It's not just the economy, stupid
By Mark Steyn
Well, it's the big day, when Campaign 2004 moves from its electoral round into the litigation round.
For John Kerry to become President, he has to win 270 of the 538 electoral-college votes.
For George W Bush, it's not quite that simple: he's got to win big enough to be outside the margin of lawyer. For example, if he gets 270 and wins New Hampshire's four electoral-college votes very narrowly, the Democrats will sue to flip the state into their column and hand the election to Kerry. If Bush gets 288 or under, the Dems will sue to flip Ohio into the Kerry column. If Bush gets 295 or under, they'll sue to flip Florida.
In other words, Bush has to be up over 300 in order to stand a chance of shaking off the Democratic Party's chad-chasers. I think he can do it. I predicted in The Spectator last week that he'd win 315 electoral-college votes, and I'm sticking by that. But even at 315 the Kerry camp might think it worth contesting Ohio and Florida. Once you've accepted that you can sue your way round one state, as in 2000, it's not such a stretch to sue in two.
This is, supposedly, the 9/11 election. But, in fact, on one side of the divide there's remarkably little interest in the war on terror and Iraq beyond the pro forma sloganeering. Mooching around New Hampshire these last few days, I've seen just one lone sign that any Democrat is even thinking about the subject: in the yard of a Kerry/Edwards supporter on Route 10 just north of Hanover was a placard that read "Support Our Troops. Bring Them Home". Tell it to the Marines, lady. Bring them home, discredited and defeated, to sit safe in their barracks and be told, don't worry, from now on you can be just like the Canadians and the Europeans – safe at home except for the odd stint as international traffic cops benignly presiding over some UN-mandated ethnic stalemate for decades on end. That'll do wonders for recruitment.
No, the big date for a lot of these people is not 9/11 but 11/7 - November 7, 2000, the date Al Gore had his election victory "stolen" from him. If you've seen Fahrenheit 9/11, you'll know that Michael Moore's film starts with a long prologue about the Florida recount, the Supreme Court decision, etc. It doesn't seem the most obvious material for inclusion in a film about Iraq, Osama and the Saudis. But, for the likes of Moore, November 7 is the issue: it's where the tale begins, it's what led to September 11, which is no more than a First Act plot-twist cunningly manipulated by Bush to obscure what the story's really about.
Even if you sue in all 50 states, I don't think you can make a majority for the Michael Moore view of Bush. Al Gore did his best two years ago, travelling hither and yon on behalf of gubernatorial and Congressional candidates, and you can basically correlate their margin of defeat by the amount of time Al spent campaigning for them. Everywhere he went in 2002, the unprecedented unPresident had a consistent message: This election isn't about the war or the economy, it's about me and "the disputed Florida vote two years ago".
"Are you over it?" he roared at the crowds.
"No!" they roared back.
As I wrote at the time: "Earth to Al – the rest of us are over it."
That still holds. You can't re-fight the Florida recount, you can't Bush-bash your way into the White House. Nor can you win by pitting pocketbook issues against faraway countries of which we know little. Bob Kerrey – no relation but another snooty self-regarding Democratic senator – was on Meet The Press on Sunday and, after comparing Osama bin Laden to Jeffrey Dahmer, remarked: "I was in Gallia, Ohio, down in the southeastern part of Ohio. They don't give a damn about the war in Iraq. They're terrified about the loss of their job, health care, their pensions. That's what's bothering them."
Oh, come off it. The unemployment rate in Gallia County is 6.9 per cent, which is high compared with the US rate (5.4 per cent) but as nothing compared with Canada (7.8 per cent), France (9.7 per cent) or Germany (10.5 per cent), to name but three countries John Kerry wants to make America more like. I don't believe the good folk of Gallia are so "terrified" about their unemployment creeping up to two thirds of Franco-German levels that they "don't give a damn" about Iraq.
That's the trouble with talking down the economy: you wind up talking down the people, too. In fact, the people – in Gallia, Ohio and many other places – understand the relevance of Iraq and Afghanistan to their wellbeing rather more clearly than the Democratic leadership do. Despite Bob Kerrey and John Kerry and Tom, Dick and Harry Kerrye assuring the plebs that they ought to be terrified because even though they've got jobs they could lose them any day now and then they'd discover those welfare queens in Basra and Mosul are hoovering up all the Federal gravy, the people keep insisting that war and national security remain their priorities.
It was, with hindsight, foolish to think that the differences between America and most of the rest of "the West" would somehow not also be manifest within America itself. For all those who complain with feigned ennui about the choice of candidates – the lesser of two evils, the evil of two lessers, yawn – the political system has contrived to throw up two men who are almost perfect embodiments of the choice facing the country.
John Kerry, with his pining for summits, his aspirational French, his boundless retrospective wisdom after some other fellow's taken the difficult decisions he ducked, his modish embrace of the Viet Cong and the Sandinistas and even Saddam in his Kuwaitswallowing days, is almost a parody Eurograndee.
But America cannot be a Greater Belgium or a Greater Canada or a Greater Spain. The only thing that enables Belgium to be Belgium and Canada to be Canada and Spain to be Spain is that America is America. If everyone in the civilised world's torpid and ineffectual and semi-non-aligned, it's not gonna work. Americans will not choose transnational complacency over national resolve.