Kevin O'Brien Chang, Contributor

"A MAN with one watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure." This pretty much sums up the wildly gyrating polls in the 2004 U.S. presidential race.

As this is written, George W. Bush has a slight national lead while John Kerry is just ahead in the so-called battleground states whose electoral votes will decide the election. But the race is too close to call. It might come down to the stock market. If the Dow Jones is below 10,000 on November 2, my money is on Kerry. Above that, it's a toss up.

Lately I've become an American politics junkie. Not only is the Bush-Kerry race one of the tightest ever, there is an unparalleled amount of information available. Anything that affects the race is instantly available on the internet. Yet though much richer and more educated than Jamaica, America's political mentality doesn't seem very different from ours. Parties there use the same mix of sentimentality, disinformation and fear to try and win votes. You would think that by now people everywhere would see through the phony baby hugging and handshaking, the twisting of facts, and the blatant appeals to kneejerk prejudices. But year after year voters all over fall for the same old tricks. Which came first ­ cynical politicians, or lazy and gullible electorates?


One fascinating aspect is the 'who is not with us is against us' tribalism of the political 'blog' websites. Most are either staunchly Democrat or hardcore Republican and filter new information through their particular bias. So, polls showing their man ahead are hailed as supremely accurate, while those showing him behind are flawed nonsense. Both sides are utterly convinced that the MSM ­ or main stream media ­ is unfairly biased against their party and freely spread rumours about fraudulent voter registration and planned voter intimidation. No wonder each party reportedly has 10,000 lawyers stationed in battle ground states. Yet the bloggers are only reflecting a larger reality. For in the 2000 election nearly all the East and West Coast 'blue' states voted for Democrat Al Gore and most of the 'red' ones in-between voted for Republican George Bush. This trend has, if anything, strengthened this time around to the extent that only 10 states are considered competitive. The other 39 and the district of Washington are either overwhelmingly Democrat or Republican. While this electoral divide is on the face of it geographical, pollsters say the Democrats and Republicans divide most strongly on religion and marriage. The pious and wedded strongly vote Republican, while the single and secular clearly tend Democrat. Some see this election as a referendum on American values. Commentators have even dubbed it a slow motion, non-shooting civil war.

Which partly explains the almost rabid support George W. Bush engenders in the so-called 'heartland' South and plains states. To them Dubya is a defender of their Biblically-inspired values against the sinister forces threatening their traditional lifestyle. Though obviously not as viciously racist as that apartheid regime, the angry ranting of some Bush supporters almost reminds one of the siege mentality of pre-1991 South African Afrikaners.

Yet while the outcome this time around remains uncertain, the long term trend is almost certainly liberal 'blue'. Middle America is far more likely to adopt West and East Coast attitudes than the other way around. Perhaps deep down heartlanders know this election is a sort of last stand and fear America's future can be glimpsed in post-Christian Europe. Maybe that is why they are so fiercely antagonistic to anything French.


Like most non-Americans, I want Kerry to win. For one, George W. Bush seems to care nothing for the rest of the planet's opinions.

For two, he has governed disastrously. Simultaneous tax cuts and spending increases have created budget deficits that threaten not only U.S.'s but the world's financial future.

Mismanagement of the unnecessary war in Iraq has dangerously overstretched the American military. And rather than stabilizing the Middle East and lowering oil prices, it has created a new terrorist haven and contributed to record oil prices.

Now I have my doubts about John Kerry. Twenty years of giving speeches in the Senate is not exactly the best leadership training course available. At least Bush had to make hard decisions when he was governor of Texas. What tough calls has Kerry had to make in the past 2 decades? But judging from the debates he is a very intelligent and articulate man who doesn't wilt under pressure. He has a more reassuring presidential aura than Bush. And whatever his faults, it's hard to see him doing a worse job than Dubya.

Amazingly, Bush's team has managed to convince large parts of the electorate that John Kerry is a rich, elitist, indecisive wimp and that George W. Bush is a tough, brave, down home good old boy. Yet Bush and Kerry are both Yale educated millionaire children of privilege. And while John Kerry volunteered for duty in Viet Nam and was wounded in battle, George Bush used his connections to stay safe in the national air guard. It's quite weird to see John Kerry the life long hunter being portrayed as anti-gun, while George Bush who doesn't seem to have fired many shots in his life has become a National Rifle Association icon. There has been a disturbing - and distressingly successful - whiff of Orwellian doublethink about the entire Bush campaign. Abraham Lincoln famously claimed that you can't fool all the people all of the time. Will George W. Bush prove that with enough money you can fool enough of the people enough of the time?

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