The U.S. Election and Beyond
by Brian Risman, Publisher and Founder, The Law Journal UK
The United States has voted -- cleanly this time. We in the world should respect the results, as we expect Americans to respect our votes. However, internally America is racked by post-election strife and division -- which is a bigger threat to the world than any US foreign policy initiative.
The United States elections are over for this year. The victors celebrate, and the vanquished tend to their wounds.
The result was no surprise. President Bush had led in the polls since the Republican Convention in August. Only grossly incorrect exit polls on the day of the election, posted on the Internet, predicted a Kerry win.
Why did Bush win? As I mentioned last year, George W. Bush is a superb campaigner, who can read the population. He surprised the soldiers in Iraq by spending the American Thanksgiving holiday with them, serving them turkey dinner. That is great television – and sent an unbeatable message to the American population. Another example of the election smarts of the President – on the day of the election, he took a turn at a phone bank in Ohio, and in one call to a woman, was captured on camera saying, “Really ma’am, it is me calling you for your vote”. Pure theatre – and no wonder he won Ohio. I could not see John Kerry reaching out to the soldiers, or the voters, in the way that George W. Bush could.
Moreover, George W. Bush was able to read the American electorate. He saw that the key issue for the mainstream base of voters was concern about the moral decay of America. Iraq, terrorism, the economy – all those issues were secondary. It is interesting that a leading newspaper that backed Kerry, was stunned that ‘moral values’ was the biggest factor affecting voting – the editor was heard to say, “Where did that come from?” Obviously, the Democrats and their supporters were out of touch with what Americans were thinking.
The ‘moral values’ issue not only elected the President – it handed greater control of both Houses of Congress and State Governorships to the Republicans.
Many people in the world did not want George W. Bush re-elected. Polls in many countries suggested that John Kerry was preferred – but interestingly, only because he was not George W. Bush. Therefore, Kerry did not have a personal impact even in other countries. Many in the world rejected Bush because of his unilateralist foreign policy – yet John Kerry, with his union-supported trade protectionism, would have unilaterally put up high tariff walls to create American jobs. So one form of unilateralism in foreign policy would have been replaced by a worse unilateralism of trade protectionism and tariff walls. Moreover, Kerry’s form of unilateralism would have created a worldwide (and American) economic depression, in the same manner that tariff walls and protectionism brought about the Great Depression of the 1930s.
That is why the alternative to George W. Bush -- John Kerry and the Democrats – scared me far more with their economic stance.
Regarding terrorism and the intervention in Iraq -- while it is clear that the justification for the invasion of Iraq was lacking, the gross brutality of the Iraqi insurgents to their hostages suggests that the world should work towards solidifying democracy in Iraq. The alternative of the beheadings of all parties, including aid workers, is not an alternative for Iraq or the world at large. John Kerry did not provide a viable alternative in the face of this brutality. I think this is why Iraq was not a decisive factor in the election -- the polls showed that many Americans did not support the Iraq invasion, but still felt Bush was the best candidate to handle the situation. The brutal murder of children in the school in Beslan, Russia at the beginning of September only underlined the concern regarding terrorism of the so-called 'security moms' -- and added to Bush's lead.
My opposition to George W. Bush in previous articles was based on one fact – that he did not win, and in fact stole – the 2000 election, with many Democratic votes not counted that would have handed Florida to the Democrats, and made Al Gore the President. I would reject the Democrats equally if they did the same thing.
Now, however, in the 2004 election, George W. Bush won fairly and cleanly. I, as a foreigner, do not tell the American people how to vote – I am not a Michael Moore who tells Americans and foreigners how to vote in their elections. I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican in sympathy. I respect the decision of the American people.
Further, we who live in other countries can choose to like – or dislike – the result. However, no more than the Americans (such as the aforementioned infamous Michael Moore) can tell us foreigners how to vote, we foreigners cannot tell the American people how to decide their leadership. Moreover, we likewise must respect the American election result. George W. Bush is their President, cleanly and fairly elected this time.
Many are concerned that religious groups have taken over the Republican Party, and indeed control the levers of American government. We can like or dislike this situation. However, we have to understand why the United States voted as it did. We cannot pretend or demonize people and groups about the result. If the United States is a more religious country than others are in the Western world, and therefore voted on a religious basis, that is their choice.
