the following link comes courtesy of Jesper Eklow. From David Aaronovith in Sunday’s Observer
‘We ran a jihad in America,’ wrote one celebrated American columnist. ‘The faithful were shepherded to the polls as though to the rapture,’ said another, conjuring an image entirely absent from any coverage that I saw at the time. The key statistic, quoted by just about everybody, was the one showing that the number one issue among voters was not the economy, was not Iraq, but something called ‘moral values’.
This finding chimed with the thesis of a recent, well-received book by Thomas Frank, which argued that poor Americans were gulled by rich Americans via religion and prejudice into voting for a rapacious capitalism that was inimical to their real interests. In other words, they were ideologically drugged. We wuz robbed again, not this time by voting irregularities, but by the mobilisation of the gullible (or the ‘dumb’ as the Daily Mirror , which can claim some expertise in this area, had it) by the unscrupulous. The dismay of some liberal Democrats, and the increase in traffic at the Canadian immigration website at the result led one cyberwit to mock up pictures of New York professionals struggling across the snowy border, dragging their Vuitton behind them.
But scrutiny of the figures shows these fears to be misplaced. For a start, we should remind ourselves that, though President Bush won a clear victory, it was still a close one. The Democrats actually did rather better than I’d expected following the Republican convention. Not only that, but far from there being two separate nations growing apart, some of the voting trends actually emphasised the opposite. Many states showed very close results (Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, New Mexico – as well as Ohio), and all of them far closer than what happens in what we in Britain call a ‘safe seat’, where the winning party often manages more than 60 per cent of the vote.
True, large cities showed up for Kerry and rural areas for Bush, but small cities were absolutely evenly split, with Bush shading the suburbs. More urban dwellers, Hispanics, blacks, Catholics and Jews voted for Bush than before, and more white women. Forty-five per cent of Bush’s vote came from voters who classified themselves as ‘moderate’ or ‘liberal’.
So what about the religious? The populist ‘uprising’ from the red states noted by Thomas Frank turns out, on inspection, to be more or a less a mirage, a self-inflicted liberal nightmare. 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.)
Above all, however, if you don’t want the Republicans to win, then you have to offer something better. In Friday’s New York Times, Kerry speechwriter, Andrei Cherny, wrote: ‘The overarching problem Democrats have today is the lack of a clear sense of what the party stands for.’ These were the questions Kerry needed to answer, he said: ‘What is our economic vision in a globalised world? How do we respond to the desire of many Americans to have choices and decision-making power of their own? How can we speak to Americans’ moral and spiritual yearnings? How can our national security vision be broader than just a critique of Republican foreign policy?’
Over 40 years, since their defeat in the 1964 presidential election, the Republicans have been busy discussing policy, setting up foundations, leading the national debate on economics and foreign affairs. Informed by this process, the party – as much an awkward coalition as any other – has associated itself with modernity, optimism and clarity. Challenging that position is the long-term task of America’s centre left. It is not just a question for the Democrats, but a question for us in Britain, too. What is our solution to the problem of Iran? Or are we just going to wait to see what the Americans do, and then oppose it?
Above all, however, we must first avoid the one fatal error that so many have fallen into. George W Bush and his voters are not dumb. Those who think so are the really dumb ones.