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Are we still living in Bush country?

By Lance Selfa | November 4, 2005 | Page 7

A SERIES of national opinion polls confirm that more than three of every five Americans disapprove of George W. Bush's performance as president. That's a far cry from just one year ago this month, when pundits were claiming that Bush's win over John Kerry confirmed the U.S. as conservative "Bush country."

Many liberals and radicals joined in that assessment. Justin Podur wrote in ZNet after the election: "[I]t is time to admit something. The greatest divide in the world today is not between the U.S. elite and its people, or the U.S. elite and the people of the world. It is between the U.S. people and the rest of the world..."

The Nation's Katha Pollitt said: "Maybe this time the voters chose what they actually want: Nationalism, pre-emptive war, order not justice, 'safety' through torture, backlash against women and gays, a gulf between haves and have-nots, government largesse for their churches and a my-way-or-the-highway president."

So, one year later, that same public that supposedly wanted all those reactionary policies doesn't seem to want them any more. What happened?

The first thing to note is that Bush's victory owed as much to Kerry's failure to offer himself as an alternative as it did to Bush's appeal.

Looking back at the exit polls on how voters felt about the issues, it's hard to believe that Bush won. Fifty-two percent of voters said that the Iraq war had not made the U.S. more secure; 52 percent said things were going badly in Iraq; 45 percent disapproved of the decision to go to war in Iraq (compared to 51 percent who supported it); 49 percent said the U.S. was going in the right direction (compared to 46 percent saying it was going in the wrong direction); 52 percent said the national economy was "not good or poor"; 49 percent described themselves as "angry or dissatisfied" with the Bush administration; and 70 percent said they were "very concerned" about the cost of health care.

A consistent finding in opinion polls leading up to the election showed that most Americans were ready to turn Bush out of the White House. But they weren't ready to turn it over to Kerry. And why would they? Kerry made a point of hugging to Bush's failing policy in Iraq as closely as he could. On a number of other positions--from the "war on terror" to gay marriage--Kerry-Edwards didn't differ in any discernible way from Bush-Cheney.

If Kerry-Edwards didn't offer change to an electorate that was looking to be convinced of the need for change, that was the fault of the Democrats, not the electorate.

Another point worth noting is that real life has a way of imposing itself on politics, no matter what the Washington establishment wants. Without even the hint of any opposition from the Democrats, the majority of Americans has seen through the Bush administration's lies and turned against the war.

Dead and wounded servicepeople, high oil prices, and no discovery of "weapons of mass destruction" mean more to ordinary Americans than Bush's fantasies about spreading democracy in the Middle East.

And when the degree of ruin that the Bush administration has brought the U.S. was clear for all to see in the scandalous non-response to Hurricane Katrina, no amount of Bush PR or Fox News propaganda could fix it.

Likewise, no amount of happy talk about the economy and corporate profits is going to make up for the fact that ordinary people's real wages have declined for four straight years. Economists and Bush administration hacks may find it hard to understand why Americans seem so pessimistic in an economic recovery, but then, they don't have to worry about living from paycheck to paycheck.

Last year, frightened liberals exhorted the electorate to vote for Kerry in "the most important election of our lifetimes." One year later, with the Bush administration in disarray, the 2004 election doesn't look so momentous after all.

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