To an outsider looking in, it seems astonishing that on 4 November 2008 John McCain might actually be voted the next president of the United States of America. According to the latest Gallup Poll, Barack Obama has a slender lead of 2 points (47:45) but running mate Sarah Palin is said to be stealing large numbers of female voters over to McCain’s side.
How, I ask in wonderment, is this possible? This election terminates one of the most woefully-inadequate American presidencies in modern history.
Think about just how incompetent and/or deluded George W Bush has been. One vital military victory (Afghanistan) derailed by 5 years of not winning another, totally-unnecessary war (Iraq), with world-wide sympathy for 9/11 and tolerance of the Afghan invasion turned to detestation of the United States as the world’s bully boy. (A perception only just begiining to change as Russia is now up for the title!) Incompetence reflected in Bush’s simply not knowing what to do as the federal government’s inaction cost lives in New Orleans 3 years ago – reflected in the federal government’s missupervision of the sub-prime lending market becoming a catalyst for a partial meltdown of America’s – and thus the global – economy.
How, this outsider asks, can the average American want anything to do with the Republicans after this debacle of a presidency?
The answer might lie, in part at least, with the re-election of Bush in 2004. Or, as the Daily Mirror headline (04/11/04) put it: ‘How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?’
The Democrats then, as today, had an apparently-decent, mildly-liberal man (John Kerry) as their candidate. And he was slaughtered at the polls. And he had the advantage of being white!
In a country where government-sanctioned racism has only been dead for a little over 40 years and where there are still quite healthy pockets of intense racism, being the first black presidential candidate is certainly ground-breaking and attention-grabbing – but, whether it’s a vote-winning quality is a moot point. (I’m actually surprised there hasn’t been an assassination attempt yet!)
The race issue aside, if Obama is more or less cut from the same cloth as Kerry, what makes the Democrats think this time it will be different? Obama’s certainly got much more charisma than Kerry ever had; but will that alone be enough?
PURPLE/RED/BLUE or BLUE/ORANGE/GREEN?
Why in November 2004 did so many Americans vote for George W, rather than Kerry?
Things domestically/economically were reasonably OK; but Iraq was already becoming a major thorn in Bush’s side. Although the mess was still a way off the deepest depths it would reach, it was already clear things were going badly wrong. No ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ – the pretext for the invasion – had been found, the first major prisoner abuse scandal (Abu Grhaib) was in full swing and the insurgency was gathering pace.
I’m going to postulate that a very large proportion of the American electorate is governed by the PURPLE, RED and/or BLUE vMEMES. Memes such as loyalty and patriotism, pride in oneself and one’s country and sacrificing your own interests to do what’s right easily turn into people’s schemas when those vMEMES are in charge. Bush, whose head certainly seems very dominated by RED and BLUE, talked about “standing fast” and “winning through”; Kerry, apparently led by the GREEN vMEME, talked about “bringing the troops home”.
Those Americans whose thinking was dominated by PURPLE, RED and/or BLUE didn’t want to be told that their president was a lying self-server who had got it wrong and they would lose the war. They wanted to be told it would be okay if they remained steadfast, trusting in God and their president.
Obama’s taunt that a McCain presidency “equals 4 more years of Bush” may ring true as exactly what they want to those PURPLE, RED and BLUE thinkers. A self-fulfilling prophecy?
Of course, there are many Americans whose thinking is dominated by higher vMEMES. John F Kennedy and Bill Clinton could never have made the White House otherwise. However, their ORANGE ambition was powerful enough for them to put on a ‘common touch’ masquerade sufficient to resonate with the lower vMEMES and catch a substantial part of that vote. (Conflict Management theorists Robert Blake & Jane Mouton (1964) called this style of matching others to lure them: ‘Opportunism – Exploit & Manipulate’.) In contrast a number of commentators have noted how GREEN and intellectual Obama’s thinking is. That will go down well with GREEN+ thinkers – but will it appeal to PURPLE, RED or BLUE? There’s certainly some BLUE and ORANGE in Obama’s proclamations; but communicating large-scale with PURPLE and RED is more difficult for him.
GREEN was clearly a strong influence in the higher echelons of the Democratic Party, as the nominees for presidential candidate were whittled down to a woman and a black man. How more politically correct could that be?
Hilary Clinton, I suspect, was badly advised. She fought a hard-nosed and sometimes overly-dirty campaign, with the result that the Democrats chose the nice black guy over the white bitch. The Democrat faithful may well come to rue that choice – especially now McCain’s ORANGE has stretched up to borrow a touch of GREEN and call in a woman to bid for being the United States’ first female Vice President! So McCain may well be able to steal some of the wavering GREEN thinkers who might otherwise have been more likely to vote Democrat.
Hilary, like her husband, appears more dominated by ORANGE than GREEN. Not least in New York she has shown she can masquerade and stretch down to mix it with the lower vMEMES.
4 years on those voters, whose PURPLE, RED and/or BLUE led them to vote for Bush, can take satisfaction that their steadfastness is being rewarded. They made the right choice. Iraq is slowly going the United States’ way. However, America still needs to still be vigilant. As exiting commander General David H Petraeus has said, the gains made “are not irreversible”. And, then, of course, there is still Afghanistan to be put right. So PURPLE, RED and BLUE can see the need for a war-hardened leader still – and, hey, isn’t McCain actually a war vet?!
The swelling financial crisis is a different matter. But, while Obama can point to the Bush regime’s economic mismanagement, neither side has any real answers which will make a significant short-term difference. In any case, economics at a level beyond the immediate household budget is largely too complex for PURPLE and RED thinking – so arguments about it are likely to be ignored.
My hunch is that Hilary could have generated enough of the common touch masquerade to have got through to at least some of the PURPLE, RED and BLUE thinking. Obama, though enormously popular with certain societal groups, has yet to show he can do that on any kind of significant scale. There has to be doubt whether he can beat McCain without it.