The Long View: A conservative country

A conservative country

First posted 23:39:03 (Mla time) November 03, 2004
Manuel L. Quezon III

Inquirer News Service

ROBERT Novak, right-wing political pundit, summed up the results of the American election by proclaiming the United States a conservative country. Hopeful liberals, both in the mainstream American media and in the increasingly important blogosphere (the realm of online diarists, or bloggers), pointed to the evaporation of the hoped-for youth vote and are denouncing a flurry of lawsuits in Florida and Ohio that turned off a lot of new voters who were going for John Kerry.

It was a roller-coaster ride for both mainstream parties: increasing optimism on the part of Democrats 24 hours before the election leading into the early hours of the counting, transformed into increasing droopiness matched by a corresponding rebound from depression to triumphant feelings on the part of Republicans within the same period.

The tide turned within half an hour. At around 1:23 p.m. Manila time, Florida was “called” or announced, by the major networks as having been won by Bush. By 1:55 p.m. (Manila time), James Carville, king of Democratic political strategists, had conceded Ohio, the other big battleground state, to Bush as well. With the two states in the Bush column, the election became hopeless for John Kerry. Soon after the political pundits began saying Ohio was likely to be won by the Republicans, reporters were mentioning that the Kerry rally in Boston was starting to thin.

Novak’s pronouncement echoed a basic strategy of the Republicans, specifically Carl Rove, main tactical plotter for Bush: to get white, conservative, evangelical Protestants who for one reason or another didn’t go out to vote for Bush in 2000, to get out and vote in 2004. Rove calculated that Bush missed out on around four million votes from this group in 2000. Republicans moved heaven and earth to get this sector out while reaching out to other sectors, including Latinos (who seem to have significantly gone over to Bush in Florida, in large part it is said, because of his brother’s handling of things after the many hurricanes that struck the state).

The Democrats gambled on several things. The first was to get out the vote for traditionally strong Democratic groups such as African-Americans and the elderly (they seem to have failed to hold their numbers with both). Second was to get out the youth, an effort in which celebrities such as Bruce Springsteen, Eminem, Moby and many others pitched in (this apparently failed, too). Third was to bring out many first-time voters in key states such as Pennsylvania (where it worked tremendously), Ohio and Florida (where some Democrats and their sympathizers say it failed or was frustrated by Republican legal stratagems such as filing cases and questioning voters).

Commentators all marveled at the sight of Americans lining up to vote, in enough numbers to result in people waiting for hours for their chance to cast their ballot. In hotly contested Ohio, one precinct had people waiting anywhere from nine to 15 hours for the chance to vote. Indeed the big news was, in a sense, the reinvigoration of American electoral politics, with voter turnout reaching numbers last seen 40 or more years ago. A corresponding feeling, at least among television commentators, was frustration over exit polls, which proved unreliable in state after state. The two developments — a big increase in voter participation and the inability of exit pollsters to adequately communicate how the voters behaved — seem to be part and parcel of the same thing. When more people vote than are usually dealt with, the old rules for interpreting their behavior fall apart.

There will be a big debate, of course, as to why Americans behaved the way they did, particularly after what seemed to be a growing feeling leading up to the election that Kerry might win. It might just boil down to what Novak said: America is a conservative country. Some commentators have indicated that a surprising development in this election was that fewer Americans voted with their pocketbooks or for change (for example in Ohio, which lost many jobs under Bush), and voted more for intangibles such as a more conservative moral agenda (the accompanying defeat in 10 states of efforts to allow gay marriage) and an old-fashioned sticking by their war leader through thick and thin (seen particularly strong in the South, which also heavily contributes to the membership of the US armed forces).

As of this writing, while the political operators have cautiously conceded the election to Bush, a hard line on the liberal side is still hoping for an electoral upset. Democratic hopes hinge on 250,000 “provisional” ballots in Ohio, which only need to be counted 11 days after election day, and which are subject to a vote-by-vote authentication (“provisional” ballots were handed out to those who appeared on election day wanting to vote, but who weren’t on the electoral rolls). As of 2:34 p.m. Manila time, Bush was ahead of Kerry in Ohio by 100,000 votes, and if, as Democrats hope, they swept the “provisional” ballots, they could conceivably squeak through.

The mainstream American media, burned by the 2000 elections, refused to call Ohio either way. Neither do they seem inclined to report allegations of a bruising fight involving lawyers on both sides in that state that may have turned off voters. They also seem shy about speculating on the way overseas or absentee ballots might affect each state’s results.

If the feeling among political pundits holds true, that George W. Bush has won, and one adds the retention of the Republican Party of a majority in both houses of the US Congress, this spells very bad news for those who don’t like Bush. It is also disappointing news for those who hoped for a lightening up of the increasingly xenophobic attitude of official America toward foreigners. I know many people who have a marked disinclination to visit America under the Bush regime. No visits for them to Disneyland anytime soon.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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