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Tuesday, October 19, 2004


kerry's improving prospects

today's new york times poll shows job approval for the president down to 44% -- a near-low for his entire four-year term -- and the "wrong-track" number up to 59%.

this is really good news for kerry, i have to think, further augmented by the numbers on the terrorism question:

Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they had a lot or some confidence that Mr. Bush would make the right decisions to prevent another terrorist attack - compared with 62 percent who said they felt that way about Mr. Kerry.
that is massive progress over the last several months on bush's core issue, the one he bases his entire campaign on.

there's a lot of talk about how undecided voters -- the key determinant of the outcome -- will go. the received wisdom is that undecideds break for the challenger -- and some analysis bears out that this is in fact what's happening, by a 2-1 margin. with bush consistently polling near 47%, kerry is starting to look very good indeed -- compounded by the probability that in 70 years of polling, no incumbent with a job approval number averaging under 50% has been re-elected.

kerry's stump speeches lately have pounded on domestic issues like health care -- which hasn't been a huge election topic, next to security. but the reason why is revealing: undecideds think health care matters. turns out that many undecided voters are women, and women feel "venus issues" such as health care and insurance (domestic issues generally) are more important than "mars issues" like terrorism or iraq. men, on the other hand, rarely see health care as a voting issue -- something i can confirm from personal experience as a male knowing other males. so while health care frequently comes in well down the list of voter concerns, it often polls first or second among undecideds -- and kerry is addressing them directly.

bush, on the other hand, has a strategy aiming for base turnout over wooing undecideds he probably can't get. so we're seeing him hammer on his core theme -- fear and security -- and making statements designed to rile up his base.

the endgame is upon us -- and if all goes according to hoyle, kerry is likely to be the next president of the united states. i can't say i think kerry will be a great president; what i can say is that, as a man who tries to see american politics in their historical context, i will be grateful if bush is put out.

then, of course, even if kerry wins, the next important day becomes january 20, 2005 -- for the peaceful transfer of power in an increasingly radicalized society cannot be assumed.

for more on polls and what to do with them, read mystery pollster.

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Your last sentence frightens me. Four years ago I would have said you were crazy. Now, of course, you hint at a real possibility. It is even possible that there will be trouble if Bush is elected, within the Republican party. What happens when the world doesn't have the United States to run to?

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truth be told, doc, i'm not sure what becomes of us in that event. that sort of political unrest, in combination with the tenuous dependencies and imbalances of american finances (public and private) makes outcome prediction impossible.

an essential condition of installing a dictatorship is a degree of popular complicity. you don't need everyone on your side (that never happens, of course) but you do need a significant minority, anyway, and general disorganization and apathy among the opposition.

our apathy is well documented, but one of the most enlightening aspects of the last several years has been the revelation (to me) through observation of the comfort level most americans have with dictatorship.

we know they would never admit it; americans are religiously attached to the word "Democracy", even if they plainly don't really understand what that means anymore. but i think most americans -- 80%? -- would now welcome a dictatorship if the dictator was their man. indeed, increasingly, the president is just that. that's a radical change from a century ago, but has been slowly and subtly achieved by gradual transition.

the election season has made it more apparent. everywhere i look these days, people are calling for Leadership in the presidency -- which essentially means the unification of decisive authority in one man. people are asking for dictatorship without understanding it. when was the last time anyone rallied around empowering senators or having an longer period of debate? over time, as that sentiment has taken hold, we've given more and more discretion to the executive -- usually at the expense of the legislative (and the constitution).

and i think it's a broad-based civilizational phenomena. simplicity is valued, as is speed and leisure. what is new, quick and painless is best. few people think about the future deeply, and almost no one considers the past. a sort of wishful primitivism has taken over in our culture, politically but also generally, as a relief from responsibilities -- including difficult debate and extended thought. it's a different manifestation, imo, of the much-deplored but utterly embraced "dumbing down" of our nation.

anyway, my point is that the end of the republic seems to me much closer than anyone is inclined to believe (if they think about it at all). history shows us that it is a matter of time; there are no thousand-year democracies. the conditions for devolving to tyranny along the well-marked lines of the athenian and roman societies are in place, i think.

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mystery pollster on ohio further indicates that bush may be sunk. if he can reel in only 47% in what is a deeply republican bastion, he cannot win the election.

again, we wait for an october surprise -- but if none comes, it's kerry's ballgame.

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