By Sy Schechtman

The most surprising yet only minimally emphasized aspect of George W. Bush’s victory was that he won despite being in a dubious war that he seemed to insist on, and that the economy was far from robust, with joblessness still higher than all would have liked. With the opposition loudly lamenting the net jobs loss still evident compared to the robust Clinton prosperity of prior years. Not at peace and the economy underperforming are the two dread negatives for an incumbent president. And yet he won relatively big. The largest number of votes ever garnered for a president, a clear majority of the total---which Clinton never achieved---no problem in the at least 32 point edge in the Electoral College, and larger Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. And an ever increasing margin of Republican governorships throughout the country. And this from the hairbreadth squeak through four years ago by the grace of the 5 to 4 Supreme Court decision, which, of course, the defeated Democrats strove mightily to prove "invalid" by their victory this year. And turn the political map configuration from its overwhelming, very daunting Red over Blue setup to a more balanced appearance.

Hindsight quarterbacking always indicts the poor campaign run by the loser. John Kerry retrospectively appears stiff, Boston Brahmin like, smiling all the time mechanically, with patrician stiffness and muffled condescension. We all waited expectantly for the three face to face debates beyond the frozen stump speeches of the daily rat race grind of the campaign, and here Kerry did very well, easily besting Bush in the detail and minutiae of

Various issues and events. He had a plan for almost everything at almost finger tip or tongue tip recall. Against this Bush could only stand on his record, defending the war, the tax cut, the recovering economy, the war on terror, social security overhaul, the new drug plan for seniors, the no child left behind education bill, etc. Kerry was glib and at ease and Bush somewhat vehement but quite sincere and not really defensive, but much to his disadvantage, appearing scowling and uneasy when inadvertently televised as Kerry spoke. Somewhere during the three encounters Bush started to pick up the momentum that sympathy for the seeming loser accrues. Bush stood his ground against the sharp city slicker. The hedgehog who knows only several big things against the clever fox who knows many little things but not the big picture, that we were in a lethal, long range war with a deadly, vicious enemy and must take preemptive action when needed to finally squelch their hydra headed many pronged attacks. And he, Bush, was the man with the firmness and strength and resolution to accomplish this vital goal.

But Bush came out of the debates trailing Kerry and apparently losing a momentum that he had gained after a solidly successful Republican convention, when the Democrats, among other errors, failed to counter the Swift Boat allegations about Kerry’s Viet Nam service. But in the final three week stretch run to the November 2nd election George W. Bush, the continuously misunderestimated one, pulled ahead, campaigning strenuously across the land and making people feel that his "just folks" straight forward neighborly talk was most reassuring. While they would listen to Kerry they would never invite him into their living room. But George Bush was more then welcome anytime.

While it was certainly true that many voted against Bush out of simple loathing, because of his lack of the consummate command of the language and veneer of educational smarts that they thought really betokened intelligence, Bush was the messenger as well as the message. And while I think that in his own right Bush has the potential yet of being a great president, the message must be heard and evaluated. And the message is the rising tide of conservative strength in this country. Seven out of the last ten presidential elections have elected or restored Republicans to power, and as mentioned above both Houses of Congress are now securely in Republican hands, as are many governorships, and the center of power is shifting rather rapidly to the right. Through immigration, or rising birthrates, it is shifting from the Democratic east coast or west coast (blue states) to the heartland middle states( the red states). There is that famous old New Yorker cartoon exemplying this, showing an easterner’s myopic land view of America, Beyond New Jersey everything crunched together and then—lo!!- Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Francisco just before the Pacific Ocean emerges boldly. Or as another brilliant movie critic the time, Pauline Kael, of the New Yorker, commented on the Nixon win in 1972, t"I can’t understand it. None of my friends voted for Nixon." And much of that sentiment still exists on the politically myopic east and west coast today. (Indeed many of my best friends are Democrats—still!)

But a good bit of that myopic sentiment is still cloistered among older people on these shores, hardy, if somewhat benighted survivors of the Roosevelt New Deal. When we all marched lock step thru the welfare state wars on poverty—wars that Reagan quipped liberals fought valiantly but poverty always kept winning! The mantra then was not self help as much as the monthly government check and thus continued welfare dependency. At its inception, in the nineteen thirties, in the face of the massive economic depression that persisted until we entered the World War II in 1941, this was probably an acceptable approach, and we ran large comparative deficits too to finance both the war and this humanitarian aid. (As we are doing today.) But this almost stratospheric rise in federal government spending and control, with the growth of multiple agencies and programs of aid to the indigent never ceased, as people became quickly conditioned to their monthly dole check, be it for single parent families, disabilities, unemployment insurance, etc. Or, whatever the problem where the poor were concerned---"Throw money at it" to quote the opposition nascent disenchanted small conservative group at the time. And since the economic climate in the fifties and sixties was quite favorable and defense spending low, this made for good politics but very poor people incentive to try and better themselves in the give and take of competitive society. The low paying starting entry job might have been available but why bother! The welfare check was almost as good! Many black families suddenly became fatherless, too, as the Aid to Dependant Children Act mandated no supporting father in the family. Thus the hitherto largely intact black family unit had only a shadow, illegal male figure or none at all, as all became subservient to the monthly government check. And the federal government—the dispenser of this increasing largesse—became the largest economic factor in the lives of most people, either for the handing out of money or for its collection, as the tax code, too, with its loopholes to help some escape from the ever increasing level of taxation to pay for these programs, became voluminous and an interpretive chaos; thousands of pages long!

