US ELECTIONS: by Peter WestmoreNews Weekly
Bush still ahead in Presidential race
, October 23, 2004
If we are to believe the opinion polls, Republican President George Bush and his Democratic Party challenger, John Kerry, are currently running neck-and-neck in the race for the White House, which will take place on November 2.
The latest Gallup Poll, taken early in October, showed that Bush and Kerry both had 49 per cent of the popular vote, with independent candidate, Ralph Nader, having just 1 per cent of the vote.
President Bush's substantial margin over Kerry declined in September. The swing towards Kerry in the polls cannot be explained by domestic issues, because the US economy continues to expand, and the Bush Administration is seen as being a competent economic manager.
The shift in public opinion is due largely to the upsurge of fighting in Iraq, the murder of American hostages, and the apparent intractability of the situation in a country which the US occupied in 2003, to remove the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
Every day, suicide bombers have exacted a deadly toll in cities throughout Iraq, and there is little that the US or Iraqi forces can do to end the carnage, which is shown on Western television screens every night.No alternative ...
On the other hand, there is no alternative to the continued US military presence, at least until an Iraqi administration which can claim some popular legitimacy takes power.
The insurgents in Iraq - who include former Saddam loyalists, Shi'ite Muslims loyalists and terrorists who have infiltrated from Syria and Iran - are increasingly using suicide bombers, consumed by hatred of America, as their preferred weapon to break the US's will to remain in Iraq.
Following the success of terror tactics in bringing about the withdrawal of Spain and the Philippines, the insurgents are now trying to effect a similar change in US policy, through defeating George Bush in the US Presidential election.
The problem for President Bush is that he, or his advisers, badly miscalculated the extent to which anti-American forces in the Middle East - both Islamist and secular - would fight to destroy the political will of the United States to maintain ground forces in the region.
However, to withdraw from Iraq, as John Kerry proposes, would discredit the Administration, and signal to America's allies that the United States cannot be relied upon to see things through.
While the US economy continues to expand, the economic outlook is increasingly clouded. Oil prices, which six months ago were around $30-35 a barrel, have risen to over $50 as a result of high demand and reduced supply, and the impact is starting to be felt in the United States, as throughout the Western world.
Further, economists have pointed out that higher energy prices have often triggered recessions. Oil and energy prices rose sharply in 1981, 1990 and 2000, and each time an economic downturn followed in their wake. However, neither the Republicans nor Democrats can influence oil prices.
The other major difference between Bush and Kerry is on social policy. President Bush is a born-again Christian, and John Kerry is a Catholic liberal.
President Bush supports the Marriage Amendment (to entrench marriage between a man and a woman) to the US Constitution, opposes abortion and human-embryo experimentation, and supports tougher action against crime and drug-abuse including, in extreme cases, the death penalty.
Marriage is an election issue because voters in nine US states will also vote on November 2 to amend the State Constitutions to prevent gay marriage.
In light of the important role of the US Supreme Court, President Bush has appointed justices who have a "black letter" law perspective, rather than judicial activists who reinterpret the US Constitution according to prevailing legal or community values (or their
interpretation of these values).
In contrast, John Kerry has exactly the opposite position on all these issues - abortion, embryo experimentation, treating drug-abuse as a medical rather than legal problem, and he has even proposed that Supreme Court justices must be pro-abortion and have a track record in favour of civil rights and law reform.
There are two major areas of uncertainty: the undecided voters, who on the latest opinion polls, represent nearly a third of all Americans, and a very large group of people who do not vote.
In the last US Congressional elections in 2002, 39 million of the 128 million enrolled voters did not cast a ballot.
In the current election campaign, the Bush team has targeted Hispanics and Christians, many of whom did not vote in the 2000 Presidential election.