Bush, since national security is the key issue

By SUGRUTHA RAMASWAMI

The September opinion polls, after the Republican and Demo-cratic conventions, showed a 5 percent-and-improving lead for Bush over Kerry. The undecided percentage held at a steady 2-3 percent. The Sept. 30 debate was Kerry’s, a surprise performance compared to the rest of his campaign and is certain to eat into Bush’s slim lead, even if it is unlikely to overwhelm it. Of course, the beauty of any vibrant and robust democracy is in its defiance of all opinion polls and pundits when the final day of reckoning arrives. When the contest is this close, it is impossible to predict anything based on mere sampled data.

Yet, I am willing to hedge my bets on Bush.

Most importantly, there is the much-awaited “October-surprise” fest. The surprise of one October, 24 autumns ago, was the failure to negotiate the release of American hostages in Iran. This ultimately cost Carter his re-election. This October’s surprise, in contrast, could be the capture of Osama bin Laden, thanks to the magician-in-residence, Musharraf.

But even without the mother of all captures, Bush seems poised to clinch the presidency again. The voters, although confused by all the stories, facts, and figures thrown at them, will finally make a choice between national security and the economy.

Bush is perceived as the one who is strong on security, even if he made certain mistakes and miscalculations, even if he used the war to further the interests of the oil-coterie, and even though the war on Iraq is clearly an unjustifiable excess. Kerry, on the other hand, has revealed little about his own plans for the war against terror, making his commitment to security suspect. In the first presidential debate, which was focused on the Iraq war, Kerry questioned a lot and answered very little. Bottom line: Americans are willing to live with the label of “bad guys” abroad, so long as they can feel secure at home. They want to win wars, not popularity contests.

The traditional anti-immigration policy of the Republicans might actually be attractive to even some erstwhile liberals in the prevailing climate of fear and unease post-9/11. Given a choice between increasing immigration quotas for tech workers and outsourcing of jobs, many Americans might prefer the latter.

The economic downturn was never pinned on Bush although the deficits were. If Bush’s tax cuts for the rich and cuts in welfare and healthcare spending have not made any significant dent to his base so far, they are not likely to matter beyond this stage of the campaign.

Sugrutha Ramaswami is an IT professional in New Jersey.

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Kerry, by focusing on Bush’s incompetence

By RAJEEV SRINIVASAN

George Bush and John Kerry are Tweedledum and Tweedledee from a foreign-policy standpoint, as indeed all American presidential contenders always are: they all intend to uphold America’s interests. This is a major reason Kerry has had a hard time making progress against Bush. He finds it difficult to oppose Bush’s claim of defending the American nation with his “war on terror.” Kerry has learned a lesson from the failure of Howard Dean’s anti-war campaign.

It is true that on domestic issues the two differ, and Kerry has advantage on healthcare and on the economy. But the economy isn’t doing badly enough for that to be the rallying cry of Election 2004. It is clear that people are more worried about terror, and Michael Moore notwithstanding, opinion is divided 50-50 about the war.

However, there are, fortunately for Kerry, a lot of Americans who simply hate Bush and his ultra-right-wing zealotry, and who will do anything to get him out of office. Kerry has alienated these potential supporters by being mealy-mouthed. This explains his mid-course correction in September to clearly differentiate himself from Bush, and this is a potential match-winner.

For, Kerry’s questions are on the money: 1. How is the war going? 2. Should America pull out of Iraq? 3. Is Bush competent enough to win a war? All of these put Bush on the defensive in the Sept. 30 presidential debate. A single debate win can turn the tide: just ask Nixon (vs. Kennedy). It is pretty clear that, pundits notwithstanding, Kerry wiped Bush out in the debate. He looked capable, articulate, presidential.

The first question brings up the ghosts of Vietnam, with McNamara, Westmoreland, et al painting a rosy picture while the war was being lost under their very noses. It can be argued that the Iraq war is getting to be another quagmire. Democracy isn’t going to happen overnight there.

The second question gets more relevant daily, as body bags continue to arrive, and beheadings of Americans continue apace. Bush has vowed to stay the course until Iraq has a stable government. That sounds like a blank check. Kerry now says he will start withdrawing troops next year. Polls show that a sizable majority wants the troops home; see all those yellow ribbons on cars.

The last question is really Bush’s Achilles heel. Even those who like Bush see him as an amiable, incompetent blunderer. His team’s lack of planning for post-war Iraq, the Abu Ghraib debacle, the wild claims of his “Vulcans”: all show him in a poor light.

It is true that Kerry has not managed to energize his potential voters, but with his newfound confidence he should be able to pull off an upset.

Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from New Orleans.

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