Faith Edges out Empiricism by a Nose

November 3rd, 2004 | by ian |

This eastern Canadian was up until 3AM election night until it was pretty clear what was going to happen down south. With much of the world I followed this US election closely because we all know thanks to the 2000 election that who the Americans choose (I mean who gets elected) has far reaching implications for the rest of us.

Canadian politicians thank the USA for making them look good

I don’t believe Canadian politics are very effective these days, but I am simply appalled by the US political system: the ridiculous money spent on partisan propaganda campaigns instead of educating the population on real issues, the special interest groups who provide the money and pressure to do this, and the resulting lack of real options from which to choose. This is the beacon of democracy for the world?

Not Partisan, Nor a Hack

Before I continue let me make my position clear. I’m non-partisan. I’m not American. I have never liked G.W. Bush or his dad. While I liked Kerry initially because he plays hockey, it didn’t take much learning about his views to decide that I don’t support him either. Despite all this I had a position for this election: I wanted the Bush administration out because they are clearly detrimental to the USA and rest of the world. Given a choice of my own, I would pick the devil who might not be over the devil who clearly is.

Detrimental you say? Prove it!

Why should the Bush administration not be entrusted to run the most powerful nation in the world: start with this list of facts most of appear to be correct. These guys have presided over some scary stuff: the Minority-Report-like doctrine of preemptive war, the Patriot Act, the Induce Act and the followup Piracy Deterrence and Eduction Act (PDEA). They have completely mismanaged the war on Iraq. Anyone out there who can give me some good things to say about them better help me out in the comments section below.

Stepping Back a Bit

Regardless of whether you argue that the Bush administration is doing a good job or not, there is no question that they have managed to undermine the international credibility of the United States’ foreign policies. So if you argue that they have done well for the most part, they obviously have failed to manage the perception of their administration internationally (see La Presse’s sondage). So the obvious question is: why vote for the Bush administration?

Why Vote for Bush?

The results of exit polls on the “most important issue” tell us: over 60% of Bush’s voters support him because they are concerned about “Terrorism” or “Moral Values”. The “most important quality” Bush supporters admire in their leader are: “Religious Faith”, “Strong Leadership”, “Clear Stand on Issues”, “Honest and Trustworthy.”

Let us discard “honest and trustworthy” since anyone who believes that about Bush (or probably most politicans) is wearing opaque glasses. We are left with Bush’s stand against terrorism and his religious faith as the 2 major reasons he was elected.

Reason 1: Terrorism

It strikes me as contradictory that New York was attacked by terrorists and New York voted overwhelmingly for Kerry. Bush voters, most of whom clearly don’t live in New York, cited terrorism as a primary reason for their choice. People who cite terrorism as a reason to vote for Bush like his uncompromising stance on terrorism and his willingness to spend lots of money to combat it far and wide. Bush and Cheney in particular managed to convince Americans all over the USA that terrorism is a genuine threat to all (although medical error kills 20x as many Americans every year than died during 911) and everyone must be prepared to make sacrifices to combat it. Among those that think the Iraq war was a mistake, most support the “war on terror.” And who wouldn’t given Bush’s rhetoric of either being with him or with the terrorists.

Reason 2: Faith

Bush captured the Christian vote. I am unsurprised that the network of believers dramatically outperformed the democratic youth brigade in bringing their families and neighbours out to vote. I am sure it helped to have the active endorsement of church leaders. Again, at first this seems to be a contradiction since Bush’s actions go against many of the basic tenets of Christian thought. But like most human endeavours religion in practice is different from theory, and religion in the USA, particularly the “red” states is more about faith and forgiveness than about not straying from the guiding principle. In that sense, Bush himself a devout believer, is what most other keepers of the faith would aspire towards.


Bush benefitted from the fear, uncertainty and doubt surrounding the threat of more terrorist strikes and appealed to the Christian faith that he would lead the USA down a righteous path. Given the shock and horror of the American public, and the inability to understand the root causes of the terrorist attacks, the vote to keep Bush in power makes some sense. Perhaps it is unsurprising that Israel, where the (far greater) terrorism they face and their devout faith that are key aspects of their lives is one of the only nations to strongly support Bush.

My friend Jess who ekes out a living doing religious studies was explaining to me that geography, politics and religion are often inextricably linked and tend to be expressed as ethno-nationalism where identity and worldview are determined by a combination of where you live, your local leaders, and your faith.

Clearly there are some real differences in the USA between northern coastal states and land-locked and southern states. Perhaps some time in the future we will see new political boundries emerge, as indicated in this much circulated joke:

More likely we will see a continuing culture clash throughout the nation on issues like:

  • Faith vs. Empiricism
  • Dogma vs. Education
  • Decisiveness vs. Sustainable solutions
  • Stay the course vs. Adaptation
  • Unilateralism vs. Cooperation

It all points to ideological battles to come.

Moving Forward

Since changing the system seems to be out of the question any time soon, let me focus on the silver linings surrounding Bush’s re-election

  • Canadians will have an opportunity to more clearly differentiate our values from the USA and reaffirm our leadership in foreign policy and diplomacy. I say “opportunity”since it is not clear if Paul Martin will actively oppose US foreign policy. I expect Canada will try to keep a low profile, be willing to compromise on controversial issues and avoid irritating the our most important trading partner. Hopefully our minority government will do otherwise and has already showed signs of dissent on the North American missile defense system.
  • Given 4 more years, the Bush administration will have a chance to prove beyond all doubt to their supporters that they are leading the USA in a direction that is bad for all inhabitants of this planet, save perhaps the cockroaches. Or they will have an oppotunity to reverse course.
  • I don’t think Kerry had the leadership, charisma or most importantly a suitable environment required to effectuate significant change had he won the election. At least the Democrats have 4 years to find a better alternative: someone who the people can identify with, speak without putting us to sleep, and make simple arguments that most of the electorate can understand. Above all they need someone who can find common ground to unify the polarized electorate.
  • A final benefit is that the Daily Show with John Stewart will continue to be side-splittingly funny. The Bush camp are simply too rife with absurdities, and while John is a funny guy, I give most of the credit to the administration for making that show a success.

And to anyone who has braved this article today, I am no political expert. Please comment, correct or expand on anything I have discussed. Learning is fun!

Post a Comment