Last night the funny and inspiring Steve Raker sent a group of us a message that said simply: Can you feel it?
Inside the message were just four words: It’s the tipping point…
Steve was referring to yesterday’s Ipsos/AP poll showing Kerry ahead 50-46%. I think he’s right in his perception that the advantage has tipped. I’m also beginning to think that the pollsters have completely misunderstood the very small ‘undecided’ vote: The 92% of people who are not undecided are merely saying they’ve made up their minds for now who to vote for, not that they won’t change their minds between now and election day. A significant majority of Americans describe themselves as moderates, and they are flexing their political muscle. John Kerry’s campaign made a shrewd (or cynical, if you’re cynical) choice to position their candidate as more moderate than Bush, and it’s working. I believe what we are seeing in the polls is a large number of people saying: OK, now I know a bit more about him, I trust this Kerry guy not to do anything crazy and embarrass America. At the same time, I’m not happy with what’s going on in Iraq. So in terms of foreign policy it’s now a toss-up, and I’m really unhappy about what’s happening here in America, so maybe I’ll vote for Kerry. The Republican Congress will keep him in check anyway.
This is not the polarized thinking we outside the US so often hear about. It’s very pragmatic, considered, middle-of-the-road thinking. It’s even, perhaps, an expression of annoyance at being taken for granted. A quiet little rebellion by God-fearing, church-going, moderate conservative Americans against the frothing neocons that keep telling them, in wacko mailings and fear-mongering sermons: Of course you’re going to vote for Bush in November, but can’t you campaign for him, too, and talk to your friends and persuade them, and by the way we need you to give us some more money…
In terms of foreign policy, and policy on health care, I don’t see a lot of difference in positions between Kerry and Bush. What I do see is a great difference in approach between the two candidates and their machines. While they both reserve the right to make unilateral decisions to protect American interests, for Bush this is a preferred course of action, while for Kerry it’s a last resort. The Kerry campaign has the advantage of intelligence, an appreciation for diplomacy and complexity, a preference for a moderate course of action. Despite the neocon smear campaign to paint Kerry as a Swift Boat rogue and flip-flopper (which was a brilliant plan, incompetently executed), the Kerry campaign has positioned their candidate as reasonable and decisive. This is the balance moderates, I think, want to see.
In terms of economic policy, education policy, and policy on the environment, I think the candidates are poles apart, and this is overwhelmingly in Kerry’s favour. American’s aren’t buying the nonsense that offshoring is good for the country, that the erosion of decent jobs has stopped, or that monster deficit spending will somehow fix itself. And while the environment is not a critical issue to most voters, there is great unease at Bush’s reckless record — for their children’s sake, at least. Bush’s backers have simply been too extreme in their programs in these areas, and this has given conservatives an incentive, and an excuse, to vote for Kerry.
The news, both at home and abroad, is likely to continue to be bad, and that should tip the balance even further. While it’s too early to rest in the campaign, especially with the corruption of the vote in Florida and the vulnerabilities of the voting machines in many states, it’s time to start thinking seriously again about the program to undo some of the damage of the past four years, and the five critical steps I described last year to rebuild the American civic state. These five steps will not be high on the agenda of a new Kerry administration, but it’s absolutely essential that progressives, and all Americans who care about the sorry state of democracy and civil liberties, keep his feet to the fire on these five issues, so that we don’t have to face the nightmare of the last four years again.