California and Florida: Polls and Demographics work against Bush
Has W. morphed from Neo to Smith?
Ron Fournier of the Associated Press has a fascinating article on the changes in Florida’s political geography since the last election. He points out that over 700,000 voters have moved into Florida, which now has over 9 million voters, and the immigrants are disproportionately African-American and Latino. His sources think this non-trivial population movement could well throw Florida to Kerry. The Iraq quagmire appears to loom large for Floridians as a reason to vote against Bush, even among voters who supported him the last time.
It seems to me that there is a bottom line for presidents. They have to at least look like they are in control or getting control. One of the reasons Dwight Eisenhower was so angry at the Israelis, French and British for attacking Egypt in late October, 1956, was that they had not told him about the plot and it made him look like he was not in control, on the eve of an election. Ike knew about the Control factor. He called up British PM Anthony Eden and cursed him out “like an old sailor.” Jimmy Carter looked like he wasn’t in control because of the Iran hostage crisis, and he was thrown out. Voters can forgive momentary lapses in control. Most people don’t hold September 11 against President Bush the way former security czar Dick Clarke does. But to rally around the president in a crisis is a temporary sentiment. After the first bloom is off the problem, he has to show that he is in control again. Bush did that well in Afghanistan, though apparently reluctantly, since he wanted to go after Iraq first but Tony Blair dissuaded him. But now Bush is stuck in Iraq and he looks like he is not in control. The charade of a “transfer of sovereignty” (when there is no Iraqi army and there are 138,000 US troops in Iraq) is not going to restore the sense of control. As long as you have that kind of troop strength in Iraq, I don’t believe most Americans will buy the argument that it is now Allawi’s show.
A new Los Angeles Times poll indicates that a majority of Americans now thinks it was not worthwhile going to war in Iraq (53%). This is up from 43% in March. And over 60% of Americans think the US is bogged down in Iraq. This Reuters article says that 52% of Americans still thought that the US was winning the war and less than a quarter thought the insurgents were winning. But you could read that statistic the other way around and conclude that almost half of Americans do not believe that the US is winning, even if they are reluctant to admit that the insurgents are. If over half think the enterprise not worthwhile and nearly half think we are losing, it becomes clearer why Iraq shows up as so important in Floridians’ attitudes toward Bush. The two taken together equal A President Not in Control.
The poll also found that Kerry leads Bush nationwide by 51 to 44 percent. By 51% to 16%, they felt that Bush is “too ideological and stubborn.” Over half of Americans think Bush is too ideological and stubborn? This is a remarkable statistic. It is important because it helps explain why they think he is not in control. He is perceived as having a tragic flaw, like a Greek or Shakespearian tragic protagonist, which prevents him from being in control and gets him into messes. Hamlet was indecisive, Macbeth over-ambitious, etc. OK, for Americans probably one should think in terms of a flawed character in some recent film. But my rhetorical analysis would remain the same.
(Here’s a try: Neo and Smith in The Matrix are actually similar in many ways. Both of them want to overturn the Matrix status quo, both of them use violence, both of them are seeking to become something more than they are, are seeking to escape the trap of the pods in which the machines have imprisoned them. But Neo is open to reality, is willing to question, to go where the leads take him. Perhaps most Americans saw Bush as like Neo in the months immediately after September 11. Smith is “too ideological and stubborn,” and as a result over-reaches at a crucial moment. It seems to me that his Iraq misadventure, Abu Ghuraib, Torturegate, the proto-fascist memos of the counsels to the president–all this has made Bush look increasingly Smith-like. If you are running for office, you want to be seen by the young people as like Neo, and not at all like Smith.)