, "I'd really appreciate your vote."

While pundits continue to debate the importance of big issues or values in the outcome of the election, it would be a mistake to discount the powerful impact of the simple gesture of the President of the United States asking average voters for their support. That line never made the evening news, but repeated day in and day out at rallies across the country, it allowed Bush to connect with voters in a way no policy speech could. It established a bond and created comfort.

As many voters indicated in interviews and polls, Bush was the guy they'd invite to a backyard barbeque, or the guy with whom they'd have a beer. He was, they felt, "a guy like me" and by implication, "a guy who understands me and what I care about."

A rule of thumb in politics is that when Democrats lose the "he's the guy like me" voters, they can't win, because this group of middle class working families is part of the Democrats' core vote.

So how did Bush, whose actual policies did not serve the interests of this constituency, win their support? He asked for it and Kerry did not.

Kerry should have known better. The importance of asking was, after all, one of the lessons taught by the legendary Speaker of the House of Representatives "Tip" O'Neill, from Kerry's home state of Massachusetts. To make his point, O'Neill would tell the story of his shock at learning that his long-time next-door neighbor didn't vote for him. When he asked her why, she replied, "Because you never asked me." As he would elaborate, this act of asking forms a bond between the candidate and his constituents. It says, "I'm not above you. I need you."

Now I'm not saying that issues didn't matter, or that insecurity resulting from terrorism or concerns about changing mores weren't real concerns to some voters. But at the end of the day, with many voters, neither issues nor interests mattered as much as trust and comfort. They voted for the guy who "seemed" more like them, for the guy who asked for their vote.

It sounds simple and it is. So don't read too much into this election. Post-election polls show that Americans still disapprove of the war, want the US to pursue a more balanced foreign policy and aren't happy with the President's handling of foreign affairs and the economy. But they liked Bush more than Kerry and that's all it took to win not a mandate, but 51% of the vote.

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute and can be reached at [email protected]


  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Elections, George W. Bush
Views: 2573

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Older Comments:
SAIF FROM USA said:
Ignorance is not an excuse. America is a democracy although, a case can be made that the people were misled by the administration and the docile media during Bush's first term, the people are 100% responsible for American agression in the world having elected Bush to a second term.
2005-01-02

CARL MICHAELS FROM US said:
One of the great misunderstandings in the world is the expectation that the US government actually operates as it is supposed to operate on paper. It does not; it has become elitist rather than democratic. When it comes to a presidential election, relatively few citizens participate, generally out of disgust for the choices given them. Most people in the US wanted neither Kerry nor Bush, but chose Bush as the lesser of the two evils.

The American people are upset about the lies told to them regarding WMD and Iraq. The people here not only want their troops back home, there is a grassroots movement to fight globalization and even move towards isolationism. Ironically, those wanting the US out of their lands the most are creating the very reasons for the slow down of the withdrawl process.

As far as support of Israel is concerned, US aid would be dramatically cut back if there were fewer photo ops of bleeding children. Think about it. The US needs to cut back on spending everywhere, so why not start with Israel?

Now that Islam has the attention of the US people, why not give them an opportunity to force their own government out of imperialism?
2004-12-31

KAMARUDIN FROM MALAYSIA said:
I think the American voters were fooled by Bush. When you continuosly harping on telling lies, the tendency for others to believe what you say stands better chance of success. In short,he won the race by taking advantage of the majority of ignorant American voters who are not politically concious about the implications of bad foreign policy of Bush administration and other world issues. Most of the Americans are introvert people.
2004-12-28

H.A. FROM DISPUTED CEMETERY, TENNESSES, USA said:


I completely concur with Triathalon. The same fat christian and zinionist terrorists are preventing Muslim from buying EVEN a burial site in TN, USA. The thugs of America say...disease will spread from the body and terrorists( I wonder who the real terrorists are) will be using the site as a training ground.
Now...
Anyone wonders why 747 has high affinity for American tall buildings? The people of the U.S. are full of _____ from day 1. Just consult a few native Americans...they will tell you. 9/11 is just their little excuse. Why big bangs occur in AMERICA, and not in Canada? The stupid Americans don't get that. That's the question they need to ask instead of putting all the blames on OBL.

...No wonder Americans need two body bags nowadays...1 for their head...and 1 for their torso. Very Sad.

I never seen a group of stupid and sad people like those in the USA. 95% of Ameicans are STUPID. Need examples...here is one...95% supported the WAR in Iraq....now 99% say it wasn't worth it. Anything could be more stupid than that?

Jesus (A:) help them(the brain dead Americans), via THE GOD, who does not beget, please....

Very sad group of people.

You don't have to take my words to measure how stupid you (Americans) are...Just take a trip abroad anywhere in the world. You will find out very fast. And if you accompany from brain-dead president who pronounces the word "country" as "company"...the word "electrify" as "electrifly", and calls AFRICA a country... you will find out how stupid u are even faster....

Your brain-dead boy is the HOMER SIMPSON of America and you all becoming like him...Keep up the good work. So help them JJJJJESSSUSSSSS, Halleluliahhhh............. Just plain STUPID CREATURES!!!




2004-12-26

VINCE FROM USA said:
the central orientation is the fear of an even
worse prepared capitalist who finds conflict within themselves between what is legal and what is moral so the average citizen choose more on
what is some what known then more uncertainties !
2004-12-24

TRIATHALON FROM UK said:
How could Bush win ? Well Mr.Zogby thats simple, when you have 59 million uneducated, overweight religious religious fanatics vote for you, you win the election.
Not to say that election fraud wasnt involved.
2004-12-24