Half a hero
Cover StoryuUS electionsPresident Bush’s challenge is to unite a country split down the middle on domestic and foreign policy issues
At dawn the day after, America was still divided, but with a bolder red and a bluer blue. For the record, the sun did in fact rise on the morning after the Armageddon election. It rose the same for Democrats angry and depressed, and Republicans relieved and elated, for people who voted for the first time ever or for the twelfth time, record numbers of them in any case; for citizens who waited six hours to cast ballots or who zipped in and out in two minutes, for those moved by their hatred of the war in Iraq or conservatives pushed by their aversion to gay marriage.
CELEBRATION TIME: Bush supporters in Washington (above)
In the river city of Dubuque, Iowa, deep in the political battleground of the midwest, sunrise came at precisely 6:39 a.m. By then, the wisecrackers in the John Deere Retirees Coffee Club had been awake for an hour and had settled into their seats in the back room of Breezy’s Cafe. Hours would pass before John Kerry conceded defeat, but these old guys knew the final score. "I can’t believe it," Walt Pregler, a retired toolmaker, muttered at one end of the gathering, repeating a refrain common among the nearly 55 million voters who tried but failed to bring an end to George Bush’s presidency.
Barbara Smeltzer, a Republican activist in Dubuque, had fallen asleep with a mix of joy and disbelief, believing Bush had won Ohio and the election, but not quite ready to accept it as fact until she heard him say it. By afternoon, at work at the University of Dubuque, she felt the relief. Not just that her man had won, but that it was all, finally, done. "I can’t remember any election that has been so negative," she said. "The level of hatred and acrimony was just too much. At this point, I am just really tired, and glad it’s over."
From a pricey swath of the Atlanta suburbs to a campaign-wearied ward in Columbus, Ohio, to a Republican stronghold in Issaquah, Washington, the common refrain seemed to be a yearning for softer voices and an urge towards common ground. But even as a triumphant Bush promised to "do all I can do to deserve your trust" and Kerry urged his supporters to "bridge the partisan divide", there were divisi-ons in both parties on how to proceed.
Bush had waged a dual strategy, courting Democratic-leaning groups while energising his core of conservative supporters to make a strong showing at the polls. He also succeeded in motivating his base. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 because 4 million religious conservatives did not vote. In that year, 29 per cent of voters called themselves conservative. This year, that figure was 33 per cent.
The election results seem to be a ratification of the conservative approach, which began with Ronald Reagan and dipped under the Bill Clinton administration. This should be a loud ringing wake-up call to the Democratic Party. Kerry seemed to have run away after extolling the virtues of liberalism. This led Bush to convey a solid message that the White House would be better off with him rather than a proven ‘flip-flopper’.
What has divided voters in this election are new moral issues like stem cell research and same-sex marriage. Those against gay marriage voted strongly for Bush, as did those opposed to abortion. And the electorate divided sharply over Iraq, according to an opinion poll, with the 47 per cent disapproving of the decision to go to war strongly backing Kerry. Another indication: 22 per cent of poll respondents said their most important issue was "moral values", higher than other issues like the economy, terrorism or Iraq.
Divisions in the American electorate are best expressed by the sharp divide in voting patterns by churchgoers. Two-thirds of voters who attend religious services regularly backed Bush rather than Kerry—and they make up 40 per cent of the electorate.
"The Bush administration proje-cted a sense of fear in the campaign," said Raymond Vickery, who was assistant secretary of commerce for trade development in the Clinton administration. "This was fundamental. They combined fear that terrorist attacks would be imminent if the Bush administration was not voted back to power very skilfully with hot button social issues of religious significance. This was a very powerful argument for the voters in the south and midwestern states, which led to the defeat."
Bush made similar gains among Jews—usually staunch Democrats— with a strongly pro-Israel policy that isolated Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and supported the country’s construction of a security fence to impede terrorists. "There has been under the Bush administration no serious effort to bring the disputing parties to the negotiating table. That’s been the most significant alteration in American foreign policy," said Stephen Whitfield, an American Studies professor at Brandeis Unive-rsity. Kerry also strongly supported Israel, but Jews increased their support of Bush to 24 per cent from 19 per cent in 2000.
BRAVE EFFORT: Senator John Kerry after conceding defeatOther Bush gains seemed to result less from specific policy than the tone of his presidency and subtle campaign messages. Bush cast two key issues—Afghanistan and medical liability—in terms of their effect on women. It was obstetricians and gynaecologists whom Bush said were hurt by malpractice claims, and it was Afghan women he cited as being able to vote in that country’s elections last month.
Bush narrowed the gender gap that has long bedevilled Republican presidential candidates. Security issues certainly helped Bush make gains among mothers.
