When people around the world look at the results of the U.S. elections, it is easy to underestimate the magnitude of the President’s achievement. Not only did President Bush win more votes than any Presidential candidate ever, this election was the first time since 1988 that a candidate won more than 50% of the vote.
You have to go back to 1964 to find the last time a President running for reelection achieved what President Bush did — to both win re-election and increase his party’s majority in both houses of Congress.
These numbers are public knowledge, of course, but there is more to it than this public record. In running his campaign, the President, as a wartime leader, had little choice but to run a remarkably substantive campaign. Agree with him or not, it is hard to argue that he wasn’t clear on what policies he wants for the United States.
In this sense, the President can legitimately claim a mandate as opposed to President Clinton, who ran for re-election on a vague pledge to build a “Bridge to the 21st Century” or President Reagan who won re-election with a campaign claiming that it was “Morning Again in America”. When a candidate frankly declares his intentions and wins while declaring them, those intentions carry legitimacy and weight with legislators and the public. That is what a mandate really means.
It is said that President Bush is hated by citizens of other countries. It is not really clear that this is correct. Some Europeans have denigrated him as “Le Cowboy” and derided him as simple-minded and arrogant. But it is not at all obvious that the great populations of East Asia and Latin America, of Eastern Europe and India, all think this way.
Even if they do, it is not clear what they really want. It is easy to whine and complain when one bears no responsibility for the outcome.
Here was Churchill’s succinct summary of the thinking of neutral states in January 1940: “… their plight is lamentable, and it will become much worse. So their policy now is to bow humbly and in fear to the German threats of violence, knowing that Britain and France will always observe all the laws and conventions while breaches of these laws are only to be expected from the German side. Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last. All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured.”
This pretty much sums it up. It was the United States that was attacked on September 11, 2001, and it is the United States as the quintessential western power that will be targeted again. Other nations can hope to be the most favored nation of the terrorists and avoid being attacked. But these same nations secretly hope that the U.S. succeeds in destroying these terrorists and the movements they represent because, if the day ever comes when the U.S. is destroyed by these groups, nations around the world know that the terrorists will turn on them next.
It pains me as an American to hear citizens of other nations misunderstand the U.S.A. Even those who think they understand the people of the U.S.A. often base their understanding on a few years at our best universities or living in big cities doing business for a time.
Unfortunately, the faculty at Harvard or a community such as the West Side of Manhattan are often as much foreign as any person from overseas. That is the real meaning of those blue and red state maps you see on television. The same maps done on a county-by-county basis show that George Bush won virtually every rural county in the U.S.; John Kerry won most of the urban counties. But how many tourists to America ever experience the “red” counties won by President Bush?
Those who are concerned should be reassured, as there is no constituency in America for making war. This is a capitalist nation and people take the opportunity to pursue happiness very seriously. But America is a nation that is prepared to do what must be done.
It is said that the terrorists have calculated that America is weak, that it doesn’t have the stomach for the long twilight struggle that lies ahead. In this, the terrorists have horribly miscalculated. Having tasted liberty, America cannot abide tyranny and its citizens will willingly pay the price to ensure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.
Having been attacked, we will fight and prevail but in this commercial republic, our preference is to meet others not on the battlefield but in the trading post. We wish to trade, not control, and we wish everyone to benefit through the mutually agreeable exchange, not lay waste to cities.
This was an election in which a choice was made. Not everyone will agree, not everyone will understand, but in the end, the prosperity of the world depends on someone being willing and able to enforce some kind of world order. That role has fallen to the United States, and in this election, the American citizenry accepted the burden. It was none other than the outgoing secretary of state Colin Powell who once said, “One of the fondest expressions around is that we can’t be the world’s policeman. But guess who gets called when somebody needs a cop.”