I reached the age of political accountability in 1992.
Prior to that election year, I possessed about as much knowledge or opinion about the subject as you might expect of a fourteen year old. I knew I was a Republican. I even vaguely remember listening to the '84 election returns. As each state came in over the radio, I wondered (without being terribly concerned) what either candidate would do with all those boats. (Radio "v"s are practically indistinguishable from "b"s, especially to a six-year-old. In '88, we held mock elections in my 5th grade class and I knew enough to vote for Bush, as did every other kid in the twenty-something member classroom, except for one Jesse Porter. He was a likable kid. I even remember speculating that no doubt his parents were pro-Dukakis, and he was simply following their lead. I, on the other hand, had come to the pro-Bush position independently and as a result of careful consideration.
It was in '92, however, that I began to take a greater, if still one-dimensional, interest in politics. This was due mostly to the growing popularity of Rush Limbaugh. I listened innocently, and became acquainted with satire, and punditry for the first time. (My repertoire of 'sixties music increased exponentially as well, as I listened to countless parodies sung by a Bill Clinton stand-in.) The race between George Bush, Sr. and Bill Clinton was the atmosphere in which my views began to form. Pres. Clinton is something of a watershed in my experience. Everything political is now measured against and compared to the reign of this polarizing politician. My 14-yr. old choice was very black and white. Clinton was the personification of everything I knew I should be against. The outcome of the election was bitter, and my adolescence was spent in political exile.
The Congressional elections of '94 added to my experience, as the fickle public issued a mandate of a different sort to the man they had elected two years before.
'96 was another distasteful experience. Being somewhat less than thrilled about the Republican nominee didn't lessen the disgust of the prospect of another Clinton term.
.2000 was predictably the dawn of a new era. Social conservatives, initially divided and generally ambivalent about the son of a tepidly conservative former president, soon came to see a firm pro-life advocate and a President clearly uncomfortable with the militant homosexual agenda. 2001 was a very brief, almost evanescent glimpse of national unity spawned by a horrific terrorist attack. Then just as quickly as it was formed, the united front dissolved, aided by the corrosive frankness of the cowboy president. The punching bag issue of the war on terror aside, the next seven years proved to be at least as politically contentious as the Clinton years.
George W. Bush, whatever else might be said of him, was a man of conviction, a man who, in his words, despised "hand wringing" or second-guessing. The poll-driven relativism of Clinton that elicited such outrage from the right in the '90's was replaced by the dead certainty of Bush, which garnered a greater response of anger from his opponents than Clinton's hair-splitting ways had from his.Historically low approval ratings, however, failed to prompt one single politically expedient decision from the lame duck, whose resolution only served to infuriate his detractors further. I remember animosity from the right during the Clinton years, but I was increasingly stunned by the nastiness of the political climate as Bush's second term rolled on.
Now, to the point of the blog, there are, certainly, a bloc of perhaps 35% who will as a matter of simple genetics vote Republican and another 35% who will vote Democratic for the same reason, but the 30% in the middle are the ones who decide the fate of the nation. Therefore, it is this 30% I will hereafter refer to as the voters.
Among other tendencies of the voting public, I seem to see a reactionary pattern, at least since Reagan. The economic prosperity and the triumph over Communism carried over into four years for Reagan's VP, but amidst a mild recession in '92, the public wanted to try something different. Eight years of Clinton bred contempt for the Democrats in 2000, so they elected the Republican, perhaps also as a conciliatory gesture toward the man they'd booted out eight years earlier. And now, once again, they wish to try something different.
A stronger tendency is the penchant for personality contests. In '92 Clinton was effused with all the youthful charismatic energy of the ghost of JFK. In '96, he'd lost some of his mystique, but whatever charm he retained was still more than a match for Bob Dole, who was seen as stiff and even angry. In 2000, Al Gore, sinking under the weight of eventual Clinton fatigue, took on more water with his unapproachable elitist anger and sank, albeit agonizingly slowly. Bush, in my opinion, was elected not on his merits or his policies. (Both of which gave him excellent credentials, for my vote) He was elected because he was more likable than Al Gore. In 2004, the early-on favorite for Democratic challenger, Howard Dean, shrieked his way right out of the campaign and left it for John Kerry to pick up. Now, one might have expected greater things from Kerry. A Democratic senator from Massachusetts, with the initials JFK, no less, not to mention beautiful hair, a coif second only to that of his running mate no doubt held more of the aura of the slain hero of Camelot than did Clinton. Not to mention that anybody, Walter Mondale, should have been able to vanquish the battered incumbent, especially given the cosmopolitan urbanity of the Vietnam Vet contrasted with the Texan National Guard pilot curmudgeon. Alas, the detachment of Kerry proved more disenchanting to the voters than Al Gore's anger, and although the election was no landslide, it was nowhere near the nail biter of four years before. The cowboy lived to fight another day.
Then, in 2008, it is almost as though the public admits that they just gave Bush another term because they felt obligated to make it up to his father. In Bush up to here, they shut the door on his party so fast that it dealt John McCain a humiliating blow on his way out. Here again, though, we have the issue of personality, more clearly defined than ever before. In the Democratic primary, the Clinton coronation collapsed under the weight of yet another Kennedy comparison. Hillary was a given before personality was weighed. For her part, Hillary gave it the college try, but she had an unshakable ex-wife shrillness. Then there was the Bill baggage. The repudiation of Hillary was in part a tacit admission of guilt on the part of the voters for their '90's dalliance with her philandering husband. Their other choice was a young, fresh face and an electrifying speaker. And in the general election, the personality choice was an easy one. Youthful energetic change in one box and old, cranky monotony in the other. Issues be hanged.
Simply, simplistically, you may feel, put, the outcome of elections are based on popularity, and these popularity contests are decided by the fence sitters, who call themselves moderate.
What that means to them one can only guess, but the result is clear. They hold no convictions on social issues, and their views on fiscal policy are negotiable and for sale to the highest promise. They hold our future in their hands for the foreseeable future; a future that if left undisturbed by a higher power, holds only more cycles and treadmills.
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