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November 14, 2004 by AK

Masha (Maria) Lipman on Bush, Part 1

As promised a few days ago. The original piece in Gazeta.ru is pretty long, and I get tired easily, so I broke the thing up into two parts.

Plain and plainer

George Bush invariably demonstrates an unmuddied worldview. The secret of his success is Christian values for the non-rich, low taxes for the rich.

Bush’s convincing victory has shown to outside observers the America that outsiders, including us in Russia, can barely see. In the country which — seemingly — is an engine of modernization, in the great space between the two oceans, here and there a traditionalist, conservative populace resides, retaining pretty archaic ideas of the world.

The American press is replete with articles by begrudged liberal observers who have to admit that it was the support of this, unmodernized America that decided Bush’s victory. Defeat is always bitter, but such defeat is particularly so: it is the Democrats who have traditionally counted themselves the party concerned with the “common people,” while the Repulicans’ pillar is big business.

Bill Clinton’s thesis, “It’s the economy, stupid!” held true during his presidency and ensured his reelection, but it did not work in this campaign. Bush got elected a second time despite a weaker economy, growth of unemployment (the number of the unemployed had fallen during a president’s term for the first time since the Great Depression), a huge budgetary deficit, and a tax cut that had mostly benefitted the rich. The Americans’ choice could be explained by assuming they hold security above pecuniary well-being, hence trust Bush who, after all, has managed to protect America against terrorist acts since 9/11.

This is partly true. About a fifth of the electorate say terrorism was the most important issue in their choice of the candidate, and almost all of them (86%) voted for Bush. But those who put the economy first made up about a fifth of the total, too, and did not vote for Bush — a great majority (80%) of these rationally thinking voters chose Kerry.

On the other hand, those who are burdened with concerns of a spiritual kind and values “moral values” [exactly so in the Russian text: tsenit “moral’nye tsennosti”] above all — they number even a little more than a fifth — chose Bush without reservation (79%). These Americans populate the “Red Zone” — a term that liberal commenators use these days a lot. The “red,” Republican states, as one could see on the US map during the election, take up space way larger than our own “Red Belt” [Russian regions traditionally voting Communist after 1991]; their redness, of course, has nothing in common with left ideas.

Denizens of the “Red Zone” don’t just diligently go to church, but willingly refer to themselves as born-again Christians [the term was rendered in English], that is, having found faith anew, with a zeal and neophytic ardor; equally unreflective is their love for America as an incarnation of Good, and their conviction that American values are unconditional and universal. It is with disapproval, even hatred, that they regard the cosmopolitan mass culture of big cities and all sorts of outsiders as well as liberal social novelties which insult their morality: the woman’s right to abortion; all those same-sex marriages; scientific research encroaching upon the nature of man, and in particular, secularity.

Anatol Lieven, the author of a recently published book on American nationalism [America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism; Lieven is also an expert on Russia, Ukraine and the Baltics], writes that America is “not quite a modernized country” which “in its religious outlook… is much closer to developing than developed countries.” [Quotes in reverse translation, sorry.] Reflecting on the causes of these cultural traits, Lieven remarks that, unlike Europe, America “underwent almost none of the disasters Europe suffered in the last two centuries,” and therefore retained a virginity of worldview. “Threats to the very existence of European civilization… literally burned outward-directed militant nationalism out of European culture. Besides, these disasters helped further undermine religiosity.”

While post-war Europe was painfully contemplating the possiblity of God after Auschwitz, the attitude to religion, and to the country itself, remained largely the same in America as in the Europe of a century earlier, before the world wars.

No doubt, the under-modernized segment of American populace did not emerge today — it had to be taken into account at every election. But this time the American voter obviously moved rightward, towards conservatism, traditional values and religious fundamentalism. The most important reason for that were the 9/11 acts of terrorism: a sense of danger was pushing people back to their roots; fear deepened their distrust of the globalized world outside, and the sense of America’s being in the right got a boost from Americans’ perceiving themselves as victims.

Anyway, George Bush, who, by the way, also counts himself among the born-again Christians, fits the likings of traditionally-minded voters as he invariably demonstrates a simple and unmuddied view of the world where Good and Evil are clearly separated, and Good undoubtedly must win. Bush, along with his voters, is sick of newfangled whims like same-sex marriages. By the way, same-sex marriages have recently been legalized in Kerry’s Massachusetts, while they were outlawed in ten other states via referenda on the election day.

Bush has a steadfast sense of being right, which directly follows from his being President of the USA: would the Lord have let America become the strongest were it not the source and measure of Good! It means whatever America — headed by Bush – does, is good and right, especially as President makes no decision without having consulted God. Bush’s religiosity is of a most simple sort: it is a faith that allows him to shift responsibility to God while keeping his calm and self-confidence despite the growing chaos in Iraq, the Americans who die there every day, the shame of Abu Ghraib and the giant budgetary deficit.

To be continued.


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