However – these religious forces in the United States have no right to impose their beliefs on the rest of the world. For too long, U.S. foreign policy has not been based on who is a friend, but rather who thinks like us. That policy is shortsighted, and will continue to cause division and dissent in the rest of the world. I recently heard a conservative U.S. radio talk show host on the Canadian border, who called his show ‘Radio Free Canada’ with the aim of liberating Canadians from ‘Liberal Party dictatorship’. Really – the last time I looked Canada was a democracy – even if the Liberal Party holds power in a minority government. Be afraid – be very afraid.
My concerns over the Bush and Republican win are not as much external to the country, as internal. The country is now seriously divided into the ‘blue’ (Democratic) and ‘red’ (Republican) states. The residents of these states are insulting each other. Without being melodramatic, the language is akin to a ‘civil war’. Many ‘blue’ Americans have flooded Canadian Immigration offices and websites. The word ‘traitor’ is frequently used by Conservative commentators to describe their opponents. Liberal commentators are equally as fierce in their language about the President, the Republicans, and the ‘red’ States. Is Bush the threat as much as Liberal commentators say? Are the Liberals destroying America, as the Conservative commentators say? I doubt it on both sides – but the radio waves are filled 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with this hatred. Americans don't talk to each other -- they hurl insults at each other. This hatred breeds trouble – and that is why I fear more for America than the world after the election result.
Moreover, the old days of a bipartisan foreign policy is long gone. The neo-Conservatives now rule, and are in the process of eliminating any moderating influence in the American government. The lack of debate or alternative opinions in the government -- and the silencing of opposition -- is foreboding on a domestic as well as the foreign stage. This silencing of opposition is something very strange to one raised in the Parliamentary tradition, where the Opposition is constantly criticizing the government. The ability of opposition to criticize is part of democracy -- and government is better run if different opinions are allowed in the inner circle.
How then will the neo-Conservatives, silencing domestic dissent, react to the hated foreigners, especially if they don't espouse the same religious and political beliefs? We are already seeing it in the U.S. attitude to many countries, who have been demonized or ridiculed in the U.S. body politic.
The U.S. election result must be respected -- but the agenda of the winners (and the hatred by the losers) in silencing not only opposition, but even more moderate stances -- suggests trouble on both the domestic and foreign stage.
Here is a note received from Nathan Gilarry of Melbourne, Australia regarding the US election, in response to my previous article on US Democracy -- A Need for Reform and the subsequent article U.S. Democracy -- An American Responds. Thanks, Nathan!
My name’s Nathan Gilarry and I’m a politically aware 20 year-old, working and living in Melbourne, Australia.
Last night (as it was inescapable), I was watching some US election coverage on TV, and having a discussion on some issues I was having with the US electoral and political systems in general.
I Just read your article on “a need for reform” and was absolutely shocked (and if I was American, ashamed) that talk-back radio is so thoroughly censored in the US.
I know that no Democracy will ever be perfect, but I think Australia does quite well, as it is such a young nation and at Federation was able to ‘pick and choose’ the best elements from established democracies around the world.
One particularly strong point of our political system (which probably traces right back to our convict past with strong anti-authoritarian sentiment) is the way in which politicians are interviewed by the media and how the citizenry can respond through talk-back programs.
It is not uncommon to see on Australian television during prime time hours on the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC, a totally Government/Taxpayer funded network), the Prime Minister, Treasurer or any MP for the Government or Opposition being absolutely grilled by Journalists. They are held directly accountable for absolutely everything.
I know that this certainly wouldn’t happen in third world countries where governments wield so much power through media outlets; however this third world situation seems to be the case in the US also, albeit at a different level.
Seems to me, concurrent with what Andrew James Jarrett suggests in his “An American Response”, that US news networks, rather than being cutting edge and really investigating stories to unravel hidden truths, are too concerned with being labelled ‘un-American.’ This is undeniably a dangerous situation for any true democracy.
However I am writing this letter from Australia and make these comments only after watching American news networks on cable television. So I may be seeing only one segment of the American media overall. Although this particular consideration may mean very little if you believe as I do (correct me if I’m wrong, and not that Australians are all that much better) that a vast majority of Americans aren’t particularly well educated and would rely solely on television for their news and current affairs.
I strongly believe that comprehensive and unbiased media coverage of political activity is essential to democracy in this day and age. Unfortunately Americans seem to have such a deep rooted sense of patriotism and consequential admiration for their Head of State, any suggestion that he (next time probably a she) has not followed the best possible course of action on any given issue is viewed as a treasonous abomination. This is an unfortunate state to be in.
For previous Articles, please click to visit our Archive.