Two chants resounded during the recent presidential campaign: “Four more years!” and “No more years!” There is no need to tell which belonged to whom and who the eventual winner was. What remains problematic is how and why President George W. Bush was victorious and what does this mean for Black America?
Perhaps the most common reason given for Bush’s trumping John Kerry is that the Republican Party was able to arouse its constituents in record numbers, which offset the increased new voter registrants, particularly the youth vote, whose ranks swelled extraordinarily. (Though, as in the 2000 election, it constituted only 17 percent.) President Bush was re-elected because “53 percent of voters approved of his performance as president,” David Brooks declared in an op-ed piece in The New York Times. “Fifty-eight percent of them trust Bush to fight terrorism,” Brooks continued. “They had roughly equal confidence in Bush and Kerry to handle the economy. Most approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Most see it as part of the war on terror.”
Brooks dismissed the notion that the issue of moral values was a prominent factor in the victory, that “faith triumphed over facts,” as so many other commentators concluded. This factor may have been overly weighted in exit polls because of the way the “moral values” question was worded. It was not specifically defined.
Even more troubling is what is meant by faith. Faith in whom and to what end? Apart from the Christian neoconservatives, there are countless numbers of God-fearing Christians who view Bush and his cronies as Pharisees who are leading us to damnation. In this regard, the strategy of Karl Rove, Bush’s brain, to focus on rural America, where endemic racism cannot be separated from the fear factor and the idea that changing presidents in the middle of a war is foolhardy, was probably a more decisive factor in the victory.
Some even contend that his victory once again stemmed from a Supreme Court ruling, only this time it was the Massachusetts Supreme Court and its ruling in favor of same-sex marriage. It unleashed an emotional firestorm, prompting voters in 11 states to approve constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage, though this fact is mitigated in some instances where states had previously decided along these lines.
This latter issue obviously impacted even Black churchgoers, many of whom view themselves as Christian conservatives. Given Bush’s sweep in the Bible Belt and his 3 million vote margin over Kerry in the popular vote, he didn’t really need 11 percent of the Black vote, a 2 percent hike from four years ago. He could have continued to take their votes for granted as the Democrats have done since the 1930s.
“Democrats count on getting the bulk of the Black vote,” wrote Anita Hill, a professor of law at Heller Graduate School of Brandeis University, “and Republicans count on the proportionately higher white voter count to offset that advantage.” Hill also claimed that there was widespread intimidation of Black voters. “Fortunately, Ohio Republicans backed off from a plan to use poll challengers,” she added. “But the choice to litigate in federal court for the right to use untrained personnel to go after individuals rather than those who were registering them, lends support to the conclusion that the goal was intimidation and not fraud prevention.”
So what’s next? Will Bush’s second term spell increased repression? Among the expected changes at the time of this writing is a new chief justice of the Supreme Court. Could that be Clarence Thomas?
“What’s at stake for the long term includes a range of challenges to the Patriot Act,” said law professor and Nation magazine columnist Patricia Williams. “The power to conduct secret, warrantless searches of homes and computers, the ability to detain people without charge and for indefinite periods of time, the right to protest in public places. In addition, it seems certain that a large number of voting rights cases will work their way up to the Supreme Court. The answers to questions about everything from redistricting to electoral oversight will determine our future for decades to come.”
Many Americans perceive Bush’s first term as just a dress rehearsal for the advent of full-blown fascism, possibly making Obama a more convenient target than Osama. An oft-cited quote by the great economist and theoretician Karl Marx seems quite appropriate with Bush resuming office: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”
Herb Boyd is an award-winning author and journalist. He is the national editor of The Black World Today, a leading publication on the Internet, and teaches African and African-American history at the College of New Rochelle in New Rochelle, N.Y.
By Herb Boyd