by Dr. Angelika Brinkmann
On November 2nd, 2004 , Americans went to the polls and the outcome remained
a topic of hot debate for quite some time.
More women than men (54-46%) turned out to vote. Women accounted for 52% of the Kerry vote versus 47% for Bush. The 'gender gap' – the difference in men's and women's voting patterns – narrowed. One reason may be this: The issues most important to voters, the war (in Iraq and on terror), and moral values, are of equal importance to both sexes.
The 'soccer moms' of the 1990s have been transformed to 'security moms' who supported Bush's war on terrorism. Kerry got 40% of the votes of married women with children vs. Bush's 59%.
Was there any hint towards the outcome? Since 1992, Family Circle's cookie contest between first ladies and aspirants has been pointing to the winner. This time, Laura Bush's recipe for oatmeal chocolate chunks outshone Teresa Heinz Kerry's Pumpkin Spice cookies. Since 1956 the 'Weekly Reader's poll of school children has predcted a winner 12 out of 13 times; this year 60% voted for Bush, slightly surpassing their mothers.
In his inaugural speech President Bush unfortunately failed to acknowledge what tasks remained to be faced: Admit his rational for the Iraq war – the non-existent WMDs – was wrong. Not vision, but reality counts. Say that the root cause of September 11 attacks was the need for reform in the Arab world. Terrorism is on the rise in the region, especially in Saudi Arabia, which faces increasing attacks from foreign and regime interests. Emphasize that the age of terrorism puts the demands on the lone superpower and primary target: the United States, and that it is dangerous to think the U.S. can remain safe acting on its own.
On August 29, 2005, Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, presenting an unprecedented challenge to the country and the Administration. Whereas the election demonstrated the political divide, Katrina showed the gap between rich and poor in the society.
Religion and State
A much-disputed Election Day exit poll indicated that "values" were the most influential single factor for the voters in the presidential election. A closer look at the historic development of church and state in the U.S. is indispensable in order to understand the voters of the Midwestern States. Ever since its foundation, the U.S. - more than Europe – has been subject to the influence of religious groups and sects, whose attitude toward religion and state was (and still is) not very clear. Whereas Europe decided that the church had to subordinate to the state, the U.S. influenced by many immigrants, chose the opposite direction viz that the state should have no say in religious matters.
The Westphalian Peace accord of 1668 which ended the 30 year war, demanded supremacy of state over religion in Europe. At the same time, individualism was emphasized because the old European hierarchy was shattered. The individual was supposed to decide his own positions towards religion and moral values. The state was supposed to go to war versus the sovereign rulers in previous times, who had led their countries into so-called religious wars. This individualism not only had caused reformation and religious wars but had also led to the appearance of splinter groups and religious movements. Some of these movements where not tolerated in Catholic or Protestant regions, especially, where suspected of endangering public order or worse, not obeying it all. It was primarily these groups, in addition to those who embarked on the journey for financial reasons or seeking adventure, who settled in the 'New World'.
Not all of these immigrants had a clear attitude towards the relationship of religion and state. Disputes between individual groups led to an increase in their numbers. One result is the continuing alienation towards the state. Distant feelings and distrust towards 'big government' are part of the political culture of the United States. This also resulted in a blurred definition of a conception of state.
After decades of debate over whether the planet is heating up and, if so, who is responsible, industry, religious and political groups are getting together to address the problem, e.g. GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt and executives from American Electric Power, Boing and Cinergy. The major discussion by now is not whether climate change is happening, but how to deal with it. The Bush administration has supported research and voluntary initiatives but has pulled back from subscribing to a multi-national pact on environmental constraints, the Kyoto Protocol.
In a 2001 speech Bush explained why he opted against the Kyoto Protocol, a global agreement to curb greenhous gases: "The (Kyoto) targets themselves were arbitrary and not based upon science. For America, complying with those mandates would have a negative economic impact, with lay offs of workers and price increases."
Instead, his administration has encouraged voluntary efforts to curb emissions, like tax credits for more efficient air conditionares, hybrid cars and appliances while still denying that science is already in a position to prove a link between man's gas-and coal habits and rising temperatures.
Back-to-back hurricanes may be pushing the administration to act on climate change issues. In the wake of hurricane Katrina and Rita, Bush is proposing a more ambitious and expensive domestic initiatives. He has promissed to do 'what it takes' to rebuild New Orleans and other damaged areas in Louisana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. (Gulf opportunity zone), using tax breaks etc.. It appears that hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and other disasters have become more frequent; but the human responses to their aftermath is of increasingly importance.
New Orleans is just one example of a fragile city, where rich and poor alike have pushed into flood planes. As a result, catastrophes are the result of human choices, as much as they are a result of geology.
