Mon, Nov 15, 2004 - Page 8 News List

Bush adept at speaking to the `two Americas'

By Hsu Yung-ming 徐永明

After the US presidential election results were announced, the Democrats were shocked by the Republicans' ability to mobilize votes. They also realized that what they were fighting was not just an election, but a "cultural war," which was changing society at a fundamental level.

The defeats of Democratic candidates in the last two presidential elections reveals that they are victims of this fundamental change in society. It was this wave of change that swept US President George W. Bush back into office.

That The New York Times ran a pro-Senator John Kerry editorial is no surprise, but when the Washington Post followed suit, some people detected a shift in the political environment. That Kerry outperformed Bush in the debates was predictable, but polls that put Kerry ahead just before the election seemed to indicate a shift in public opinion. The actual vote was another matter, and the accuracy of exit polls that predicted a Kerry victory were one of the first casualties of his defeat.

Some people have invoked the idea of populism to explain this change in the political environment. But it does not explain Kerry's naivety in ignoring the southern states in his bid to win the presidency.

The same can be said of Taiwan's last presidential election, in which the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and People First Party were content to accept losses in the south, hoping to counter that loss with votes from the north. But why should they view the south as their Achilles' heel, unless they feel that southerners are a "nation of idiots"? It is probably simply that the divide between the elite and the grassroots is too wide.

To say that to win the election you must have the populist vote is an oversimplification. Politicians must connect with the people, not simply in terms of benefits, but also in terms of sentiment and ideas. Bush insisted on tax cuts that benefit the rich, even though most votes come from the middle and the lower classes; and it is the sons and daughters of these families who are now fighting in Iraq.

But Bush, the scion of Connecticut aristocracy, was the candidate that many of these middle and lower class families looked up to. The fact that he is not very articulate, has many character faults, gets agitated during debates, and is unwavering in his determination to pursue war all became major campaign themes.

Naturally, some people will say this democracy is rational in spirit and should put aside passion and faith. This was the mindset of former vice president Al Gore and Kerry, who both performed well. But they both were unable to garner enough support from the people in the end.

Is it because the people are not rational enough, or is it that the elite are not clever enough to get to grips with public opinion? Or is it simply that there are two Americas: the sophisticated, urban America with an international perspective and the rural, God-fearing, patriotic America?

Perhaps it's the case that to be president of the US you can't use one of these Americas to defeat the other, but instead you must build dialogue between them. Bush, just like Gore and Kerry, comes from a blueblood background. But he is often perceived as a Texas cowboy, and is therefore seen as a leader of the other America. Former president Bill Clinton, the son of a single parent family, became the darling of the cultural elite on both coasts. He who can bridge the gulf between the two Americas has a better chance in presidential elections.

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