Bush's Political Assets
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The moment President Bush took office Democrats gleefully predicted that he would be a weak, inept and horribly compromised president. They were convinced that Bush's presidency would be littered with piles of malapropisms, domestic and foreign policy bumbles and a plunging economy. They assured that he would be tormented by hostile Democrats in a deeply divided Congress, and face the fury of millions of voters who passionately believed that he, and the Republicans, stole the White House. He has more than fulfilled much of their prediction. Yet polls show him in a dead heat with, or only marginally behind, Democratic presidential contender John Kerry. That's because Bush's political assets equal his liabilities. And those assets are daunting for the Democrats.
Millions of eligible voters have long since thrown up their hands in disgust and rage at a system they regard as suffocated by special interest groups. They continue to stay away from the polls in droves. The overwhelming majority of those turned-off potential voters are minorities, lower income workers, and immigrants. They are the natural constituency for the Democrats. Even if independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader were not in the race, and did not threaten to take votes from Kerry, many of these estranged voters would still not vote. Kerry, not Bush, would be the big loser.
Nearly half of Latino voters in Florida and Texas, and one-third of Asian voters in California voted for Bush in 2000. Since then, the Republicans have poured millions into beefing up their diversity pitch especially among Latinos. They will showcase a record number of black and Latino delegates at their New York convention. The Republican National Committee in a pre-convention fact sheet claimed that Bush's minority business, homeownership, and education initiatives have been better for minorities than anything the Democrats have to offer. That claim won't convince the majority of blacks and Latinos that Bush is their man. They will still vote overwhelmingly for Kerry. It could, though, pare down the number that dash to the polls to vote for Kerry.
The Democrats relentlessly pound Bush on his economic failures, job losses, tax cut giveaways and near record budget deficits. But the economy hasn't totally collapsed. The Feds have sent enough mixed signals about the strength of the recovery to muddy the economic water. This gives Bush the hook he needs to boast that his economic policies have paid dividends for Americans.
For three decades, Republicans have painted government as a destructive, bloated, inefficient white elephant, weighting down the backs of middle-class Americans. They claimed that government entitlement programs that benefited the poor were a crushing drain on the budget, and by extension their pocketbooks. It has worked. Fewer than one in five American voters call themselves liberal. The Republican's repeated smear of the Democrats as tax and spend, liberal big government proponents strikes a chord with many. Polls show that many voters think that Kerry fits that label. White males more than any other group have bought the Republican's anti-government, anti-liberal line. An ABC/Washington Post Poll in December found that Bush would bag more than sixty percent of the white male vote in a head to head contest with any Democrat in 2004. The percentage of the white male vote he's likely to get hasn't changed since then.
The Republicans have been masters at coining and exploiting racially-charged code words and slogans – "law and order," "crime in the streets," "welfare cheats," and "absentee fathers – to stoke the fury of middle-class voters against the Democrats. They have tried to whip up that same passion and anger over gay marriage, gay rights, and flag desecration especially among evangelicals. There are an estimated four million who self-describe themselves as solid Christian fundamentalists. They are loyal, rock solid Bush backers. Their mouthpieces – Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham – have the ear of huge numbers. They will rail that the subversion of family and patriotism pose a dire threat to God, country, and morality and that Bush will beat back that threat.
*War on Terrorism.
Though polls show that voters think that Kerry can be a tough commander in chief, the terrorism issue is still Bush's biggest election trump card. Many Americans think there will be a terrorist attack on American soil before Election Day. They may be susceptible to Bush's pitch that he can best defend the nation's security, and with America under mortal danger from a terror attack, it's risky to change presidents. Bush has mountains of campaign cash, the bully pulpit of the presidency, and a slavish conservative media that will cover up, justify, rationalize, and put a happy face on his Iraq foibles and domestic bumbles. Bush's considerable political assets don't guarantee a runaway win over Kerry. They do insure that he will sprint to the finish line.