If tragedy is the name we use for a drama in which the protagonist falls on his own character, then tragic is the shape of public opinion in America.
Headlines Monday claimed that three-fourths of Americans already have their minds made up about presidential candidates, but the poll suggests more than that. On the issue of who we are, the poll reveals that Americans have had their minds made up for many, many years.
Taking up the question of sincerity, for instance, a majority of Americans tell pollsters that Bush says what he believes (51 percent), but an even greater majority report that Bush exaggerated to build support for war on Iraq (59 percent). So what are Americans saying about Bush? That he believes his own exaggerations.
Again, on the sincerity question, a majority (57 percent) believe that Kerry does not say what he thinks, yet American voters rate Kerry higher than Bush for caring about us, for being able to deal with economic decisions, make sure social security is solvent, and increase jobs. What do Americans think about Kerry? That he does not believe in his own capabilities.
On the fundamental question of sincerity, therefore, Americans have nothing new to say. As a nation, we prefer sincere liars to insecure competents. Look for a Reagan-Carter repeat. Or, for that matter, Bush-Dukakis, Clinton-Dole, Nixon-McGovern. When it comes to the question of sincerity, America loves a salesman best.
And where do we find the qualities of a great salesman? Not in the product, but in the pitch.
And what is Bush pitching these days? That we are a culture at war. More important than care, economy, social security, or jobs, is our ability to conserve our way of life against subversive forces. It’s an exaggeration, as we fully know. But it’s an exaggeration that creates purpose.
Meanwhile, a mid-week editorial from the Boston Globe reminds us what Bush is selling to the rest of the world. Scan the headlines coming out of Santiago, Chile during Women’s History Month. Bush Administration Opposes 40 Latin American Nations. Countries of the Americas, Except US, Reaffirm Reproductive Health Accord. US Lone No at Chile Meeting .
“The United States was the only country to disagree with a declaration linking poverty eradication to greater access to services for family planning, safe motherhood and HIV/AIDS prevention,” reports the United Nations.
A simple Google search for “Bush opposes treaty” yields the following: Bush opposes ratifying nuclear test ban treaty; Bush Administration Opposes UN Children’s Treaty; Bush Tries to Weaken Tobacco Treaty; US Abandons Environment Treaty; Bush Opposes Kyoto Global Warming Treaty. That’s page one.
Our embattled way of life is indeed at war with the world. Bush is right about that. But he is only our most recent cowboy-in-chief, pushing the frontiers, shredding the treaties, and sending in the cavalry to secure the outposts.
So, of course, Americans feel more comfortable with Bush than Kerry when it comes to handling an international crisis and protecting the country from a terrorist attack.
On three questions Bush tops the charts absolutely. Seventy five percent believe Bush has a vision for the country. Seventy eight percent believe that we would have a good economy today were it not for the disruption of the massacre of Sept. 11.
And 75 percent of Americans believe Bush shares the moral values most Americans try to live by.
So the poll numbers demonstrate that Kerry and Bush are placeholders in a cowboy nation that is nearly 80 percent unified.
So bring on your Nader, if you will. Or point out that America is isolating itself in the eyes of others. What we have here is a mature culture acting out its character in ways that are as predictable as they are tragic.
If the poll numbers hold up, whoever wins in November will be the top cowboy candidate. In this drama of Cowboy Nation, is there an alternative ending at hand?