Bush's win and some lessons for NI…

Some readers took our occasional but consistent analysis that Bush was on course for victory in last Tuesday’s election as tacit support for the president’s campaign. Nothing could be further from the truth – by which I don’t mean to imply that we were secretly backing the Democrats! We strive for a rough journalism of detachment.

Much of the reaction to Bush’s election has at times verged on contained hysteria. However the campaign had some good news for all sides, not least the high voter turnout of just under 60% (it was 55% in 1992 49.0% in 1996 to 51.0% in 2000).

Much of the analysis has concentrated on the apparent polarisation of US politics. That’s what we are supposed to have witnessed in 2000. The truth is much more prosaic.

The real success of Bush has been his ability to build coalitions of interest that have seen his party burrow, slowly but significantly, into some of the Democrat’s key support base. From early in the year, Don King was at work trying to convince black voters that with two senior representatives in Bush’s cabinet, their interests now lay with the Republicans, not the Democrats. His election night sound bite was something like, “the Republicans are out democrating the Democrats”.

There’s some evidence too that Bush’s hard line on stem cell research, gay marriage and abortion is firming up a lead amongst the most statistically significant of the socially minded Christian groupings – the Catholic vote. At one time this was a unified and largely disaffected group. And it mostly voted Democrat.

Bush himself is born again and a Methodist. He has perhaps confounded a lot of his critics, because his actions don’t quite conform to their image of him. His conservativism is obvious over the issues mentioned above. But two of his big policy intiatives, Education, which has seen a 59% increase in the funding available to public schools and in the case of AIDS his targetted funding of patients receiving antiretroviral treatment in the developing world, are at odds with his opponents’ image of him as a rabid fundamentalist.

The truth is that Bush is one of a new generation of pragmatist politicians, who understand that their capacity to take and retain power in a democracy depends on an ability to build and maintain coalitions of interest. As David Aaronovitch points out in his customarily accute analysis yesterday, his appeal extends way beyond the bible belt and the so-called ‘flyover states’:

Twenty-two per cent placed ‘moral values’ as the number one voting issue, of whom four- fifths voted for Bush, making around 17 per cent of those voting. Eighty-three per cent of voters did not fall into this camp at all.

Furthermore, the percentage of voters describing themselves as evangelical was the same as in 2000. The proportions in favour or against abortion were no different – 55 per cent are broadly in favour of abortion with 42 per cent opposed. A majority supported either gay marriage (which we do not have here in Britain, or in most countries in Europe) or of gay civil unions. In fact, among these latter, there was a 5 per cent lead for Bush. (Equally unexpectedly, those most scared by terrorism actually voted for Kerry.)

Closer to home in The Blanket, Fred A Wilcox talks of the detachment of the left from the people whose interests they wish to represent:

Orwell marveled at the left’s extraordinary disconnect between its own rhetoric and daily lives of working people. It seems to me that in the aftermath of the 2004 election, the progressive would do well to stand down from its self righteous soap box and spend more time listening to people who do not attend ivy league colleges, may not read The Nation, do like to drink and go bowling and watch Fox News.

So what has any of this got to do with Northern Ireland?

What Bush (and to an extent, Clinton before him) was able to do was to extend the appeal of his party far enough into the heartland of his opponent to make all their best efforts at defending it useless.

In our own bicameral sideshow, the DUP have resoluted focused on moving out of their working class heartlands to take the middle class protestant vote. Sinn Fein has similarly beaten the SDLP, even if middle class Catholic votes may be fractionally slower in coming their way.

Both successful parties could not have succeeded without attracting the very moderate voters their opponents believed would never move to their ‘unworthy’ opponents. They have done this largely by professionalising their campaigns and, above all else, applying themselves to understanding the needs and wishes of the people they want to vote for them and articulating their own ‘branded’ solutions.

It’s a million miles from the old approach politics which revolved only around one or two keystone issues – in our case the border, in the wider world the division between the interests of the indvidual vs that of the collective.

If we are ever to witness a turning back of the tide in Northern Ireland the minor partners in the nationalist and unionist houses will have to address their opponent’s new appeal to the moderate voter, and offer them a more compellling alternative, rather than continue fight the simpler ‘wartime’ battles of yore!

  • willowfield

    Don King’s support for the Republicans wouldn’t, by any chance, be anything to do with the fact that he’s a millionaire?

  • Mick Fealty

    Isn’t John Kerry also?

  • Keith M

    “It’s morality, stupid”. I couldn’t cease to be amazed at how many political “certainties” were proved to be anything but that in last week’s election.