Nonetheless, it is a reocurring theme that elected officials and disaster agencies prefer to respond to catstrophes, instead of trying to address their prevention. Wealthy, industrialized countries need to recognize the value of prevention.
In the aftermath of 9/11 Americans united behind the President as he declared his "war on terrorism", but he and his administration were heavily criticized after the hurricanes, especially Katrina. Under attack was the inadequate handling of the disaster, even after billions were spend after 9/11. It is pretty obvious, the public is willing to hold political leaders to account after natural disaster. It also means addressing the inconvinient territory of poverty and race and making sure progress is being made.
Expensive and Expansive
Next to the cost of retirement and health care, the course and cost of the Iraq war have become major factors of concern. With 2000 U.S. soldiers killed since the beginning of the 'war on terrorism'and major combat in Iraq, growing concerns about the misssion need to be addressed. Misjudgments should finally be acknowledged. No more links of the Iraq campaign to the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Iraq was not a terrorist haven before the U.S. invasion, but it has become one since.
On November 15, 2005 the U.S. Senate, in a major shift in its policy, approved a Republican-sponsored measure as a non-binding amendment to a defense bill, requiring the White House to report to Congress every 90 days. It also asks that U.S. military forces "should not stay in Iraq any longer than required." Furthermore, it states that in 2006 Iraqies should assume principle responsibilty for their own security, and demands that the Bush Administration ask ethnically and religiously divided Iraqui leaders to compromise.
Even though the Administration lacks an exit strategy, it would be wrong to leave prematurely, unless one wants to leave an unstable government behind that cannot take care of its own security. Lawlessness is the inevitable companion of mass poverty, and a threat to civil order must be anticipated.
The likelihood was high, that either candidate Bush or Kerry, would have an opportunity to name one or more justices to lifetime terms on the bench. These choices would alter for decades the direction of the court that has been closely divided on many controversial issues from abortion to gay marriage, from affirmative action to the role of religion in government and privacy rights.
The court hasn't had a vacancy in 10 years, the longest without a change in justices since 1823. Given the wide ideological divide seperating the groups backing Bush and Kerry, it is pretty obvious the two would pick justices of very different philosophies.
But voters either overlooked or did not care enough for that probability when they went to the polls on November 2nd, 2004. While the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, the economy and health care were the dominant concerns, the propects that the next president could realign the Supreme Court to leave a legacy that would last for more than a generation had not been of great concern.
After John Roberts was named Chief Justice without great controversy, Harriet Miers, nominated to fill Sandra Day O'Conners' seat, was criticized especially from the right for her lack of judicial experience and strong conservative record. Therefore she offered good cause to stop her nomination. Bush's new pick, Samual Alito, will be primarily judged by his potential/prospective future rulings.
In the 24 years since President Reagan appointed her as the first female justice, Sandra Day O'Connor has often cast the deciding vote in 5-4 cases, e.g. religious tolerance: With her vote, she helped block attempts to approve government-sponsored prayer in public school events or to erect narrowly relgious displays in buildings, thereby protecting the rights of religious minorities.
Abortion rights: She played a pivotal role in outlining the court's present doctrine that restrictions must not put an "undue burden" on a woman' right to choose. In addtion, in 2000 she also helped overturn a state law banning certain abortions because it lacked any exception to protect a woman's health.
The religious right has long been pushing for the appointment of judges – ultimately Supreme Court justices – who subscribe to its beliefs on issues such as abortion and gay marriage. And the case of Terri Schiavo has shown new levels of political audacity in the attempt to substitute their own perception of morality for the rule of law. They argue that out -of-control- (by whom?) judges with idiological agendas are assaulting religion and thwarting the will of the public. They claim to defend the constitution and liberty against liberal judges whom they say are destroying representative government, by e.g. creating an unlimited right to abortion, outlawing religious expression in public schools and trying to take "one nation under God" out of the pledge of Allegiance.
While reasoned debate about the courts is vital to democracy, political intimidation of judges pose an obvious danger.
Faced with an increasingly competitive economy, the United States is running a record trade deficit of more than $ 600 billion annually. These trends cause anxiety among workers and some economists.
Parts of the problem are beyond U.S. Control: the emergence of China and India, for example. But issues that could be addressed are ignored for lack of political will.
The trade deficit is driven especially by the U.S. behaviour as a nation. There is too much consumption and too little investment. The low savings rate is one example, and the permanently unbalanced budget another. This living beyond means puts the future of the U.S. economy in the hands of foreigners, who own large amounts of dollars and even larger shares of U.S. companies. Should they lose confidence in the U.S. economy they could send it into a tail spin.
