Dubya the style, Gore the substance

By Mike Bowerman

With an economy smaller than California’s and a population around a tenth of our Southern neighbours’, the results of the American federal election will have a profound impact on Canada, as they will on the world. In one corner,
Gorebot, accused of having a Styrofoam personality and a tall-tale tendency that makes you wonder if his "one-that-got-away" story would be Moby Dick. In the other, George Dubya, with a deer-in-the-headlights confusion about life and politics that seems to make him lovable to voters and adds that "created by Jim Henson" bizarreness to public discourse.

But if competence is at all important to who is going to be piloting the American bull in the global China shop, a stale exaggerator is better at the controls than a bumbling fool.

Asked for his thoughts on Russian President Vladimir Putin, Dubya said that he didn’t have an opinion, but would if he were President. How coy of the candidate to defer his opinions until after he’s elected. Surely a revolutionary strategy: get voters so curious about your opinions that they vote you in just to see what you think. Sort of a Jack-in-the-Box approach to the Presidency.

Dubya’s total lack of foreign policy knowledge plays up every navel-gazing stereotype of Americans in the history of urban myth. We might just have the first U.S. President to show up in Ottawa wearing a parka in July asking if we have TV up here. In a world of increasing interdependence it is vital that the person leading the most powerful military and economic force in the world spends more time thinking strategy and policy than watching Melrose Place.

But Bush is "likeable" we’re told, as if it is relevant. Big Bird is likeable too, but that’s no reason to make him President. That so many commentators focus on image validates the cult-of-personality approach to politics and the world is losing out because of it. Gore gets labeled as arrogant because he is actually capable of talking about both his policies and Bush’s, while Dubya sits and dismisses all that "fuzzy math." Is he equally averse to that fuzzy logic thing? How about all that fuzzy economic stuff? Who’s kidding who here; Web sites devoted to Bush’s verbal gaffes suggest he even finds English fuzzy.

He is part poet: "Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream" (LaCrosse, Wis., Oct. 18, 2000), part pacifist: "I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully" (Saginaw, Mich., Sept. 29, 2000), part entrepreneur: "I understand small business growth. I was one." (New York Daily News, Feb. 19, 2000), part policy wonk: "I will have a foreign-handed foreign policy." (Redwood, Calif., Sept. 27, 2000). He is also the non sequitur personified. Let us pray that the almost 50 per cent of Americans who want to vote for him are actually the ones with the secret decoder rings and not just Baywatch-stupid themselves.

It is at times like these that democracy seems more like a game of Russian roulette than an efficient check on corruption and the abuse of power. Criticism levelled against Gore is valid, but for all of his shortcomings, he is competent. That Dubya is even in the running is a sobering testament to the human obsession with style over substance. The Bush campaign has been the most expensive in the history of elections and his ties and concessions to big business are that much greater than Gore’s. A Bush Presidency will validate the most cynical of accusations about American politics: that the government of the United States is the best money can buy.

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