    Firstly was the idea that a higher turnout favoured the Democrats. The only person I saw to call that correctly was Bush’s advisor Karl Rove proving once again that you don’t have to be the smartest man in the US to be President, but you do need smart guys around you. Rove’s point was that in 2000 Bush did not manage to energise the evangelical christians, but by taking a firm stance on high profile and unpopular issues like gay marriage, he interested this sizable group in politics once again. To say (as above) that this “only” made up 17% of those voting for Bush misses the point, that this was enough to win Bush the election. Furthermore it is completly untrue to suggest the rest of Bush’s voters were ambivilent to morality type issues.

    Aligned to this is the second great “certainty” that took a hammering last week, that Iraq and national security were the top issue for voters and that the economy was number two with little else making an impact. In the end these issues were not the be all and end all in determining how people voted. A huge number of people liked Bush, and his style and connected with people in a way that Kerry never did. Again I make the point that very few people voted FOR Kerry in comparison with those that voted against Bush.

    I have to say that the media in these islands did a dreadful job in explaining how and why Bush was doing so well in the build-up to the vote and his eventual sucess. Normally cocooned in their East coast urban hideaways, they seemed completly oblivious to how successful the Bush campaign was going on the road.

    RTE’s Carol Coleman seemed especially out of touch with real American feeling and I was reminded of film critic Pauline Kael who after the Nixon landslide in 1972 stated that “nobody I knew voted for Nixon”. DC voted 9-1 for Kerry but I expect more of my foreign correspondents and Coleman should be given a much lowert profile brief.

    As for lessons for Northern Ireland, I would agree that the recent success of SF/IRA and especially the DUP has a strong parallel to the huge Republican victory. Here are parties that the media love to paint as “extreme” but who have managed to grab the mainstream by finding issues that resonate within their communities. Isn’t democracy wonderful?

  • barnshee

    “Both successful parties could not have succeeded without attracting the very moderate voters their opponents believed would never move to their ‘unworthy’ opponents. “

    IMHO this is not the case There has been a steady move towards the extremes—common cries on the GFA were along the lines of “show me where it says murderers would be released”

    The prods now regard the GFA as a con- if the ballot was rerun today the Prod community would reject it.

    The two communities effectively live apart– there is a growing “apartite” culture with “bantustans” as the communities drift further apart and the big players -the governments don`t give shit as long as the violence stays away.

  • David Vance

    Wasn’t George Soros a billionaire..and em, wasn’t Ter-RAY-za a billionairess?

    A key lesson from the US results is that people look for principled LEADERSHIP. From an Ulster Unionist perspective, this appears to be a radical new concept.

    Another key lesson is that moral issues count. In our brave new post-GFA Northern Ireland, moral issues are not allowed to count so that may not transfer across the pond.

    Finally, a final lesson is that even in the teeth of leftist dominiated Big Media, conservative messages can get through and the blogosphere has a role to play in this. We are re-defining the basis of communication and providing an alternative to the dinosaurs of the TV and Radio age.

  • Hektor Bim

    First, I was obviously wrong about Kerry in the previous thread – Bush it is.

    However, I would add that you are probably wrong about why Bush won the election. 80% of people who were most worried about terrorism voted for him, and the economy turned out to be not so good an issue for Kerry. That’s primarily the reason Bush won – the evangelical vote actually went down for Bush relative to his total vote.

    So this whole values thing is largely a red herring. I won’t say it isn’t important, but I think terrorism and the economy trump it, which surprises me even more frankly.

    I don’t think this has many lessons for NI actually – the political systems and issues are completely different.

  • willowfield

    David V

    In the US, the media is dominated by the Right.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    Don Kings support for the Republicans and Bush wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that he is a convicted killer?

  • David Vance

    “In the US – the media is dominated by the right”

    Correct. Apart from CNN, NBC, ABC, The New York Times, the Hollywood establishment, The Music industry….

    Willowfield, where DO you get your information – the Daily Mirror???

  • willowfield

    I thought all the TV corporations were controlled by big business interests.

  • fair_deal

    “consistent analysis that Bush was on course for victory in last Tuesday’s election as tacit support for the president’s campaign. Nothing could be further from the truth – by which I don’t mean to imply that we were secretly backing the Democrats! We strive for a rough journalism of detachment”

    Pity most of British journalism couldn’t have been as detached. I had a bet on Bush to win the election so kept a very close eye on the opinion polls and as the campaign went on. I was amazed about the persistent misrepresentation of opinion polls and the level of support for Bush by the press, the BBC especially.

  • Mick Fealty

    Brendan O’Neill at Spiked has an excellent compedium of criticism of the faulty analysis around the election!

    For those interested, I’ll be saying a bit more on this subject on City Beat radio tonight just after 6.30pm.

  • ulsterman

    US politics has in general been moving towards the Republican Party since Nixons southern strategy in 1972.The south is now a Republican bastion. Interesting that the two Democrats elected in the last forty years were southern Democrats with conservative policies.

