I was reading a story in the Washington Post a week or so ago and I had
this epiphany. I don't have epiphanies as often as I used to, so I want
to talk about this one.
The story was about the results of a Post-ABC poll. Here's what
"Nearly two in three likely voters who support President Bush65
percentsaid they were very enthusiastic about their candidate while 42
percent of Sen. Kerry's supporters express similarly high levels of
enthusiasm for their choice
That's when my epiphany kicked in.
It's true, I think, that most likely Kerry voters are far more
restrained in their enthusiasm for their candidate. And most likely Bush
voters are far more wildly enthusiasticalmost religiously soabout the
president. That 65-42 difference in party enthusiasm strikes me as about
But here's my epiphany: in any election, there are two kinds of
enthusiasmpositive and negative. Positive enthusiasm is when you
really, really like your candidate. Negative enthusiasm is when you really,
really don't like your candidate's opponent.
And I"ll make you a bet: I"ll bet that as many, if not more,
elections are decided by negative enthusiasm as are decided by positive
enthusiasm. Voters who really, really can't stand a candidate are at
least as likely to vote as voters who really, really like a candidate.
So taking a poll that determines positive enthusiasm but not
negative enthusiasm makes for poor prognostication.
Because if I can barely tolerate one candidate but cannot think
about the other one without wanting to barf, I'm certain to vote for the
barely tolerable guyat least as certain as the positively enthusiastic
are to vote for the other guy.
But that's not going to show up in the Post's poll results because
the Post doesn't measure the Barf Factor.
Some Democrats used to call themselves "yellow-dog Democrats" to
signify that they'd vote for a yellow dog if it was running against a
Republican. And it does seem to me that Kerry is going to get a lot of
yellow-dog Democrat votes.
Not that they like Kerry more, but that they like Bush less.
You know something's brewing when Nebraska Republicans start
grumbling about our Republican president. Sen. Chuck Hagel said last
month that "The Republican Party has come loose of its moorings
deep trouble" because of "all these smart guys who got us in there
all the smart guys who said how easy this was going to be and who
reassured us not to worry." And former Representative Doug Bereuter
called the war a "mistake. The cost in casualties and long-term financial
costs are incredible."
And consider these recent examples of even more negative
John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopal Bishop, writes that
'My feelings about the Bush Administration have reached a visceral
negativity, the intensity of which surprises even me. So I decided to
search introspectively to identify its source
.I did not react this way
to other Republican presidents
.My feelings are quite specifically Bush
related." Then he goes on to talk about, among other things, the
president's attack on the patriotism of John McCain in 2000, of Max
Cleland in 2002, and of John Kerry this year. "For a candidate who ducked
military service by securing a preferential appointment to the Texas National
this takes gall indeed."
The Truth, Mainly
Steve Brozak, Iraqi war vet, a former Marine running for
Congress, says this of the Bush administration: "They lied to us.There
were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no planning, just this
sense of arrogance and contempt by the civilians in this administration."
E.L. Doctorow, novelist, writes in the East Hampton (NY) Star
that "this president does not know what death is. He hasn't the mind for
it. You see him joking with the press, peering under the table for the
weapons of mass destruction he can't seem to find
.He does not mourn.
He doesn't understand why he should mourn
.To mourn is to express regret
and he regrets nothing
.He had not the mind to perceive the costs of
war, or to listen to those who knew those costs. He did not understand that
you do not go to war when it is one of the options but when it is the only
option; you go not because you want to but because you have to."
And the Lone Star Iconoclast, the newspaper published in the
president's home town (and which endorsed Bush in 2000), lays out a
four-page charge against the president which ends with this: "The
Iconoclast wholeheartedly endorses John Kerry."
The piece devotes 33 paragraphs to Bush's defects, and only seven
paragraphs to Kerry's merits. And it ends with a Kerry endorsement. Now
that's negative enthusiasm.
And it's what willif anything willwin the presidency for John
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail