Fri May 5th, 2006 at 01:46:02 PM EST
In the just-published issue of Le Monde Diplomatique http://www.monde-diplomatique.fr/2006/05/RAMONET/13422 , editor Ignacio
Ramonet presents a main feature called "War of Ideas". Among the articles is
one by Serge Halimi entitled, "Stratagème de la droite américaine,
mobiliser le peuple contre les intellectuelles".
(sorry, I could not make the lovely links appear without all the // stuff. )
It runs to less than two full pages but is quite interesting despite the
Halimi cites in his end-notes a book by Michael Kazin, The Populist Persuasion , (c) Basic Books, New York, 1995 with three references
to this title.
In the end-notes of the article are these statistics (supposedly drawn from an article cited
The American Prospect http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewPrint&articleId=8955
but, for the life of me, I do not see these statistics anywhere in that
[my translation from french]
" Of those without university experience, whites with (annual)
incomes between $ 30,000 and $ 50,000 voted in favor of Bush by 62% against 38%
(for Kerry). For those in the same income range but with a university degree,
the proportions were 49% for both Bush and Kerry. We have observed about the
same separation linked to educational experience for the segment of income from
$ 50,000 to $ 70,000 per year."
In other threads ETers have speculated about the sources of Bush's
appeal--note, as distinguished from his variable and now waning
popularity--and shared much amazment that anyone could see any valid
reasons to vote for Bush once, let alone twice.
I have tried to understand that, too. And to me--as the article by Halimi
points out--there are reasons that Bush has successfully appealed to many
millions of Americans even if they are not reasons which many of us find
compelling. Here are some ideas as to the sources of Bush's appeal--the
examples are either my own hunches or are offered in the essay or they are both
Bush finds his major appeal in having successfully presented himself as a
person who shares the political interests and concerns of what, for short-hand,
I'll call "average Americans" as distinguished from an élite which are often but
not always wealthier; almost always holders of university degrees and typically
one or more advanced degrees--people who, therefore, are typically
intellectuals in their habits and are both self-described as such and seen
as intellectuals by others; who have liberal views regarding religion or are
more often simply agnostic or atheists; who are comfortable in seeing issues
and controversies as neither clearly one way or another but as a very "gray"
mix of conflicting aspects; who are, similarly, content to tolerate much deviant
behavior in others--i.e. tolerant of those who deviate from many of society's
usually traditional norms of moral behavior, and in particular private moral
behavior whether that concerns sexual matters, tastes in art, etc.
It makes little or no difference in this context that many of the factual
details of President Bush make him anything but similar to average Americans.
The point is that he strives to be seen by them as one like them, sharing their
"values" and he is able through speech, the astute use of vocabulary, the use of
rhetorical styles of speaking, and by the clever adoption and use of symbolic
trappings, to associate himself powerfully with what average Americans identify
as their interests.
These include the well-known use of visual back-drops and carefully staged
settings for speeches and appearances. His audiences are selected for
approving effect. His dress is formal only when necessary and appropriate,
otherwise it is informal and in all instances where the effect is to help
underscore his commonality.
Bush takes every opportunity to distinguish himself from intellectuals and all
things normally associated with them--devotion to reading; care in speaking
correctly and precisely; interests in refined tastes--food, music, hobbies,
etc. In all these ways Bush accentuates his symbolic links to average people
who frankly resent the highly exclusive, expert, élite and aloof class which
occupies almost without exception the decision-making positions in almost every
important area of life which touches average Americans.
To put it another way, and in an over simplified way, Bush appeals greatly to
those who are traditional, religious and, moreover, are completely fed up with
seeing a small privileged elite running more and more of their lives and
leaving them less and less to say--if anything at all--about the way the world
they live in shall be run.
In the face of this resentment and plain disgust, Kerry in his person and his
presentation throughout the last campaign was easy to caricature as the epitome
of everything the average Bush voters would find objectionable. Thus, Kerry was
the image of the intellectual elite and even claimed such a part much of the
time. At other times he was seen lamely aping the appearance of someone
"closer to the people" as when he went hunting etc. The trouble was that
unlike Bush's effectively staged presentations, Kerry's were, to the potential
Bush voters he apparently thought he had to win over, completely canned looking and insincere.
It would be a mistake, I think, to assume that Bush's catastrophic two terms
should, by themselves, be enough to drive otherwise conservative and
ordinarily-right-wing-voting average Americans into the arms of any candidate
which the Democrats see fit to put up for office. Like "liberals" (U.S.
usage), conservatives are unlikely to abandon their political ideological
orientation just because their party has a terribly bad run in the White
House and Congress. They are more likely to reason, as liberals would, that
the problem is with these particular individuals and their comptetance at
government, and not with the basic philosophical tenets of their political
beliefs. Thus, instead of leaping into the arms of the opposition party, they
will first look to and hope for a candidate to better redeem their disappointed
expectations in the next round of elections.
In short, there is probably little to expect from efforts to explain to
conservatives in a detailed and rational manner why Bush is and was bound to be
a disaster for the nation--unless, along with the explanation, the Democrats
very clearly and very frankly take upon themselves their full share of the
responsibility for the wreckage of large portions of American democratic-style
institutions and their foundations in the Constitution. Such a refreshing and
rare candor might make some headway against an otherwise almost impervious
built-in distrust by the average conservative voter. Without such candor, I'd
expect any chances to actually teach these Bush partisans why and how they've
been so badly had-- and we along with them--to simply be dismissed out of hand.