Today, rather than recite reasons why Bush is worse than Kerry, or analyze the campaign tactics of the candidates, or dissect the motivations of swing voters, I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that Kerry will win in Ohio and become the next President. Why?
- Large numbers of Ohioans are beleaguered and angry about increased costs of food, gasoline, prescription drugs, health insurance and college; they are worried about stagnant wages, job security, retirement options for themselves and opportunities for their children; they are want their kids home from Iraq. They are not fooled by a self-appointed "war leader" and will turn out to vote against him.
- Many veterans resent Bush administration cuts to the VA, pay-cuts and equipment shortages for soldiers on active duty, and the use of mercenaries -- "private contractors" -- in Iraq. They don't like the attacks on people like Kerry, McCain and Cleland who served in Vietnam.
- Traditionally marginalized groups -- African-Americans, environmentalists and anti-war activists -- have organized and will vote and get new voters to the polls.
- Ethnic Americans in northeast Ohio have ties to relatives in the Old World, and are concerned about our nation's standing in the world.
- Ohio Republicans are splintered -- they like Bush, but are divided about his policies. Many have doubts about Bush's foreign policy, economic theories, tax and education policies, and Ashcroft.
- The poor folk of Appalachian Ohio haven't seen things get much better under Bush; and they have heard themselves called "trailer trash" by right-wing media.
- Republicans have controlled state government in Ohio so long that suppression of criticism, cutting the minority out of decision-making, and the entrenchment of "Pay-to-play" legislative processes have weakened the party and tarnished its reputation.
- Ohio Republicans lack a charismatic governor or U.S. Senator to fire up the Republican vote. Taft has been realistic about taxes and education and lost support; Voinovich's base is in the north, DeWine's in the south, but neither has statewide appeal.
- Local reports of lawns of Kerry supporters being chemically burned with big letters spelling Bush. Most people recognize that this is plain vandalism under the cover of partisan politics.
Here are some things I think will help Kerry nationally:
- Wide recognition of the brutality and futility of the war on Iraq. It's hard for people to imagine that Kerry would make it worse.
- Internet organizations like MoveOn.org and ACT that are mobilizing people with strong convictions, who will vote.
- Disgust or embarrassment at the more egregious attacks on Democrats by Republicans. Even those who think it's funny to call opponents "girlie men" know that the phrase is a taunt, not an argument.
- For the first time ever a partisan documentary movie has reached the big screen. Michael Moore claims that while 80% of those who go into showings of "Fahrenheit 9/11" support Kerry, 100% of those who come out support Kerry. I think that's real. Seeing a feature-length movie with a crowd of strangers is a different experience from individually watching short swipes on TV. Viewers in a crowd think of the effect on others of what they are seeing, and watch more critically.
- The belated recognition by journalists that they are missing opportunities to promote democracy with honest and courageous reporting, and that the rewards of empowering people who read newspapers and watch TV and participate in democracy will ultimately be greater than the rewards of pleasing corporate bosses who are accountable only to those with power and wealth.
But what do I know? I'm just a "liberal mush-head" (according to one of my faithful readers) still believing that Americans are basically intelligent, sensible, fairminded, decent, kindly people, who are competent and conscientious enough to think critically and vote thoughtfully, and willing to make democracy work..
This fall partisan pundits and political managers are trying feverishly to lead voters in the way they should go, simultaneously bashing them for being ignorant, irrational, biased, suggestible, wimpish, lazy, selfish and short-sighted, and tailoring speeches and events to appeal to exactly those attributes.
Yet I still entertain the notion that we humans are a good bit more resourceful than we give ourselves credit for being. We did, eventually, learn the management of fire and how to count, measure and navigate; we figured out agriculture, repudiated the supernatural, devised some basic rules for survival in groups (Do unto others ...) and developed laws and ideas of justice and liberty, and created democracy -- government by the people. What we haven't achieved is figuring out how to live without war.
The Bush administration has made this election a referendum on war. I am hopeful that for the first time in history people are going to vote against war.
But to be honest, despite my strong convictions against war, what scares me most is the venom and hate of people like Zell Miller, the mean-spiritedness of Bush supporters who booed when he asked for prayers for President Clinton's health, the bitter and dishonest ads against Kerry's war service, and the tacit approval of derision and violence against dissenters, protesters or liberals.
I don't want to live among neighbors like that.
Caroline Arnold (email@example.com) served 12 years on the staff of Senator John Glenn and is now active in civic and environmental affairs in Kent, Ohio. This column will appear in the Kent-Ravenna Record Courier on Sunday September 12, 2004