The liberal punditry throughout the national media and the liberal majority on this campus probably have no difficulty claiming that Sen. John Kerry won the third presidential debate, but this ignores President George W. Bush’s goal of appealing to a specific portion of the population — a goal he met with resounding success on Wednesday.
The intellectual portions of Yale find Kerry’s “nuance” attractive. And, as polls after each debate have shown, that “nuance” attracts undecided, moderate voters who are certain he can see all sides of the issues. When compared to the president, Kerry seems to dominate intellectually. Bush may or may not be capable of expressing his views in a more nuanced way; he will never try in a public setting, however, because the people who understand and support him have no interest in a candidate who tries to straddle the issues. His followers treasure his unique ability to boil things down to very specific terms. How can that be? How is it possible that one-dimensional answers are the way to win a national election? Do we not want a cerebral president over a dumb, simplistic one?
The explanation is that actually, the president is intelligent. His so-called failure to see the shades of gray between the black and white lines he draws is not a sign of stupidity, or of stubbornness; rather, it presents an entirely different way of looking at the world. The campaign to this point has presented some clear examples: Kerry believes that we should not have gone to war without exhausting every effort to include France, Germany and Russia; Bush saw that those three countries would never have consented to dismantling Saddam’s regime. Kerry is uncomfortable calling the War on Terror a war, saying it should be prosecuted through law enforcement and intelligence; Bush believes that the only way to eliminate the sanctuaries of terrorism is to roll back despotism and spread democracy and self-determination.
The president’s advisers have determined that Bush cannot win this election by running to the middle. The emotionally charged issues of the day, the extremely partisan nature of current politics and the overwhelmingly political content of front-page news have all combined to create an oversaturation of electoral information. Effectively, likely-to-vote yet undecided individuals will turn away from the polls altogether. While the election could be won with a traditional run to the center, the divisiveness of the past four years indicates that the remaining undecided voters, at this point, will be much more easily swayed to the left. This means, then, that the president’s re-election campaign must focus on increasing partisan turnout rather than winning converts.
Okay, back to the debate. What does any of this have to do with the president’s victory on Wednesday? He may not have won undecided voters. He may not have won Yale students. He may not have won the media. But to many people out there who think the issues are simpler than politicians like to make them, the president’s clear principles are attractive.
While Kerry muddled his way through explaining that his faith is important, and that he acts on it all the time in supporting environmental and social issues, but that articles of faith do not apply to abortion, Bush explained that his decisions are based on principle, and his principles based on faith. While Kerry talked about the women in his life, and how he needs them to keep him honest and remind him to have integrity (who wants a president that cannot keep himself in line — himself?), Bush talked about the profound love he feels towards his wife and daughters. And my personal favorite: in back-to-back statements, Kerry asserted that “we need to crack down on illegal hiring [of illegal immigrants]” and then that “we need an earned-legalization program for people who’ve been here a long time, stayed out of trouble, [and] got a job.” That’s right, he wants to arrest people for hiring illegal immigrants, while rewarding the illegal immigrants for holding long-term jobs. Alternatively, Bush outlined a program to allow foreigners to live and work here legally, gradually earning their citizenship — no amnesty programs necessary.
It is unfair to criticize Kerry of flip-flopping — in reality, the man cannot settle on a position. He overthinks the issues, and tries to have everything both ways. The debate showed this, one more time, and it also showed that Bush is a man who can make up his mind and stick to his guns, while doing what he truly believes is best for the nation. And he does not need a dying mother to remind him to have integrity.
Brian Cook is a senior in Pierson College.