Every day, you hear or read somewhere about how the American electorate is becoming more and more ideologically-polarized, and that we are split nearly 50-50 on the range of issues that supposedly separate the Dems from the GOP. The super-close election of 2000 is pointed to a lot, as being an inarguable piece of evidence to this phenomenon. Upon further scrutiny, this premise appears to me to be false, on many fronts.
What got me thinking about this, was all the talk last night prior to the speeches about the supposed polarization of the American populace, and how we can therefore expect another brutally close race. I started thinking to myself, about how many issues there are to consider, and about how so many people make up their minds based on one or two issues(usually their "pocketbook issues"), and also about how most people I know are far more similar than they are divided into clear-cut camps.
People very often disregard the "issues" entirely, and simply vote for the guy they instinctively like more, or the one who creeps them out the least. I know my vote is predicated on one issue this time around, the War On Terror, and I know my parents, staunch Catholics that they are, have voted "pro-life" in the past four elections at least. We all have a hot button, but there are a LOT of buttons to push! Running for national office is a perilous tightrope-act.
Who's polarized? Why, damn their hides, it's the pundits! Not us average Joes and Judys on the street, but the blow-dried, pancake-makeupped talking heads on the tube, along with their less-presentable fellows in the print and radio media. They're the ones who get us all hot and bothered, and emphasize the "radical division" of the electorate over the fact that most of us are moderates, with varying opinions on a host of issues.
So, as you listen to the incessant, "Crossfire-style" ideological harangues for the rest of the summer and into the fall, keep in mind that most people don't vote based on strong ideological or political-positions.
Human-thought is not that rational or logical, for the most part, and the best political animals know how to play to this associative, affective, primitive response. Old people like Burgie and DA(heheh) will probably remember from their civics classes, that the 1960 election between Nixon and Kennedy was just as close as the 2000 race, and was decided by America's visceral reaction to the two candidates, after they engaged in the first-ever televised presidential-campaign debates. Women thought Jack was hot, and men thought Nixon looked sweaty, shifty and in need of an evening shave.
The '68 and '76 elections were very, very tight as well. Without going into a lot of detail, they were also decided by people who apparently changed their minds at the last minute, and confounded the pollsters. I remember how Wallace was sucking racist-votes out of the South in '68, as the Vietnam War raged on, forcing Nixon to conjure up a "secret plan to end the war" that is suspiciously close to Kerry's current, secret plan on how he's going to finish the job in Iraq in short order, bring the troops home, AND win the War On Terror. All that, and a bag of chips, too...
Ford was ultimately defeated by Carter in '76 because a lot of boomers were still angry about his pardon of Nixon, the major villain and target of the dying breaths of the short-lived dinosaur that was the "protest movement." Oh, people still protested after that, and do to this day, but most of the air luffed out of the sails in the late '70's, as the boomers turned to making money and babies instead of new bong-designs. Political-obsession ended for most young Americans, the day the war in Vietnam was declared over.
Most people are not that vitally-interested in politics, and almost none actively participate in the campaign-process, relative to the size of the total electorate. We respond to simple bromides, stated clearly and often, but not too often. This is the way it is, and the way it has always been, as far as my studies on past political-seasons has taught me. Not that we are sheep, but we do depend on our shepherds(Smith?) to look out for us, most of the time. We're friggin' busy and tired, dang it!
I have come to believe, contrary to the popular opinions of most editorialists with a pulpit to pound off behind, that a LOT of us make up our minds much closer to the election than is usually considered. Most of us are NOT hidebound, heartless Republicans or wishy-washy, liberal Democrats. I think a lot of people make up their minds which way to vote in the final days of the campaign, sometimes when they enter the booth, even.
If I'm right about this, then I think the signs are pointing towards a Bush-win that could be more pronounced than any of us anticipate, judging by the dead-heat closeness of all the national polls. The "undecideds" are drifting towards Bush, right now, and away from the innocuous, do-nothing Kerry, despite the latter's valiant attempts to grow some empathy-fantasies and popular national appeal. He's a weird-ears Massachusetts liberal, in the final analysis, with no consistent position on anything .
Bush may not be a brilliant man, or a great orator, but he does know how to stay on topic, and stay the course. He's steadfast in the crunch, and I believe he is correct in his stewardship of the general conduct of the War On Terror. Giuliani said it well, last night: "It doesn't matter to him what the media does to ridicule him or misinterpret him or defeat him," he said. "They ridiculed Winston Churchill. They belittled Ronald Reagan."
By contrast, according to Giuliani, John Kerry lacks Bush's "clear, precise and consistent vision." And a bear does his business in the woods...
Having the two party mavericks, McCain and Giuliani open the Convention, was a brilliant tactical move. They will bring in the independents, and sway a lot of people in the middle towards the Republican-side. I thought Giuliani was masterful last night, and might have a future in national politics after all. Being a Republican mayor, and a popular one at that, in a city that runs 5-1 towards the Democratic ticket, is no mean feat. Rudy's handling of the 9-11 crisis, and his statesman-like bearing in the days immediately afterward, came back to me in a flash of memories last night, and attached themselves by association with Bush's similar calm resolve and warm embrace of the surviving New Yorkers and Americans, who were forever changed on that fateful day.
Now, there will be a couple of days of time-killing and word-wasting, until the big rhetorical-flourish of Dubya's speech will resound throughout the land like the clarion call of Gabriel's own horn. The speechwriters are tearing their hair out, right now, getting every bromide, joke and pregnant pause in the right place. I think Dubya will come out of this convention with a major bounce in his step, and in the polls.