It's a myth that George Bush's win was hard to predict
Pardon me while I do an end-zone victory dance. Oooga chacka!! Oooga chacka!! Bush Bush Bush! (Now please imagine me doing a back flip and not landing on my head.) Not only did my candidate win, but I predicted his victory in this newspaper three weeks ago. A PhD in U.S. history didn't keep me from understanding why George Bush was more popular than the chattering classes and polls suggested. And by roughly how much: Exactly two weeks before Nov. 2, I predicted on the radio he'd win 281 Electoral College votes. Thank you. And on that basis, let me explode some myths about American politics. 1. The electorate is evenly divided. Wrong. Gay-marriage bans were on the ballot in 11 states from the deep red South to the swing states of Ohio and Michigan to strongly Democratic Oregon. They passed easily in every one. In Oregon (Oregon!) more people opposed gay marriage than supported John Kerry, including majorities in all but two of its 36 counties. Ohio even banned civil unions, by a far wider margin than it elected George Bush. It's not America that's divided. It's the Democratic Party. In Canada, all the Liberals and half the Conservatives may be liberals, but in the U.S. half the Democrats are Republicans. Thus the party nominated a brie-nibbling goose-huntin' hawkly dove of a pro-choice Catholic elitist common man, hoping activists and swing voters would read the ink blot differently. But it's hard to run when your left and right legs are going opposite ways. So the Democrats didn't just lose. Their margins of victory shrank in some key blue states; their congressional minority dwindled further; from the Rockies to the Atlantic south of Illinois, they are unwelcome and no relief is in sight. For if George Bush is as unappealing as his opponents and many Canadians believe, what happens when the GOP runs an attractive candidate?
2. The election was singularly bitter. You want bitter, try 1800. Or 1860. Or one of William Jennings Bryan's campaigns. Or Nixon-McGovern in 1972. Only the far left was really bitter, and they reliably call any Republican incumbent the worst president ever. Look what they said about Reagan, Nixon or Hoover. (Or Lincoln.) Even so, I want to stress that John Kerry did not just his nation but his party a big favour by conceding gracefully. Senator, you're no Al Gore ... and I mean that in a good way.
3. The Electoral College is quaint, bizarre and anti-democratic. In fact its function is clear and useful. By giving each state as many electoral votes as it has congressmen (proportional to population) and senators (two each), it requires a campaign to appeal to a wide variety of voters, not just pump up a narrow base. Our own system has an effect so similar that if we'd used theirs in our last election instead, the Liberals would have won 157 of 334 electoral votes (or, if each jurisdiction had as many senators as it currently does rather than two each, 198 of 413). Whereas if we elected our head of government by direct popular vote as many people seem to think Americans should, you could win with three quarters of the votes in Ontario and Alberta and just a quarter elsewhere. Does anyone want that? Right. So no more drivel about powdered wigs or anointing.
4: Americans vote their wallets. I've said it before but it's worth underlining: Americans vote on values. And if, in this regard, they differ from us in ways we find baffling, it should worry us, not them. Would it not be strange to condemn their free-enterprise economic system as rapacious, then complain that in politics they concern themselves with what's right, not what's profitable?
5. Americans are belligerent losers because they vote on national security and, in doing so, prefer peace through strength to appeasement. If we were casting ballots with as much practical impact on global affairs as Americans are, I believe (and hope) we would cast them in a similar manner. A new poll says half of us don't believe political power grows from the barrel of a gun. We'd feel differently if Uncle Sam weren't standing between us and the bullets.
Myth No. 6. Bush wins by mobilizing ignorant morons with three teeth. Actually he just won the first majority of the popular vote since his father in 1988. He got eight million more votes this time than last. So I'll see Karl Rove's four million evangelicals and raise you four million regular folks.
Discard these six myths and a Bush victory should have been predictable well in advance. And I did predict it. Thank you. Thank you very much.
[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]