    Moral issues I think in this election clouded racism as an issue. Having lived in the US racism is a massive issue. The Democrats have increasingly become the party of the blacks.The Democrats are in trouble because they have allowed their white vote to drift to the Republicans. It was interesting that Edwards was not even able to win his homestate of N.Carolina.

    Kerry in the end was a billionaire Liberal. He had not one core message to tell voters. His Catholicism certainly did not play well in the south.

    For Ulster America is best keeping hands off. clinton got too involved. Hume and Adams running to the Whitehouse pretending they spoke for the Ulster majority.

    God Save The Queen.

  • Mick Fealty

    Interesting. How would you explain the majority of US Catholics voting for Bush?

  • ulsterman

    It is interesting though that in the states where catholics are strong, those states stayed with Kerry.

    The Catholic vote in the US did split but the majority of catholics went for Kerry.The Catholic vote anyway is a small minority in the USA.

    The Democratic Party in the US like the Conservative Party here and FF in the south has lost its way. A party cannot be all things to all people.

    The Democrats had no clear message. At the end of the election people still did not know what Kerry stood for. That was why he lost.

    God Save The Queen.

  • James

    This ain’t rocket science.

    Kerry was my man. This goes back 30 years and is something most of you would never get on a gut level. That’s not a criticism.

    I consider him to be a gifted leader. I never thought he could win because I considered him a bad candidate and, initially at least, I thought the Republicans would bury him under a mountain of cash.

    So why is he a bad candidate?

    You do not win in this country if the chowderheads which we of the bicoastal elite look down upon in the Midwest and South do not vote for you. One killer of a trait with this herd is intelligence: These folks are frightened of leaders who appear to be brighter than they are. That is why Bush so carefully cultivates anti-intellectualism, managed to lose all three debates and win the Presidency. Some guy that says “thrice” scares the hell out of them.

    The second killer trait is any sophistication that falls outside Ozzie & Harriet America: How many times have you guys watched Slick Willy on the telly sounding more like Huckleberry Hound and playing up his Southern Baptist past? Enter Bush’s NASCAR dads, his “born again” conversion and ALL the down home crap in existence except the Dixie Chicks.

    The block of votes Kerry needed was a drop in the bucket, only the size of Chicago, but he didn’t walk the walk and talk the talk. It is as simple as that.

    Bush, on the other hand, learned this lesson in an early race in which his failure was not nearly as damaging or as high profile as Kerry’s loss.

    In 1978 he ran against Kent Hance, the first House Democrat to turn traitor and sell out to Reagan and Voodoo Economics. This insignificant Texas congressional race is the genesis of the entire current situation with the dollar in the loo because of Reagan’s and Bush’s madcap binges with the National Credit Card.

    Bush was painted as “not a real Texan”, an elitist Eastern blow in by the Hance campaign, an outsider that did not have the real interests of Lubbock at heart. Karl Rove ran the Hance campaign. The lesson for Bush, in Hance’s words, was that “he wasn’t going to be out-Christianed or out-good-old-boyed again.” Later our man George was born again and hired Rove.

    Like I said, it ain’t rocket science. Connect the dots ……

    Willowfield:

    The “Liberal” press is another Republican lie. Perhaps 8 corporations have the media. The largest ones are shown graphically here. They serve their corporate interests which mainly means they back the Republicans but not in an overt way that can be seen as too obviously “political”. There are political mavericks like The New York Times, News Corporation and Sinclair but for the most part the rest of them try not to draw fire. Print journalism is the last refuge of the reds but they never get to editorial board level. The publisher makes damned certain of that.

  • The Devil

    I think the lesson for N.I after Bushes election win is that the majority of USA citizens are blood thirsty oil thieves and should be punished by either God or Me

  • willowfield

    Thanks for backing me up, James.

  • Cahal

    I think this
    says it all.
    Morals and Bush…..don’t make me laugh.

  • David Vance

    Time to put straight some of the liberal bitterness and sore loser rantings here.

    James weighs in behind Willowfield’s assertion that the US media is right-wing!!!! Good call, James, and as accurate as your call for Kerry. So CNN et all back republicans -just not “overtly”? I see – will you please have a word with Dan Rather – he’s off message! As for Willowfield’s idea that because the liberal media is owned by big business that somehow proves it is right wing -two words – George Soros.

  • aquifer

    Given a choice between expressing moral principles, and voting for a more even distribution of wealth and a reining back from a dangerous world, the american people chose principle. I don’t think it had to be the principles that Bush expressed, but people needed to feel that the ambitions of islamic fundamentalists would be checked.

  • willowfield

    How exactly is invading Iraq, supplanting an alien democratic culture from above and destabilising the region going to “check” Islamic fundamentalists?!

  • aquifer

    The hopes of the US people to have the fundamentalists checked may of course never be realised, but just watch your TV set.

  • James

    “-two words – George Soros.”

    Four words:

    Counter it with facts.