Wednesday, September 22, 2004

The SUV Candidate

There's been a lot of talk lately about "security moms," this election's version of the "soccer mom." They're the demographic that's supposedly going to hand the election to Bush. For the last few presidential elections, women have voted heavily in favor of Democrats, and (white) men heavily in favor of Republicans. But "security moms" allegedly favor Bush because he's perceived as strong on national security, while Kerry is perceived as waffling and indecisive. Such an erosion of Kerry's female base would have a big effect on the election.

I'm skeptical about this picture of things. No doubt it would be easy to find some women who fit this profile. But the polling evidence does not really provide any robust support for the notion that "security moms" are a significant percentage of the electorate, or that they necessarily find Bush any stronger a candidate than Kerry. I suspect that "security moms" are largely an invention. Remember the "cocooning" trend a few years back? It turns out that was just the creation of some pop-culture maven with the idiotic name of Faith Popcorn. She said that couples would start "cocooning," and a bunch of women's magazines popularized the idea. Presto: a gen-u-ine social trend! I wouldn't be at all surprised if "security moms" were just some political consultants' attempt to create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If there actually are a lot of "security moms" out there, I would hope that they'd look carefully at the candidates' actual positions and actions. Bush talks a good game, but he gave us the royal screw-up at Tora Bora, in which Osama bin Laden got away. Why? Because at that point in the Afghan war, the Bush administration was already saving their big punch for the planned Iraq war. In other words, Bush perpetuated a major known threat so that he could devote American lives and money to attacking a country that was no threat at all.

There are plenty of other examples one could use to illustrate this comparison, but I suspect that anyone who might fall into the "security mom" category doesn't think that clearly. "Security" seems to be shorthand for "protecting my children from terrorism"; and the odds that any particular American child will be hurt or killed by a terrorist are ridiculously small, much smaller than the risk of food poisoning, or a slip-and-fall accident, or being in a car smashup.

A "security mom for Bush" is most likely the sort of mother who is very, very worried that her kids might get bombed by wild-eyed Muslims, and who also smokes in the same room with her kids, feeds them at McDonalds several times a week, and drives a big-ass SUV without making sure the kids wear their seat belts. It doesn't matter that any of these things puts her children at much greater risk than terrorists ever could. She likes to smoke "— don't smokers have rights too?" The kids like to eat at Mickey D's. And the SUV makes her feel safe. In actuality, the SUV is more dangerous than a sedan or mini-van would be — more dangerous for her, for her children, and for the other people on the road. Not using seat belts makes it even more dangerous, of course. But that doesn't cross her mind. The SUV feels safe, which is what matters. (That, and having lots of cupholders. Those make her feel comfortable and nurtured.)

I made an SUV analogy a few posts back; here's another one. George Bush is the SUV candidate. He makes us more dependent on foreign oil. He provides huge cash infusions to big business. He makes (white) men feel macho and tough, even though they're the same men they always were. And he makes "security moms" feel safe, even though he has actually made the world a much more dangerous place.

Unfortunately, SUVs are also very popular. Here's hoping that's the point where the analogy fails.

Monday, September 06, 2004

...And Don't Freak Out Either

A lot of Democrats are getting overwrought about the current poll numbers. Please, folks, stop pulling out your hair and calm down. It is not unusual for the Republican candidate to be ahead in the polls at this point — immediately after his party's convention and after a lot of media attention. What, you were expecting to be ahead in the polls all the way to Election Day?

There are still eight weeks to go. A lot can happen in that time, and indeed a lot is supposed to happen in that time. Kerry is not suddenly, magically, unelectable. And the basics underlying this campaign have not mysteriously changed. The economy is still in the tank; gas prices are still high; the environment is still threatened; our civil liberties are still being eroded; and, most importantly, almost a thousand American soldiers have died in a war that Bush lied to get us into. Four days of fawning coverage of the Incompetent Liar-in-Chief haven't changed any of that.

As long as we can get the basic Democratic message out in the next two months, there is still an excellent chance of winning. For once, let's resist the urge toward the familiar circular firing squad.