US Elections 2002: Notes On Election Eve
Notes On Election Eve
By Barbara O'Brien
In a few hours the polls will open, and in a few more hours we’ll start to see some results.
Representative government is not yet entirely dead in America. My purse and coat pockets are stuffed with campaign literature from local politicians eagerly seeking my vote. I've also acquired two refrigerator magnets and several nail files reminding me to Vote for So-and-So.
All the local candidates look respectable, and their brochures list many virtues and accomplishments. For all I know, however, half of them like to drown puppies in their bathwater. In the age of mass communication it's easier to get information about a candidate for Prime Minister of Sweden than the guy running for town council next door.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in 1835, "In towns it is impossible to prevent men from assembling, getting excited together and forming sudden passionate resolves. Towns are like great meeting houses with all the inhabitants as members. In them the people wield immense influence over their magistrates and often carry their desires into execution without intermediaries." (Democracy in America)
Still true? In some communities, I hope.
Sky high, or knee deep?
Several times over the weekend I heard television pundits call the President's approval ratings "sky high." A glance at the most recent polls shows his percentage of approval in the low 60s, however, and a couple polls (e.g., Pew) say upper 50s. That's lower than Clinton's ratings for most of his second term, even while he was being impeached.
"Sky high" is hyperbole, in other words. The pundits are either clueless or carrying out orders. Either is plausible.
My next question is, why are the President's job approval ratings even that high? And I think I have an answer. Think back to the 2000 U.S. presidential election campaign. The networks and cable channels filled air time by rounding up focus groups of undecided voters and asking them why they were undecided. The reason for their indecision was obvious -- they were as clueless as a herd of Holsteins. These were people who had no idea what was going on, had no idea what the issues were, and couldn't critically think their way out of a paper bag.
Can we say, "cognitively challenged"?
So when the pollster comes along and asks a typical Undecided Voter type (hereafter called "UV"), do you support the President (or) do you support the President's plans to invade Iraq (or) do you support the President's resolution to dam the Grand Canyon and make a really big lake, the UV will say whatever he thinks he is supposed to say. UVs rarely have convictions of their own.
In regard to approving of President Bush, however, those who say no say it with passion and conviction. When you wander outside the realm of knee-jerk Republicans (I'm guessing a third or less of the population) the remainder are either passionately opposed to Bush or are UVs.
In the past few weeks it seems the President has done little else but campaign for Republicans. I wonder who’s running the government?
Bush chose the candidates to run for the Senate in South Dakota and Minnesota, and he’s been in both states several times to push his man. But if the Dems keep the Senate seats in South Dakota and Minnesota, what will that say about public support for the President? South Dakota in particular is supposed to be Bush Country; it went for the Shrub big time in the 2000 election. If the Prez can't deliver South Dakota, he can't deliver pizza.
A Man Who Thinks for Himself, As Soon As the Poll Results Come In
On Saturday in Tennessee, President Bush said Van Hilleary, the Republican candidate for governor, was a great guy because he didn't need "a poll or a focus group to tell him what to think." On Friday night in Kentucky, Mr. Bush commended Representative Anne M. Northup, who is in tough re-election fight, because she, too, didn't need "a poll or a focus group to tell her what to think." Five and a half hours earlier in New Hampshire, Mr. Bush praised Representative John E. Sununu, the Republican candidate for Senate, for having, amazingly enough, that very same ability to ignore polls and focus groups.
[But a few paragraphs later:]
These days Mr. Bush's stump speech is almost a mirror opposite of the one he was giving last January, when he focused on smoking terrorists out of their caves. With recent polls showing Americans more concerned about the economy than terrorism, Mr. Bush now starts off with lengthy accolades about his 2001 tax cut, with assertions specific to each state about how many billions of dollars it will put into voters' pockets over the next decade.
I Don't Make Predictions
...because I am superstitious. Dick Morris does, though, so let's look at his. Morris says the Senate seats in Arkansas, Colorado, South Dakota, Minnesota, Missouri, and New Jersey will go to the Dems.
Looking for a Hero
In today's Salon, Michelle Goldberg wrote:
“Twenty-three senators and 133 congressmen voted against Bush's Iraq resolution in October, authorizing the president to strike against Saddam. And in not a single case, contrary to Washington's conventional wisdom, does it appear to be hurting any of their chances for reelection. It might actually be helping them.”
Around the time of the Iraq resolution vote, media pundits across the board were certain that a vote against the Iraq war resolution was political suicide. It wasn't. In fact, down the road the spineless Dems who caved in might regret it. Their base, the people they count on for core support, are mad as hell.
The next President of the United States could be the first Dem to lead a real opposition to the Bush Regime. The first Dem under the age of 70, I should say.
Joe Conason writes in Salon,
“There is no Democratic leadership willing to do more than look for weaknesses on the other side. If Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt have an alternative economic program, they have kept it well hidden throughout this campaign. What they have, at the moment, is a program of opposition. They are the opposition, so that's fine. Such a program may sustain them through this election. But it won't get them far over the next two years, when a new leader will emerge in the struggle for the Democratic presidential nomination. The old saying that you can't beat somebody with nobody applies to policy as well. You can't beat something with nothing -- although you may be able to hold your own.”
I question whether they can hold their own. There is a hunger among progressives and liberals for a true champion. We want someone who will speak the truth and stand up to the Regime. We had it in Paul Wellstone, but the truth is that Wellstone had been marginalized in his own party. Both major parties seem not to notice that there are lots of enraged liberals out here. And the media pundits smugly insist that a presidential approval rating of 59 percent is “sky high.”
Welcome to the Twilight Zone.
- Barbara O'Brien, creator of The
Mahablog!, is a New York resident and a freelance
writer. She will be providing a regular column for Scoop on
the US Elections. Readers are invited to visit The Mahablog!
and see the Timeline