"The problem is we’re not even on the same wavelength, we’re just talking past each other," said Dr Charles Haynes, a senior scholar with the First Amendment Center who has spent years travelling the country, trying to forge consensus on issues like abortion. "And it seems like our leaders have a vested interest in keeping it that way."
Fermin Ortiz, who came to Florida from Texas as part of an army of Bush poll workers, said emotions were just as high on November 3, even when it became clear that his candidate had won. Ortiz said he was "worried about our nation. There are a lot of people who do not like each other or what they believe in. And I don’t know how long that is going to take to heal. Or if it can ever heal."
So what will Bush's second term be like? While the president reached out to defeated Democrats in his brief victory remarks, his aides and supporters were equally quick to suggest that his bi-partisanship might not go far and that they expect Bush’s second term to pursue even more ambitious conservative goals than the first. "This is going to be a more creative and more controversial term than the first term," said former speaker Newt Gingrich.
In his first term, Bush pursued domestic policy goals that were already broadly popular: tax cuts, education reforms and Medicare expansion. But for his second term, the president has chosen more controversial—and politically more difficult—priorities: revamping the federal tax code and restructuring social security, the most popular government programme in history.
In foreign affairs, Bush entered the White House in 2001 with relatively modest aims, but his presidency was redefined by the terrorist attacks of September 11 that year. Officials and experts said his second term will likely be dominated by the unfinished business of the first: the guerrilla war in Iraq, confrontations with Iran and North Korea, and the continuing struggle against Islamic terrorists around the world.
All that could make Bush’s second term an exception to the normal historical pattern of recent presiden-cies—at least in the scale of its ambitions. Instead of a lame-duck second term of small ideas and small achievements, Bush has staked out a list of ambitious, difficult goals.
"People say, ‘The country’s divided; shouldn’t he be less ambitious?’" said Grover Norquist, president of Ameri-cans for Tax Reform, a major conser-vative group. "No. This is a Republican-majority country. He will govern as aggressively as in the first term.’’
The president described his second-term programme in broad-brush, detail-free terms: "We will continue our economic progress. We will reform our outdated tax code. We will strengthen the social security for the next generation. We will make public schools all they can be.... We will help the emerging democracies of Iraq and Afghanistan so they can grow in strength and defend their freedom, and then our servicemen and women will come home with the honour they have earned."
Some analysts have wondered whether Bush’s focus on the war in Iraq and the battle against terrorism will sap the energy he can devote to domestic policy initiatives. Gingrich argues that Republicans cannot afford to give short shrift to domestic issues if they hope to become an enduring majority. "We can’t hunker down and avoid domestic debates," he said.
But Republican senator Jon Kyl from Arizona warned that the presidential campaign’s focus on international issues means the election doesn’t guarantee Bush a foundation of support for his domestic agenda. "He’s got no mandate on domestic issues per se,’’ Kyl said. "Voters knew he wanted some tax reform and social security reform, but I don’t think he can contend the election was a mandate to do that.’’
The task should be made easier by the Grand Old Party’s gain of four seats in the senate, and especially the defeat of senate minority leader Tom Daschle, a powerful obstacle to Bush in the past. But others are sceptical that, after a bitter campaign, Bush will succeed in attracting significant support from Democrats. "Is it realistic to think that, after this nasty election, he’s going to get everyone in the room and say let’s hold hands and reform social security?" a Republican lobbyist asked.
In foreign policy, Bush’s first term was dominated by the war against terrorism and the president’s decision to invade Iraq. His second term agenda, one official said, could be described as "pretty much the same; only more so."
Bush appeared to be wasting no time. On the morning after a long election night, his spokesman said, the president telephoned every newly elected Republican in the senate—both to congratulate them and to let them know he would be asking for their votes.By David Maraniss/Iowa, Doyle McManus and Janet Hook/Washington and Devashish Ray/Washington
Bush’s immense energy and wild party habits earned him the nickname Bombastic Bushkin among his friends. However, in 1986, in a fit of spiritual awakening, he gave up drinking.
George W. Bush is the second president to follow in the footsteps of his father. George Herbert Walker Bush was the 41st President. John Quincy Adams (1825-29), the sixth president, was the son of John Adams (1797-1801), the second president.
Like first ladies, there are also first pets. George Bush's pets include a Scottish terrier named Barney, an English springer spaniel named Spot, a cat named India and a longhorn cow named Ofelia. India, nicknamed Willie, has been with the Bush family for more than a decade and Spot is the only pet to be in the White House during two administrations. Spot was born to Millie, Bush Senior's dog, when he was the president.
Bush has openly supported constitutional ban on gay marriages, restrictions on stem cell research and anti-abortion campaigns.
Bush became a wartime president when terrorists attacked the US on September 11, 2001, thereby shifting gears from tax cuts and faith-based initiatives to homeland security and war against terrorism.
Bush has led his country through two wars: In Afghanistan in October 2001 to fight the Taliban and in Iraq in 2003.