It was about a year ago (July 4, 2003) that I wrote what at the time seemed to be a rather fantastic prediction: that Bush would lose this year’s election. Judging from the number of hits and comments it has received this entry turned out to be one of my most popular entries. A year ago even the most rabid Bush haters were stewing in silence. None except perhaps Howard Dean really thought Bush could realistically be defeated. His reelection seemed like a slam-dunk.
I think most of us realize now that Bush’s chances of staying in office are at best 50/50. As I said a year ago (and still believe) there are always last minute factors that could tip the election to Bush. I still think it is possible that some horrible September 11th type event, timed perhaps in mid October, could produce an emotional response that would reelect Bush, though not validate his governing style. We will all be hoping and praying that this does not happen. One of the few positive things I have to say about Bush was that I thought his approach to dealing with terrorism within the United States has been decent. It is by no means ideal. Our borders are still pretty porous. There are significant security gaps in our ports and in our air cargo system. But border security is much better than it was. I’d rate this aspect of the war on terrorism as a B, while I’d give others like securing nuclear stockpiles a D or an F.
The economy perked up a bit more than I expected. Bush hasn’t erased the three million jobs lost during his watch but he has perhaps a 50/50 chance of at least ending his term with no net loss of jobs. It’s unlikely that this is the sort of statistic he can use to ensure his own reelection. As others have pointed out the unemployment rate hasn’t changed much these last few months, in spite of the new jobs. This is because those who gave up hope of finding a job are more hopeful now and have put themselves back in the market. But there is also the disturbing problem that the new jobs tend to pay on average less than the old jobs. And though wages are rising, these don’t feel like good times yet to those who are coming off unemployment. And at least so far this year inflation is rising faster than wages. That of course means a net loss in income for the average worker. Gas prices that are likely to hang around or over two dollars a gallon won’t help Bush either.
Those on the top enjoying Bush’s large tax cuts are living large and have seen real income growth. Those on the bottom end of the income scale pay little or no income taxes and consequently haven’t seen much improvement in their standard of living. Most of them are paying markedly higher housing costs that have actually put them further behind.
Howard Dean has been vindicated on tax shifting. When taxes are cut in one place they tend to rise elsewhere. Most of us see it on the state and local level. I haven’t done a personal study of my own income. But I am willing to bet that my federal tax cut has been offset by other tax increases. Our house just keeps rising in value. Just this year alone I can expect to pay several hundred more dollars in property taxes. Over the course of Bush’s term in office I am likely to see my property taxes go up by about $1000 a year. And then there are those other taxes. For example our Virginian Republican legislature decided to raise taxes effective July 1st, in spite of pledging never to do such a thing. Miscellaneous taxes continue to rise too. My telephone bill is about 30 percent taxes. So for the vast majority of us tax cuts on the federal level have at best kept us even in our overall level of taxation.
Most of the trends I noticed a year ago are still true today. Iraq became the quagmire I predicted. Actually it is worse than I imagined a year ago. Not only is our war in Iraq a failure but also our war on terrorism in general is a failure. Our only success was overturning Afghanistan’s Taliban regime, which supported al Qaeda. But despite this Osama bin Laden remains at large. Al Qaeda has launched many attacks on our allies and on us. Liberating Iraq doesn’t really count because it was never a threat to our national security and was never allied with al Qaeda. Our erstwhile “ally” Saudi Arabia is in a virtual state of siege.
Meanwhile the Taliban in Afghanistan are resurging. We don’t really have enough troops in Afghanistan to do more than ensure the Taliban can’t take over the country again. Planned elections in Afghanistan look dicey at best. Female poll workers are being killed. The country, unfortunately, is not yet at a mature enough place where true democracy for all can flourish. Iraq’s culture is more contemporary, but it must fight its own civil war with puritanical Islam before it can take root, if it ever does. Iraqis are more used to strongmen as leaders and are likely to revert to that model. If democracy happens in Iraq it is likely to be a long and violent process. If you can remember what a bloody place Beirut was in the 1970s and 1980s you have a pretty good idea of what Iraq will be going through for many years. And sadly it won’t be alone. Predominantly Islamic Countries all over the Middle East need to complete a soul-searching process. It will likely be violent and last for decades. Much the way the Soviet Union finally got the clue that communism was unworkable, eventually these countries will figure out that theocracy won’t work. Eventually and inevitably these countries will discover what we learned long ago: that a certain amount of secularism is required to enjoy the benefits of a modern state.
But I digress. If you want to know why Bush is likely to lose look not just at his poll numbers. Look also at how Americans are feeling overall about the economy and the war on terrorism. The only area where Bush gets positive marks now is his overall handling on the war on terrorism, and there he holds only a slim majority. When asked about particular aspects, like the War in Iraq, he no longer gets majority approval. And now it is clear that this will not change substantially before the election.
Red states will still vote bright red and blue states will vote bright blue. But Republicans will not vote passionately for George W. Bush. Many of them will stay home out of apathy and disgust, much as Democrats did for Carter in 1980. But apathy won’t be the case with the Democrats in this election. A lot of people, and not just Democrats, really really don’t like George W. Bush. Karmic elements are at work. The sort of rabid hatred Republicans heaped on Bill Clinton for marital indiscretions is about to be returned on George W. Bush doubly by Democrats. Democrats finally have a Republican they just can’t stand. Basically they just hate the guy. And hatred while not the most noble of our emotions can be very strong.
Although it’s too early to say for sure we can perhaps see the future in the weekend’s new box office hit, Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. Even in bright red states like Texas shows are selling out days in advance. Many of the people I know who voted for Bush in 2000 have changed their mind and won’t vote for him again. Many are doing so as a protest. They just feel he has totally screwed up.
And we feel that America has changed for the worse. This is not the country we remember. We expect our president to act from deliberation and consideration, not from prejudice and instinct. We expect our president to keep an open mind. We expect dialog from our president, not one sidedness. We expect presidents to find synergy with our international partners, not piss them off. We expect most of all: moderation. Lack of moderation is really the key to Bush’s downfall. Moderates win reelection. Radicals don’t. And the swing voters are, as always, the moderates. Bush promoted himself as a moderate but he was a chameleon. Now they know better. Bush will paint Kerry as a left-winger but Kerry will sensibly steer toward the moderate middle. Bush can no longer claim that territory. Through his actions he has shown that he is not a moderate.
Bush will be hit by a tsunami of disgust from large numbers of very angry voters. They will be telling their friends not to vote for Bush, and their friends will be telling their friends. The moderates will be seeking anyone who will actually steer toward the middle in this election. Kerry is the only choice for them. So I put the odds right now at 85/15 for a Kerry victory. And I predict when the popular vote is counted it will be Kerry 53%, Bush 45%, and Nader (plus miscellaneous candidates) at 2%. This is a minimum. I suspect Kerry’s number will actually trend higher.
Come back November 3rd and see how I did.