George W Bush, one of the most controversial US presidents, has been voted as a second term president by the US electorate. Bush, who won by a margin of over 3.5 million votes and got 9 million more votes in 2004 than he got in 2000, has won by the highest number of votes ever cast for a US presidential candidate. This thumping Bush victory comes as a surprise for all those who followed the US election campaign through the US mainstream media and the regular opinion polls. Piling up numerous reasons for a John Kerry victory they had predicted a neck-to neck fight. Even on the day of the elections the exit polls conducted by most US television channels were indicating strong possibilities for a Kerry victory; perhaps triumph of hope over objective reporting as the results subsequently indicated. The Kerry camp itself, so confident of victory, that until the early hours of November 3 they only had a victory speech prepared for John Kerry.
Bush has been the target of unrelenting criticism in sections of the US media and butt of many jokes. His American critics produced dozens of books criticizing his invasion of Iraq; his reckless unilateralism, ill-conceived war on terrorism and the excesses committed by Homeland security against US citizens. One of the popular East Coast jokes ridiculing Bush’s intellect was about a national crisis in the US because Bush’s personal library in Texas had been burnt down. Following the crisis Bush’s spokesman announced that the president was particularly disturbed because he was coloring one of the books in his two-book library!
These caricatures weren’t able to prevent a Bush victory. It’s a victory that has flowed from the current socio-political context within the United States. It therefore stands solidly to reason. The gradual erosion of the traditional values among the population of the east and the west coasts of the US and the deadly 9/11 attack, have led to a socio-political polarization which heavily favored the incumbent president. Four factors are especially noteworthy.
One, the issue of social and family values was a central issue in the 2004 election campaign. Specific Issues like gay and lesbian marriage, abortion and stem cell research dominated the campaign. Bush, the born-again Christian, focused on these issues and aggressively fought against the liberal view on these issues by propagating his ‘compassionate conservative’ worldview. For example in early March at a National Association of Evangelicals Christians meeting the president said he would defend the institution of marriage by supporting a federal constitutional amendment. Bush said he would “defend the sanctity of marriage against activist courts and local officials who want to redefine marriage. The union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution," he said. "I support a constitutional amendment to protect marriage as the union of a man and a woman." The president reiterated his intention to get a constitutional ban on gay marriage and said he would continue pressing to allow religious charities a greater hand in delivering social services.
Bush placed special emphasis on his efforts to curtail abortion, a goal fervently pursued by conservative Christians. "We’re working to build a culture of life," he said. In November 2003 he signed legislation outlawing certain late-term abortions. Three federal judges immediately blocked the law, and Bush promised, "We will vigorously defend this law against any attempt to overturn it in the courts." He promised he would continue to nominate to the courts like-minded judges who "will interpret the law and not legislate from the bench."
Two, threatened by an erosion of their core values the majority Americans of the non-coast States have now actively centered their socio-cultural and moral identity in religion. Bush was therefore the man to follow. Kerry the ‘liberal leftist elite’ from Massachusetts had to be defeated. Rooted in traditional Christian values majority of the non-coast Americans feared a Kerry win would destroy their core values of family and society. The gay and lesbian marriage question was particularly relevant since over the last few months the fear of gay marriage becoming a norm rather than an aberration, led 10 States to vote against legalizing gay marriages. But in Kerry’s State the Court ruled gay and lesbian marriages to be legal. Kerry’s pro-choice position on abortion was used by the Republicans as proof of his being irreligosity. Bush successfully tapped into the evangelical Christian vote base. His campaign had convinced them that he was their own need. Hence virtually on auto-start the evangelical Christians required minimal mobilizing. According to the US media every third Bush voter was an evangelical Christian.
Three, this time the nexus between local and foreign was strong. Yet it was 9/11 not the Iraq war that was a key consideration for average American voters. Despite the critique of the Iraq war by the leading US print media, the majority of Americans see the war as a necessity to ‘defend America.’ For them it is irrelevant that all the reasons for invading Iraq were false. Even US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s admission that there is no connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda will not dent the majority’s faith in the correctness of Bush’s Iraq war. They believe in whatever the war president tells them. Only a huge American casualty figure in Iraq may shake this faith. Meanwhile the liberals, on the margins of the America’s socio-cultural divide, have failed to popularize their criticism of the Iraq war.
Four, the economy was not the key factor for majority of the American voters. Bush’s victory in Ohio, the state with 22 electoral votes, illustrated this fact. In Ohio the economy had been hit by outsourcing and 150,000 people had been laid off. Kerry campaigned hard and long hoping to win this key swing state. Instead the swing voters went for Bush. They found comfort and security in his religious worldview and in his handling of the terrorism threat.
However, the critical factor behind the Bush victory was the ability of the Bush campaign to convert these factors into a wining combination for Bush. Karl Rove, Bush campaign manager, was the brain that deployed these factors to construct a Bush victory. Reputed to be one of the sharpest political minds and a 1971 drop out from the University of Utah Karl Rove projected Bush’s ‘compassionate conservatism’ as the holistic response to the socio-cultural, spiritual and moral needs of the Americans. He effectively played on the American heartland’s fear of rise of the ‘liberal-led immorality and godlessness.’ Having worked with Bush senior Rove, a political consultant and owner of a mail order business until 1999, was persuaded by Bush junior to work on his 2000 campaign. Subsequently he became Bush’s key political handler, masterminding the return of Bush.
The Republican electoral sweep has been all-encompassing given that they have also made gains in the Senate and the Congress. Republicans with their strong hold over the legislature and the presidency will further tighten their control over the Supreme Court as new judges are appointed. Religion is now occupying center stage in US politics. The Christian right has come into its own politically. In the days ahead the world will witness the growing influence of religion on the Constitution and the State institutions of the secular democracy of the United States. Also the growing intellectual polarization within the American society on issues of moral values and religion will increasingly be stonewalled as the authoritative ascendancy of conservatism in American politics will squeeze the socio-political space available to the non-traditionalists. With the Republican control extended in the Congress and the Senate and with Bush having won a popular majority, there is likely to be a powerful push on the social agenda.