Lyndon Hood - misundercommentator, Lower Hutt

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Sustaining an Election

At the time of writing it’s too early to tell whose attempt to win the American ‘swinging voters’ has been most successful. Regular readers may realise that I’m not a ‘swinger’ myself (though I have done some personal research into the subject). At first glance I would have assumed that swingers were a natural Democrat constituency, but commentators seem to agree that they are undecided. And it seems to me that the campaigners are not doing much of a job wooing this particular interest group.

Certainly, voters who might currently swing either way will be attracted to Kerry’s pro-gay stance. And he has promised to bring Americans together in a way that Bush has not, evoking images of interracial harmony and consensual international action. But Kerry has not shown the skilful handling of the American swinger that Bill Clinton famously displayed.

He has not demonstrated that he really shares the swingers’ interests - has not got inside them, does not understand how their heads work. Still, while the Democrat’s central claim, that Kerry is ‘Better Than Bush’, seems to be inherently implausible to almost half the population of American, these swingers seem prepared to at least consider it.

Republicans responded by playing on the perception of Kerry as ‘soft’, where the President is considered ‘hard’. The campaign has been punctuated by Bush leading crowds of supporters in the merciless chant of “flip-flop!”

But what’s important to swinging states like Florida, Iowa, and Ohio is surely that intimate touch. The sense of personal connection. This modern campaign is far removed from those vanished days when you could expect a candidate knocking on your door, saying something like, “I have to confess I find your girlfriend very attractive, and my Laura thinks you’re pretty hot yourself”.

Besides, if we contrast Bush’s rhetoric with actual policy then, as usual, discrepancies emerge. His negative interpretation of Kerry’s claimed ‘multiple positions’ reinforces his fundamentalist reputation. But still more unhelpful is his avowed determination to put the “affairs” of Americans “into their own hands”.

Coverage of the race has centred on personal style. Bush has played up his unyielding firmness. Some claim that very rigidity allows him to be used as a tool, covertly manipulated to the ends of the rich and powerful. Kerry has contrasted this with his own flexibility and willingness to respond to feedback. Detractors wonder whether he has the resilience to stay up through the wild ride of a modern presidency.

Bizarrely, the Bush campaign seems pleased to stand on his record. I don’t know just what this presidency may have achieved for these swingers who are suddenly the centre of so much international fascination. But a vote for Bush is a vote for even more of the same.

If you think America’s been fucked now, imagine how much more fucked it could be after another four years.