July 13, 2004

by Joe Sobran

     It's wise to be skeptical of political predictions. 
Some people make good livings forecasting election 
results, their prognostications fortified by detailed 
analyses, but in the end their prophecies are seldom 
better than blind guesses.

     Still, pundits, like astrologers, don't go broke for 
being wrong. People just want the momentary comfort of 
feeling slightly less uncertain about the future, I 
suppose. And when you live in Washington, where the 
action is, they think you know something they don't.

     But last week I heard a strange and provocative 
prediction, more intuitive than analytical. I can't even 
remember who made it. But he ventured the opinion that, 
despite polls showing Bush and Kerry running even, this 
year's election won't even be close.

     Yes? Yes? But who's going to win? Ah, there my 
wizard grew Delphic, like the famous oracle that 
announced, "There will be a great victory." It may be 
Bush, it may be Kerry, but either way, he said, it will 
be decisive. As November approaches, the public's mood 
will break sharply in favor of one of the candidates.

     The more I pondered this, the more plausible it 
seemed. Right now President Bush's approval ratings are 
dangerously low for an incumbent. The reasons he gave for 
the Iraq war have been repeatedly discredited, most 
recently by the Senate intelligence committee's damning 
report. The occupation was frustrating enough without the 
shameful revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison. We 
no longer hear of the "axis of evil"; the lurid pre-war 
rhetoric has become passe. Senators who once supported 
the war now say it was a mistake; most Americans now 

     The administration keeps issuing terrorism alerts, 
even as Bush boasts that the war has made us "safer." 
This contradiction confuses what has otherwise been a 
clear message, and it's highly possible that swing voters 
will decide that four years of taut nerves, with no clear 
benefit, have been enough. Kerry may be boring, but that 
may be an asset, coming after the most stressful 
presidency in recent memory.

     The Karl Rove strategy will be to make the 
Massachusetts liberal sound scary, but crying "Wolf!" 
works only so many times. After Saddam Hussein and Osama 
bin Laden, Kerry isn't much of a bogeyman. And he isn't 
that far to the left of Bush himself.

     Both candidates have irreducible bases of around 
43 per cent. Bush excites more hostility, but Kerry will 
also have Ralph Nader to worry about. Swing voters will 
be faced with a choice between two kinds of big 
government: Republican militarism, plus vast social 
spending, and Democratic domestic socialism, complete 
with abortion funding and same-sex unions.

     Unappetizing alternatives, but Kerry offers relative 
calm and a sense of normality. At this point I'd expect 
the vote to break his way. Even Bay State liberals have 
lost their terror.

     But of course you never know. A spectacular 
terrorist incident could change everything, restoring 
Bush's powerful appeal as a war president.

     Yet even that appeal may not work twice, given the 
growing sense that Bush has mishandled the 9/11 
challenge. In fact, a repeat of 9/11 might aggravate the 
feeling that Bush's "war on terror" has achieved nothing. 
He wouldn't be able to pin new terrorist activities on 

     Kerry's greatest asset is negative. If not exactly a 
peace candidate, he doesn't stand for war. That may be 
enough. No candidate gets elected by promising war. 
Incumbents have always had to conceal their warlike 
intentions: Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, and 
Lyndon Johnson had to deceive the public to win 

     This is hardly an option for Bush. He has openly 
chosen to be identified with war. He has made it a point 
of pride, but with diminishing political returns, and at 
this point it's hard to imagine undecided voters finding 
it a plus.

     In order to be reelected, a president has to wear 
pretty well. But Bush is too inflexible to admit mistakes 
and change course, and his presidency has already been 
hard on the national nervous system. Even voters who 
think he's done a decent job may feel it's time to bring 
in a relief pitcher. His fireball has lost most of its 

     Just a hunch, mind you, not a prediction. Maybe the 
voters who will decide the election will choose four more 
years not only of Bush, but of Cheney, Rumsfeld, 
Ashcroft, and the rest of the hard-liners. I just find it 


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