The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


A Few Tidbits on the Election

I overestimated Bush's margin of victory. My gut feeling was that a large number of people would be disgusted by Michael Moore, Eminem, Osama Bin Fahrenheit 9/11, Marie Antoinette Heinz, and the rest of the anti-Bush pantheon. In doing so I fell into the trap of the partisan, which is to say that I imagined that my allies' faults were excusable and my opponents' faults intolerably vile.

A large proportion of American voters were aware that the left-wing pro-Kerry camp was hateful and seditious. They ignored them, and focussed on the merits and virtues of John Kerry qua John Kerry. For many if not most people, the rich and varied background of the American political scene either does not exist or, if noticed, is not relevant. Thus I must disagree with John Cole:


If the Democrats had listened to me to begin with, they would have won this election. The most electable Democrat in the party right now is Evan Bayh. As a Veep candidate, his moderation would have balanced the ticket, and he would have put you over the top in the rust belt. You probably would have won Ohio. You might have made in roads in Indiana. You might have carried Iowa.


I'm sorry, but does anyone give a fuck who the vice presidential candidates are? We are long past the days where powerful politicians could "deliver" states as if they were feudal possessions. Political junkies in Ohio are just as pro- or anti-Bush as the populace of Texas or California; they could care less if the VP candidate had hailed from the next state over.

George Bush chose Dan Quayle, widely ridiculed as a callow numbskull, and he crushed Dukakis. Clinton achieved absolutely no geographical or ideological balance when he chose Al Gore, and the two of them won handily. John Edwards did his job when it was not revealed that he had received electroshock therapy.

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I expected a big Bush win in part because I was suspicious of the Red State / Blue State cliche. This was a pattern that had revealed itself only in the 2000 election, so why was it reified as a natural division of the country?

Colby Cosh asks:


In 2000, the United States held a bitterly contested, evenly divided presidential election, which George W. Bush won narrowly.

Not too long thereafter, terrorists annihilated the core of the country's greatest metropolis and murdered 2,800 Americans in a handful of minutes. The executive branch embarked on two foreign wars, one mildly controversial, the other savagely so. 1,000 American troops (and counting) were killed capturing and garrisoning Iraq. The U.S. was accused of torturing prisoners of war and confining "enemy combatants" in inhumane conditions contrary to the Geneva Conventions. The federal budget was steered from a condition of rude health to an apparent state of massive, irreparable deficit, with huge new entitlement programs and hotly-argued tax cuts figuring in the mix. It has been as turbulent a four-year period, by all accounts, as any time in American history outside the confines of world war, civil war, or revolution.

So, riddle me this: how come barely anything changed on the electoral landscape? 9/11 "changed everything", and then the Iraq war transformed the political landscape, and then the Abu Ghraib revelations raped America's innocence, or something like that. And then, in 2004, the United States held a bitterly contested, evenly divided presidential election, which George W. Bush won narrowly.


The reason we could still have a closely contested election is because both candidates were pro-war. That is the real Bush mandate: Yes, he collected only 51% of the vote, but his opponent ran on more or less the same platform. Thus the pro-war platform appears to have collected 538 electoral votes and 99.6% of the vote. (Though this number hinges on the final results from Ohio.)

America is half red and half blue because that is the natural state of affairs for a two-party political system. Through competition and evolution, the American electoral map has reached a reasonably steady state. The Democratic majority of the New Deal was a welding together of the conservative segregationist South, populist union workers and farmers, and the intelligentsia. This was a large and vigorous coalition, but the latter faction alienated the other two during the 1960's, and all that kept the Democrats in the majority was inertia.

The Republicans meanwhile had no power base after the New Deal coalition was constructed. They acquired ideology from the Goldwater and Reagan revolutions, and electoral gains from the failure of Democrats to govern properly. The icing on the cake is that the economic gains of the past generation have left people free to vote their prejudices rather than their pocketbooks. Evenly divided government and a lack of party discipline makes this safe; farm state voters can send Republicans to office, secure in the knowledge that they will trade enough votes with Democrats to get their farm subsidies passed.

So now we have political allegiances that everyone can agree on: City dwellers are snobby neurotic pansies who wouldn't know what to do about crime if you spotted them a light saber, while rural denizens are rat-tailed frumps who lack culture, worthwhile food, and decent coffee.

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I was the epitome of sang-froid yesterday, scornfully swatting aside the exit polls while declaiming that Bush would, at worst, take the same states he had in 2000. A trifle more scorn -- and less devotion to work -- would have proved quite lucrative when Tradesports was offering Bush contracts at absurdly low prices. But I did not seize the moment, and spent a good deal of today wandering about and moaning "Bush at 35. Bush at 35."

Google is quite academically and intellectually oriented, so you can imagine that a Bush victory was not welcome there. I did no gloating, but I did reserve for myself the pleasure of turning on the television and watching the Queen of the Space Unicorns himself, Gunga Dan Rather. It was near midnight west coast time and two networks had called Ohio for Bush -- but not See-BS. Rather was mumbling about how the Republicans "had their arithmetic" that showed Bush at 269 electoral votes which would require another state (except it wouldn't, dumbass, because 269 was a tie and the House would vote Republican), and the Democrats had their own arithmetic -- presumably one in which the meaning of "greater than" had been inverted. Rather was careful to tell us that the Kerry "victory party" had shut down only for the night, not permanently. This was a different picture than that painted by an ABC newsman:


Peter Jennings: Let's go to Dean Reynolds at the Kerry/Edwards street party in Boston.

Dean Reynolds: ... the Kerry people are shocked to have lost Ohio.

Jennings: Actually, sorry to put you in an awkward position, Dean, but we haven't called Ohio yet.

Reynolds: Well, everyone else has and the Kerry people do have TVs.


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One last thought: Many horrible memes were destroyed by the election: The mythical "young voters" who save the country by turning out in large numbers to vote Democrat; the bizarre idea that cell phone users had an ideology; the idea that Zogby polls could usefully answer any questions, even that of whether the respondents are alive. And let me reserve a special dose of spleen, in its very own sentence, for dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks drivel like:

When the Redskins win their last home game before the election, Republicans win; when they lose, Democrats win.

In 2008 when someone brings up some similar trivia to predict the election, punch them in the face. I mean, what else can you do? Imagine: A country of 300 million people had some 60 skillion random coin-flip indicators that have successfully predicted ten or a score of elections. How shocking to think that after the election only 30 skillion are still valid!


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