Fixing these problems would mean greater governmental fiscal responsibility, including new tax policies that would encourage investmen rather than consumption. Such requires a long-term focus to figure out what is truly important, instead of looking for scapegoats.
Rising health care costs in the U.S. are deeply troubling. Health reform
is needed, as in Germany, because rising costs are fast becoming an economic
disaster. Health care costs are weakening the fiscal strength of the U.S.
They are straining family budgets and making it increasingly difficult to
expand coverage and improve the quality of care. Hospital and insurer mergers
are on the rise, reducing competition. Drug prices continue to rise and doctors'
fees and practice patterns are less constrained by managed care plans.
President Bush had had merely four years to address the interwined issues of cost and the uninsured. Both items have risen during his presidency. His adminstration has promoted preventive care, health-quality measurement and health information technology to save money. But meaningful health care reform simply can't happen without bringing costs under control .
For the remaing term, President Bush should address the following questions:
What responsibilities should 'middle-class' America have to shoulder that have been government responsiblities for the past decades?
What resources should be invested to help provide the education, health care and retirement security the middle class and poor workers deserve?
The tax cuts started by Reagan in 1981 in addition to massive new expenditures led to the serious recession of 1982 and what was then the largest deficit and debt in U.S. history. Like Bush Sr. a decade later, Reagan solved the problem by doing what he promissed not to do: raising taxes. Bill Clinton did the same and the result was economic growth, a good stock market, millions of new jobs and a huge budget surplus. As a 'side effect', a far stronger middle-class and more wealthy (millionaires and billionaires) appeared. It needs now to redirect the tax cuts for the wealthiest to the middle-class and at the same time to those programs both Republicans and Democrates agree need help.
The U.S.A. is a very different place from what is was in the year 2000. Then, there was peace, now there is war. Then, life for most voters was comfortable, while today, their discomfort leads to an increase in voter registration .Whereas in 2000, the candidate Bush courted voters with remarks like: "I am a uniter, not a divider" and characterized himself as a 'compassionate conservative',he emerged as a wartime president in 2004.
As a uniter he has obviously failed becaue the nation is still deeply divided. The debate about moral values and the role of government continues. It is in Bush'shand to bring a divided nation back together. It should be his job but also that of Democrats to persuade voters to think differently.They need to listen to both sides, not only those who agree with them especially, when the cultural divide is so closely linked to religious beliefs connected to political dialogues.
Can the Catholic Church offer some advice? When Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected the first new pope of the third millenium, he was regarded as the Church's personification of devotion to orthodox dogma. But Benedict, the papal name he assumed was last associated with Vatican Reforms and outreach to others. Benedict XV, his predecessor, subtly approched Vatican orthodoxy and is credited with settling animosity between traditionalists and modernists and dreamed of reunion with Orthodox Christians.
Benedict XVI faces a world with heads of states and other 'power brokers' who do not share the Church's opposition to war or its calls for economic justice and defense of human rights. New moral issues arise via stem-cell research and the unprecedented ability to prolong the end of life.
At a time of ideological and religious driven conflicts in many parts of the world, the voice of the world's most visible religious leader will be listened too with great attention. If as his chosen name inidicates he intends to promote tolerance of different views of life no matter the interests of his own, he will serve humanity no matter its faith.
President Bush is a great admirer of the late President Reagan. Reagan was called the 'great communicator'. Bush could try to overcome the cultural divide by 'being a translator' of his own values which got him so many votes and extend his compassionate conservatism.
The democratic party should take up an idea of its idol Kennedy: The Peace Corps. They should send soul-searching missioniaries to the Midwest and try to communicate their values and ideas, also to be found in the constituion, like the separation of church and state. They could tell voters that in church, you worship god, not politicians,as an example.
As much as Europe would like to see itself as a community of values,with the economy being the means to bring about a peaceful partnership, President Bush can be a mediator of his values and try to overcome the division. He not only should tolerate other values, but integrate them.
The pledge of allegiance still says 'one nation under god', meaning there are lot of ideas to unite the country, even if 'under god' cannot be agreed upon by all people.
Jesus cared about all people and transcended political party lines. So Bush could also make it clear that all christians, reborn or not, are members of humankind and according to the U.S. Constitution have certain inalienable rights and that doubts play an important part in religious beliefs. And that 'one god' means, not only faith-based initiaitves are to benefit U.S. Americans but those outside churches as well. Republicans and democrates alike could also encourage audiences on their views towards gay or traditional marriage, for example.
If he could make use of these ideas, chances are, he may prove Lenin wrong who once said that 'religion is opium to the people.' Furthermore he not only could become a great uniter but an integrator of what seems to be two seperate nations at the moment. But for now, it looks like his presidency is drowning in a Bermuda triangle of market economy, faith and state.