Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Was Kerry too Complex?

Here's Slate's William Saletan weighing in on this subject:

But if you're dissatisfied with Bush—or if, like me, you think he's been the worst president in memory—you have a lot of explaining to do. Why don't a majority of voters agree with us? How has Bush pulled it off?

I think this is the answer: Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity.

Bush is a very simple man. You may think that makes him a bad president, as I do, but lots of people don't—and there are more of them than there are of us. If you don't believe me, take a look at those numbers on your TV screen.

Think about the simplicity of everything Bush says and does. He gives the same speech every time. His sentences are short and clear. “Government must do a few things and do them well,” he says. True to his word, he has spent his political capital on a few big ideas: tax cuts, terrorism, Iraq. Even his electoral strategy tonight was powerfully simple: Win Florida, win Ohio, and nothing else matters. All those lesser states—Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire—don't matter if Bush reels in the big ones.

And later:

This is what so many people like about Bush's approach to terrorism. They forgive his marginal and not-so-marginal screw-ups, because they can see that fundamentally, he “gets it.” They forgive his mismanagement of Iraq, because they see that his heart and will are in the right place. And while they may be unhappy about their economic circumstances, they don't hold that against him. What you and I see as unreflectiveness, they see as transparency. They trust him.

Now look at your candidate, John Kerry. What quality has he most lacked? Not courage—he proved that in Vietnam. Not will—he proved that in Iowa. Not brains—he proved that in the debates. What Kerry lacked was simplicity. Bush had one message; Kerry had dozens. Bush had one issue; Kerry had scores. Bush ended his sentences when you expected him to say more; Kerry went on and on, adding one prepositional phrase after another, until nobody could remember what he was talking about. Now Bush has two big states that mean everything, and Kerry has a bunch of little ones that add up to nothing.

I agree with much of what Saletan is saying here, but there is a serious problem as well. There was nothing even slightly complicated in anything Kerry said during the campaign. The problem wasn't a lack of simplicity, it was that he dared to consider an occasional practical detail or too. Americans don't like that. Saletan basically says as much when he says that voters trust Bush and see that his heart and his will are in the right place. Apparently merely wanting to install democracy in Iraq is enough to make people overlook your incompetence in getting the job done.

Of course, Saletan is using the word “simplicity” as a euphemism for “stupidity”. Saletan is saying pretty clearly that what Bush understood that Kerry didn't was that people care more about what you believe than what you do. That's a very fundamentalist sort of mindset. Remember that within conservative Christianity, what you do when you're alive has no impact on your fate in the afterlife. It is belief in Christ that gets you into heaven. Mahatma Gandhi is rotting in hell right now (unless he secretly converted to Christianity). Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler could be in heaven, as long as he made a sincere conversion to Christianity two seconds before his death. Many of the things fundamentalists believe are monstrous and immoral, a fact that is obvious to Nicholas Kristof, William Saletan, and all other thoughtful people religious or not. But these are the people who must be appeased in the South and Midwest to win a national election.


At 6:46 PM, Blogger Larry said...

As a non-American (I am Australian), it scrares me how much influence the religous fundamentalists have in America and that your president is one of them. In Australia we have a large fundamentalist christian movement, as I am sure you are already aware, but they have had little influence on our politics so far. What is the same everywhere is that people like simple answers even if they are totaly wrong. As any thinking person should know things in life are seldom simple.

I find George Bush the scariest man in politics in the world today for the reasons that he seems to only have simple answers and a lot of them are rooted in his fundamentalist christian idealogy and he weilds the most power of any world leader. It can be only hoped that one day the majority of the people can realise that simple answers are for simple minded people and that real answers can be complicated and difficult for all parties involved to accept.


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