Having said all this, what really gave Mr. Bush the edge was his political advisor Karl Rove. His strategy was not to united by winning over undecided voters in the middle but to "energize the base" and it is widely believed, to use third parties to ruthlessly smear the opponent.
Dealing with the second one first, in this last election, I'm referring to the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that ran TV ads casting doubt on John Kerry's record in Vietnam. Although some of the claims were contradicted by what they themselves had written at the time and John"s crew mates who saw what happened stood by him, some of the mud stuck. I find it incredible a large segment of the American public was so willing to believe this and yet be completely unconcerned that Mr. Bush avoided going to Vietnam because his father used his influence to secure a position in the Texas Air National Guard. Even then, he failed to show up for duty for several months.
Similar tactics were used against John McCain in the Republican primaries in 2000. As you probably know, John was a prisoner of war in Vietnam for 5½ years. The communists offered to release him when they discovered that his father was an Admiral but he refused unless all the POWs were released. That's character.
Unlike Australia where voter turnout is near universal because it is required by law, in America, not only do you have to convince voters that your positions are right but you have to convince them enough to get them to vote. Karl Rove reckoned that 4 million "evangelical Christians" didn't vote in 2000 so he aimed to engage them with "Christian values"—and change the subject from Iraq, loss of jobs, exploding government deficits and so on. I thought what they were promoting was a perversion of Christian values, or at least a self-serving subset.
I heard an interesting analysis that argued that in the last generation or so, Christian values have been turned from external issues (fighting against poverty, racism, violence against women, environmental degradation, torture and war combined with fighting for peace, jobs, access to healthcare, education) to internal issues focused particularly on abortion and same-sex marriage.
I'm uneasy about abortion but see the real solution is preventing unwanted pregnancies. The "pro-lifers" would do well to ask why the US has such high rates of teen pregnancies—more than double that of Canada for instance and 16 times higher than Japan Note 5. Their opposition to sex education and contraception might be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.
The hypocrisy on the same-sex marriage issue is jarring. The President has given his support to a Constitutional amendment that would define marriage in terms of one man and one woman and 38 states have passed "defense of marriage acts" that define it this way. The Republicans talk about marriage and family as being the foundation of society and say that same-sex marriage is a threat. Somehow divorce is never mentioned even though 40-50% of US marriages now end that way. While condemning homosexuals, the President was strangely silent when Britney Spears was married and then divorced 55 hours later. If lack of children is the problem, it is odd that Republicans don't criticize couples like Lan and I.
I am forced to conclude that these issues are merely politics; a way to get popularly elected while doing what they really want – massive tax cuts and rollback of regulations for their wealthy donors. I urge you to read this article Note 6 about the growing wealth inequality: "... between 1973 and 2000 the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers actually fell by 7 percent. Meanwhile, the income of the top 1 percent rose by 148 percent, the income of the top 0.1 percent rose by 343 percent and the income of the top 0.01 percent rose 599 percent." It gets worse after that.
Although there were some cheap shots at the President, the film Fahrenheit 9/11 moved me when looking at who makes the decisions about the war and who fights it. Only a few members of Congress have close relatives serving in the military Note 7. The film followed a pair of Marine recruiters who focused on the poorest neighborhoods knowing that the residents there had few other opportunities for education and employment.
"We don't do body counts"—General Tommy Franks. The Administration does not discuss the human cost of the war for the Iraqi population. Strange given that the President considers the sanctity of life so important that he flew back from Texas to sign legislation at 1AM to save the "life" of Terri Schiavo who, as you probably know, had been severely brain-damaged for 15 years. Since there were no WMD or links to al Qaeda, the overthrow of a dictator allowing "freedom" and "democracy" is about all they have left to justify the war but that would sound hollow if the death toll was widely appreciated. Sadly, there are no plans to overthrow other brutal dictators such as Robert Mugabe but then Zimbabwe has no oil.
For the record, as of today, there are at least 17,316 reported civilian casualties Note 8—more than five times the number killed on 11th September 2001. A report in The Lancet Note 9 estimated the toll to be 98,000 within a wide range. It included Iraqi army personnel (mainly unwilling conscripts) killed during the invasion as well as civilians and extrapolated from samples.