Thus the counter swell of conservatism began, as younger people began to reject this skewed, distorted way of looking at human and economic reality. By 1982 we began 12 years of Republican rule under Reagan and Bush and then the Clinton hiatus, which was as attempt to hold the line against incipient Republican conservative inroads. Clinton, a very astute politician, learned quickly that his liberal bias had to be masked if he was to stay in power, for his wife Hilary almost sunk his administration with her ill conceived six month closed door special committee on health care that came up with a 1392 page government run universal plan that among many similar ill advised provisions, declared illegal any providers who did not join up. This astonishing, for America, overreach into socialist health care territory had European and Canadian models, but was too much for American sensibilities. In the 1994 mid term election the "Gingrich revolution" ensued with his famous "contract with America" with its provisions to limit the size of government, change and simplify the tax code, and drastically curtail the whole welfare concept.

The Republicans won a decisive mid term victory, controlling now both the House and Senate, and with the very voluble Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House. Much of their program they enacted rapidly but Gingrich, probably with presidential aspirations, went too far too quickly. He tried twice to attach a rider to routine appropriations bills addressing welfare reform ---a not uncommon political power play—and Clinton twice vetoed the entire package, perilously close to the Christmas holiday season, and for a few weeks many federal employees had no weekly paychecks. While both sides blamed each other in this game of Gotcha!! the press portrayed Gingrich as the scrooge villain denying the financial wherewithal to enjoy Christmas properly even though Clinton was equally to blame for not signing the appropriations bills. Clinton eventually signed this welfare reform bill mandating only a five year maximum stay on welfare. Much to the doom and gloom predictions of his liberal cohorts. While campaigning for reelection he vowed to amend and liberalize welfare again, but he never revisited this in his second term. Because he wisely realized with his new mentor, Dick Morris, that he had to rule from the center, to "triangulate", to compromise, as the growing conservative pressures of the moment seemed to demand. (Indeed, he probably won reelection partly because the heartless image of scrooge Gingrich portrayed in the media of the temporary cessation of salaries that prior Christmas.)

It is necessary to emphasize the importance of the religious idea and moralism as important parts of the American ethos and the resurgence and power of conservatism in this country. Founded specifically on the disestablishment principle that Congress shall make no laws regarding the creation of a state sponsored religion, this laissez faire attitude on religious belief has allowed for the healthy competition of all sorts of religious concepts from the sublime to the ridiculous, including scientology and Madonna’s Kabbalah, but mainly to a flourishing of the major Western belief systems and also increased interest in oriental religion belief systems. Every survey indicates that Americans believe overwhelmingly in the God concept and most believe in some form of ultimate salvation and redemption after death. Our very sophisticated European allies are much more secular in their religious approach. They all have state sponsored, subsidized support for an official church and a static if not gradually vanishing membership base. Whereas the almost inert hand of government seems to have stifled religious spirit abroad people’s natural tendency to help their fellow man here is expressed charitably and vibrantly as part of the religious fundamental that I am my brother’s keeper and will not do anything that is hurtful to myself to my fellow man. And it is expressed religiously now in that great splendid blizzard of giving and receiving in this country that is Christmas time. Which individuals, and not the government, choose to do for themselves, for their loved ones, and their fellow less fortunate beings.

And there seems to be a connection between active religious attendance and conservative thought and action. "The best predictor of whether a white American votes Republican is not his income but how often he or she goes to church. In 2000 Bush won 79 percent of those whites who went to church more than once a week (and only 33 percent of those who never went); by contrast he won just 54 per cent of those who earned more than $100,000 a year." (The Right Nation p 12----Micklethwaite & Wooldridge 2004) -Also people on the Right seemed to have a much higher patriotism index as well as stronger religious feelings. They are demonstrably more favorable to free market forces and most have the Protestant Calvinist ethic of "God helps those who help themselves", but still with a substantial safety net for those who have less ability or motivation! But certainly favoring those whose superior effort and ability are involved; equal opportunity yes, but equality of outcomes certainly not. Meritocracy and Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, but not Liberty, Fraternity and Equality. We aspire much higher and recognize the gap that must necessarily exist between the differing economic spheres. But still we are the magnet country for hordes of immigrants, legal and illegal, who continue to " vote with their feet" by coming here.

Indeed we continue to be the gloriously exceptional child of the world. Still creative, ever reverential, aspiring, and ever the center of the world’s approbation and condemnation. There are dim periods, as now, when timidity and doubt naturally arise. And condemnation seems the easy human response. But to get to the true brotherhood of man—and equality of women—there is manifest evil that must be overcome. Mainly through our efforts in the last turbulent century there is much more freedom and democratic government in the world. Now the last big bastion of oppression is the terrorist section of Islam. And we will still be the exceptional and ultimately successful leader on this path toward greater human liberty for all as we overcome this dire hurdle.