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War of Ideas-- On the sources of Bush's appeal & Poll

by proximity1 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
brevity.  

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
in
 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
article:

 [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
at once:

  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.

  P.

Poll
The Democratic Party's acknowledgement of its share of responsibility is ... in any effort to regain electoral respectability .
. not at all important 0%
. only slightly important 0%
. rather important 0%
. important 0%
. significantly important 0%
. very important 0%
. essential 0%
. one of the above but still not practicable under any realistic setting 33%
. practicable in theory but not possible with the party as it is today 66%
. the question is improperly posed and should be reformulated 0%

Votes: 3
Results | Other Polls
Display:
Some good points, I think. When the Dems lost the industrial heartland in the US they lost everything. But  

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.

is ironic because most decision making in the US seems to be managed by either good ole' boys of the Bush type, or take-no-prisoners entrepreneurs.

The intellectual class - if such a thing even exists except as a small minority - seems to be politically irrelevant. There's possibly some representation in the media, but industry and business are inherently anti-intellectual. Microsoft is known for its dislike of creative or free-thinking types and corporate culture - which is what really runs the US - has almost nothing in common with the kind of intellectual tradition you can find in Europe.

Others have already pointed out that the Repub heartland is an unholy alliance between fundies, who are being deliberately farmed with promises of Jesustan, and con-artist Repub types who will do anything to hold onto power and make themselves rich.

The Repub MO is always based on ad hominem attacks, and promotion of issues that can be reduced to simple sound-bite positions like abortion and hay marriage. There's nothing else to understand.

If the Dems wanted to fight back they could use the same language and the same attitudes to demonstrate how 'moral' the Repubs really are. It's not like there's a lack of ammunition available.

But the Dems are paralysed not just because they want to see a bigger picture, or because they're crippled by toadies like Lieberman, but because they haven't realised that the most important meta-message they can give is strong principled leadership. Bush was popular because he conned and schmoozed his way into making people believe that's what he was offering. The Dems need to wrench that back from him. If they do that, they can wipe out the Repubs for a generation.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Fri May 5th, 2006 at 05:57:57 PM EST
 
"But the Dems are paralysed not just because they want to see a bigger picture, or because they're crippled by toadies like Lieberman, but because they haven't realised that the most important meta-message they can give is strong principled leadership. Bush was popular because he conned and schmoozed his way into making people believe that's what he was offering. The Dems need to wrench that back from him. If they do that, they can wipe out the Repubs for a generation."

  Thank you for that reply and that insight.  I think it's an important one, and one I'm going to bear in mind.

  Of course, as I understand you, you mean that the Democrats ought to restore--wrench that back from [Bush]--"strong, principled leadership" not as a pure public-relations ploy, as Bush has done (or does he actually believe he's sincere?), but in all sincerity .  I agree.

  I wonder how likely that is.

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Sat May 6th, 2006 at 09:26:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Er... It's Ignacio Ramone*t*.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat May 6th, 2006 at 03:31:33 AM EST

 Thanks!  I know it should have been Ramonet--as I have several of his books and his name is right there on the cover!  What I don't know is why I spelled it with a "z" !

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge
by proximity1 on Sat May 6th, 2006 at 09:17:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Perez, Hernandez, Fernandez, Gomez, Gonzalez, Lopez... Ramonez!

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat May 6th, 2006 at 10:58:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think generally you're on target, but perhaps I would disagree about the average person's not respecting the intellectual community. I think that college professors, doctors, lawyers, ministers, and the like are generally regarded as worth listening too, if not necessarily agreeing with automatically.

The problem with Kerry was not that he's an intellectual, but that he didn't connect with people. He windsurfs instead of motorboats. He rides a road bike instead of a mountain bike. He owns property in Europe instead of in Arkansas. He tried a stupid political stunt about hunting which brought him immense ridicule and also pissed off a bunch of liberals. He simply didn't show the ability to make people like him.

Also, incidently, there is a big segment of the population that doesn't even think he's an intellectual to start with. His college grades, for example, were about the same as Bush's.

by asdf on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 12:46:11 AM EST

 ...most decision making in the US seems to be managed by either good ole' boys of the Bush type, or take-no-prisoners entrepreneurs.

The intellectual class - if such a thing even exists except as a small minority - seems to be politically irrelevant. There's possibly some representation in the media, but industry and business are inherently anti-intellectual. Microsoft is known for its dislike of creative or free-thinking types and corporate culture - which is what really runs the US - has almost nothing in common with the kind of intellectual tradition you can find in Europe.
 -- ThatBritGuy

 Comments?  Anyone?

"In such an environment it is not surprising that the ills of technology should seem curable only through the application of more technology..." John W Aldridge

by proximity1 on Sun May 7th, 2006 at 11:52:25 AM EST


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