“Osama wins it for Dubya” is how many sum up George Bush’s victory in the US presidential election. And there’s some truth to this. In the days before Osama Bin Laden appeared live and well on video, John Kerry was surging in the polls and in the betting markets. After Osama’s appearance the money shifted sharply to Bush, and once again the London bookies had it right.


That the video was intended to help Bush can hardly be doubted, unless one considers OBL an idiot. And whatever else he may be, Bin Laden is no fool. Only a man of high intelligence could have organized the horrible but superbly co-ordinated 9/11 attacks. He must have known that to taunt Bush would drive many angry Americans into his camp. Why would Bin Laden want Bush to win? Simply because the current Iraq quagmire is the best recruitment tool Al-Qaeda has had since the Russians left Afghanistan. So a continuation of the current status quo there can only benefit Bin Laden and his kind.


But Bush’s surprisingly large margin of victory suggests that even without this ‘October surprise’ Dubya might still have won. Pundits will naturally give any number of reasons for this result. One is Bush advisor Karl Rove’s brilliant ‘stay on message’ campaign strategy – GWB’s constant repetition of “America needs a strong leader, and I am a strong leader” obviously worked. Another is the demographic shift from the Democrat dominated North to the Republican stronghold South over the past four years - had Kerry defended all the states Al Gore won he would still have gotten 9 less electoral votes due to state population changes. Then there was the Democrats mistaken strategy of appealing to young voters. Parties that put their faith in the youth vote always lose. Young people are too busy seeking mates to pay much attention to politics when it counts.


In my view Kerry’s poor choice of running mate was also decisive. The lightweight John Edwards contributed almost nothing. General Wesley Clark on the other hand would have inoculated Kerry from any ‘weak on war’ criticisms and left him completely free to attack Bush’s poor economic record. It was poor judgement by Kerry, and judgement is above all what people look for in a president.


Many looked to the past to predict the race, but as ever history sent mixed messages. The “If the Washington Redskin football team wins their last home game the incumbent party wins, and if they lose the challenger party wins” predictor had held up for 72 years. Well it failed this time around. The “taller candidate always gets the most votes unless he’s bald” rule held true from 1960 through 2000. But in 2004, 6’ 4” Kerry lost to 5’ 11” Bush.


Yet one logical guide was proven correct - no American president who sought another term during a time of war has ever lost. Perhaps people instinctively agree with Abe Lincoln – himself a war president – that “You shouldn’t change horses in mid stream”.


The presidential candidate with the higher favourability ratings also won again, as has been the case ever since polls were invented. Perhaps in politics likeability trumps everything else. For while Kerry is clearly more intelligent and articulate than Bush, Dubya has a natural common touch that his adversary lacks. And he certainly connects better with the deeply religious heartland.


In the Wizard of Oz story the Tin Man had a brain but no heart, while the Scarecrow had a heart but no brain. Apparently in US politics the Scarecrow nearly always beats the Tin Man. In the Kennedy-Nixon, Carter-Ford, Reagan-Carter, Bush-Dukakis, Clinton-Bush, Clinton Dole races, the more affable guy won every time. The Nixon-Humprey and Nixon-McGovern contests may have been exceptions, although perhaps only post-Watergate revisionism makes us think of Nixon as lacking warmth.


The ‘heart over brains” thesis has also been confirmed many times in Jamaica since 1962. The party of the charismatic Bustamante twice defeated that of the more educated but colder Norman Manley. Hugh Shearer had a much sharper grasp of economic facts than Michael Manley, but it was Michael’s charm the voters preferred. The same was true of the Seaga-Manley contests except for the 1980 election where a frightened nation rejected Manley’s disastrous socialist experiments, and even then Manley came back to win in 1989. And though Seaga had a much more formidable managerial reputation than Patterson, Percival’s greater warmth carried him to three straight triumphs.


This “emotions over intellect” voter preference can, from a bottom line perspective, produce strange results. Michael Manley for instance was by any numerical measure the worst Prime Minister in Jamaica’s history. Under his watch the economy plummeted and the murder rate soared. Hugh Shearer on the other hand was demonstrably our most economically productive PM, overseeing record growth. But in a poll a few years back, 55% chose Manley as “the Prime Minister who has done the most to benefit the people of Jamaica.” Only 1% chose Shearer.


The chattering classes often despair at the stupidity of the ignorant masses. Yet “the many are smarter than the few” is the foundation of modern democracy, and so in the end we must accept the people’s judgement as the wisest choice. George Bush has been freely chosen by his people to lead their country for the next four years, and that is that. We in the outside world who are frightened by his huge deficits and gross mismanagement of the Iraqi war can only hope that Mr. Bush will learn from the mistakes of his first four years and rectify them.

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