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Web Editorial - September 2004

White Men Can Jump (Bush's) Ship

By Rob Okun
MRC Co-Director

Arnold Schwarzenegger notwithstanding, American manhood is in transition, moving away from George W.'s "Wanted: Dead or Alive" bluster, used to describe his hunt for Osama Bin Laden (remember him, Mr. Bush?) and toward a "kinder, gentler" manhood embodied by baseball home run king Mark McGwire a few years ago.

Enter Bush's Every (White) Man Voter. Now that the conventions and Labor Day are over and the kids are back in school, are these taken-for-granted white males ready to take a fresh look at the election?

It's dangerous to try to trick these hardworking, patriotic men who fiercely believe in America. Men who assemble our cars, teach our children, sell us our insurance, build our skyscrapers. Men who save to put their kids through college. Men who fish our streams and hunt our woods. Men who believe in working hard and playing fair. They don't like being lied to, even as Bush strategist Karl Rove rubs his hands in glee, believing he's got their vote in the bag.

Cruising under most pundits' radar is the fact that many of these independent-minded men are more uncomfortable with Mr. Bush's military-commander-wannabe poses than with his questionable tour of duty in the Texas Air National Guard (even as renewed concerns over that service surface). They are uncomfortable, too, with the chicken hawk gang: Vice President Dick Cheney, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz.They all got deferments and didn't serve a day during Viet Nam. Same for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the Korean War. Their collective AWOL status from the military really means something to these guys.

But the Bush campaign may be in for a November surprise--these men aren't stupid. They know when they're being snookered. And code words like "sensitive" and "girlie-man," even when delivered by Ah-nold, are unlikely to cut it this time.

Image counts for so much in elections and George W.--from droppin' his "g's" and replacing his Connecticut prep school accent with a Texas drawl--has made a career of tryin' to come off as a Texas good ol' boy. But struttin' in jeans, boots and cowboy hat around the Crawford ranch is all an act. Just as was showing up a couple of years ago in the Adirondacks on Earth Day wielding an axe. As the Gipper would say,"There you go again."

Remember the pinnacle of W's posturing, after the U.S. declared an "end to hostilities" in Iraq, in May, 2003? Donning a fighter pilot's flight suit, Mr. Bush landed on the deck of an aircraft carrier, swaggered ("In Texas," he told the Republican convention, "we call that walking.") to a microphone under a banner declaring, "Mission Accomplished." He boasted to the sea of sailors how we'd kicked Iraqi butt and, yep, the war was over. Mission accomplished. A perfect image for TV ads, right? No way. Not when many Iraqis, even those with a limited command of English, believe the word "liberator" is spelled "o-c-c-u-p-i-e-r."

Even die-hard Bush supporters know the quagmire in Baghdad continues to stifle hope for any substantive economic recovery (except maybe if they work for Haliburton). They know, too, the number of U.S. war dead--1,000 and climbing--and that tens of billions of desperately needed domestic dollars are going down a hole deeper than any Saddam could have hid in.

These taken-for-granted white male voters--some served during the Kosovo fighting, some in Gulf War I, others in Viet Nam, may have issues with John Kerry, but at least they know this was a guy who could have ducked military service, but enlisted, served, and fought.

There are a lot of scenarios suggesting the election could come down to how African Americans, or Latinos, or women vote in swing states. But let's not forget about one group Bush thought he had sewn up--white men. Careful, W. Not only are shades of Daddy in '92 beginning to haunt you--"It's the economy, stupid"--"It's about manhood, too, pardner."

Rob Okun can be contacted at [email protected].

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