There is really a culture gap opening up along the fault-line of the Atlantic, but this is nothing you haven’t probably heard of already. Naturally I speak here with particular regard to the big climax, the big watershed which is coming up in ten days, the 2004 presidential election. Again, it’s exceedingly likely that you’ve heard in one form or another that John Kerry is a massively more-popular choice than George W. Bush to be US President from 2005 to 2009. (You’ll need to subscribe to or otherwise comply with the wishes of Salon.com if you want to click that link to read renowned foreign correspondent Mark Hertsgaard’s on-line exposition on that topic.)
People over here really find it mystifying why anyone would even consider voting for Bush. So the US correspondent for the Dutch NRC Handelsblad, Marc Chavannes, gamely sets out to perform a little public service for the folks back home and investigate this phenomenon. His research takes him to a recent personal presidential campaign appearance in Chocolate Town, formally known as Hershey, Pennsylvania. (Bush Stands For What I Believe – free registration to the on-line NRC Handelsblad required. By the way, for any of those who might be interested, Chavannes also maintains an NRC-sponsored Dutch-language weblog on the presidential campaign.)
Chavannes steers clear of even mentioning any polling data in this treatment, so the points-of-view he records are necessary anecdotal. In fact, he only speaks to three people, the first a “home schooling Mom” named Josephine Baker, and then to a young couple, Lynne and Ron Seamans. For those of you familiar with French interwar culture, Josephine Baker is a name that should resonate. (The connection with “chocolate” adds an ironic twist along those same lines.) But our present-day Mrs. Baker’s self-description merely denotes that she stays home days to teach her seven-year-old son, according to a minimum school curriculum mandated I suppose by the state of Pennsylvania, so he won’t have to go to a public school. “We chose to do that because prayer is forbidden in public schools. We find God to be terribly important. President Bush does too.” As for the Seamanses (“Seamen”?), Mrs. Seamans prefers Bush because of his opposition to abortion. Please pardon the quote in which she explains her reasoning: “Babies are babies, even if they sit in the testicles and are called sperm.” And Mr. Seamans rather likes President Bush’s campaign theme of the “ownership society”: “Democrats take away the feeling that you can leave your own life.”
GENERIC CAMPAIGN FARE
In any case, these three are among a larger crowd that Chavannes estimates at 18,000 to 20,000, waiting outside Chocolate World, the Hershey-themed amusement park, as five dark-green military helicopters descend to deliver the President. We get translated extracts from the President’s standard stump speech (like “Our message is for everyone. If you want a safer America, a stronger America, make sure that Dick Cheney and I return to the White House for another four years”), and then Chavannes’ handy list of the five topics you can mix-and-match to get any possible combination of what Bush may say to a crowd:
- National security (of course)
- Family income and tax-cuts
- Health and education
- Pensions and Social Security; and then of course
- Family values.
The NRC reporter takes time to back off a bit from the local reporting to explain why Bush is visiting Pennsylvania then and so many other times before election day: it’s a “swing state,” of course. Currently polls show that Kerry has a lead there that is small – and “by no means safe.” Ralph Nader is still trying to get on the ballot there, apparently taking his appeal to be allowed to do so to the US Supreme Court. John Kerry is himself often to be found the Keystone State (we’re still talking about Pennsylvania here, folks), but the additional visits by President and Vice-President also would indicate that the Bush/Cheney campaign still has hopes of prevailing in the contest for its 21 electoral votes.
And who can call them wrong? Kerry might have the lead now, and even Pennsylvania Bush supporters can freely admit that the President was bested in the debates, but the lesson Chavannes draws from his interviews is that “if the electoral contest can be brought back to ‘feelings against facts,’ then the outcome is by no means certain yet.”