Facing down fears

Sep 28th, 2008 | By | Category: International

Sitting at a meeting last Monday, the group gathered were giving American Republicans a pounding, particularly Sarah Palin, the vice-presidential candidate, but the same group would have given Bush a pounding four years ago. There were many who took a similar approach in 2004. There was the disastrous effort by readers of the English liberal Guardian newspaper to get voters in a particular state to vote Democrat.

If the group had not been pounding the McCain campaign, the Taoiseach Brian Cowen would probably have been battered, and, if not him, then some other target of liberal opinion – as if liberal table talk is actually going to change political realities. If such conversations made a difference, if voters were shaped by what columnist wrote in the Irish Times, then Fianna Fail would never be elected – as it is they have won every election since 1982.

If there was a real desire for change, instead of just a delight in expressing angst, there might be a greater effort to understand why people vote the way they do. Why did George W. Bush get home comfortably in 2004? Why is the current US election still a two horse race if McCain is such a disaster and Palin is so inept? Why will tens of millions of Americans vote for a ticket vilified by European liberals?

Posture is easier than engagement. In England, the BNP are a vile lot, but what is it that makes people vote for them in such numbers that they gained one of the twenty-five seats in the London assembly last May? Their entire electorate couldn’t comprise skinheads and backwoodsmen, there must have been ordinary people who voted for them. Don’t the government need to make serious attempts to address the causes of the rise of the extreme Right? Voters supporting neo-fascist and neo-Nazi groups are not all two-headed monsters.

The Austrians went to the polls today. With extraordinary efficiency, they had their results on the Internet, ward by ward, by early evening.

The results from the little village we have visited the past two Januarys, and which we plan to visit next January, mirror those in the rest of the country – the far Right parties aggregating around 30%, the Freedom Party gaining 16.31% and Joerg Haider’s list gaining 13.95%.

Looking through the election result from the village, it is too small to be an anonymous place:

  • SPÖ      68
  • ÖVP    669
  • GRÜNE 50
  • FPÖ     214
  • BZÖ    183
  • LIF         13
  • KPÖ         3
  • RETTÖ    13
  • DC           3
  • FRITZ     96
  • LINKET     0

It is a place where you get to know faces, where people greet you as they pass, where the same families have lived for generations.

One person in three voted for the extreme Right.

Does that mean one of the three hotel barmen? Two of the half dozen waitresses? One of the women in the office? Maybe ten of the ski school instructors? Does it mean half a dozen of the village band? Does it mean one third of those I passed on their way to Mass on the Sunday morning are Right wing extremists?

The people I met were ordinary people; quiet, traditional, conservative country people. If they have been so frightened that almost four hundred of them swung to voting for parties as extreme as any in Britain, then someone needs to ask what is it that arouses such fear?

Sitting around a table and talking is not enough.

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  1. A thought, in England, as opposed to Britain, the tabloid press, such as the Sun, has too much effect on how many people vote.
    I think also that there are those voters who put their X against any name that takes their fancy. without giving any thought to the party. and then there are those that vote for a particular party because their parents, granparents etc. voted that way.

  2. The thing about the US election is that it’s unclear how we can influence the outcome, which will affect us. Yes, we need to understand what makes people vote in the ways they do, but having gained some understanding what can we then do about it? It’s hard not to feel that voting decisions are often based on media images and personal prejudices, not on any real appreciation of what a candidate proposes or might achieve. To be honest, a lot of my political preferences are generated that way – what do I know about Obama apart from what I’m told through the television, radio or papers? – but my prejudices favour measured, articulate, highly educated urban types, who I gather are anathema to much of the American voting public.

  3. I Agree Peter, and then there are those who look at the 3 main parties in this country!!!!!!!!! and have to put their X somewhere else. Ian that is what makes people swing to the extreme parties.

  4. P.S. I’m voting for the ‘Keep the countryside open for all to enjoy, NOT just the Ramblers’ party !!!!

  5. After watching Dispatches on channel 4 last night, and seeing how Ashcroft and Laidlaw both ‘Lords’ ‘fiddle the system’ to finance the self seekers i.e. the tories I realise that the yanks have not learnt their lessons very well, those two have financial manipulation down to a fine art

  6. Wow touched some nerves with this one! I am amazed that people think they are voting for one person and a running mate . . there’s much more to government than the leader. I’ve worked in the Public Service and frankly there’s more truth to “Yes Minister” than we care to admit.
    “Why did George W. Bush get home comfortably in 2004?” He didn’t he won via a Supreme court judgement due to flawed polling in Florida.
    I agree to some degree with Dot, we only know what we are seeing via the media which is largely left wing.

  7. When I went to live in the North in ’83, I couldn’t understand why people couldn’t behave in a ‘reasonable’ way and act according to ‘liberal’ values that operated in England – I completely misunderstood their worldview (as did successive secretaries of state).

    After the decline of organized religion in Europe, there was a tendency on the part of liberal rationalists to assume their view was normative (as the church had done in previous centuries). Certain things are ruled in: multiculturalism, multinationalism, egalitarianism, etc; and certain things are ruled out. The things being ruled out, or being perceived as being ruled out, are obviously things dear to people’s hearts

    The Sun is a very skillful newspaper – its object is to sell as many copies as possible. It will not try to lead – in doing so it might alienate people; but it will gauge where people are going and be at their forefront. Its editorials are fascinating – in a paper known for Page 3, they are quite socially conservative.

    PS. It was the 2000 election that was disputed; in 2004 it was clear.

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