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Last Updated: Saturday, 6 November, 2004, 03:10 GMT
Blogging the US election - XIII
Kevin Anderson
Kevin Anderson in Washington adds to his weblog as the US gets to grips with the results of its presidential and congressional elections.

6 November


Well, it's time to sign off for this election blog.

I've been online since the 1980s when my friends showed me a BBS (bulletin-board system) called Diversi-Dial but mostly known as D-Dial.

My friend Chuck used a Commodore 64 and a 2400-baud modem.

I first got on the internet in 1990 when I went off to university.

We had to use Unix commands to do anything, and I never thought it would appeal to anyone without seriously geeky tendencies. The learning curve was too brutal.

But then in the summer of 1993, I played with an alpha version of Mosaic.

Even as primitive as this web browser was, I thought to myself that this was going to change everything I do as journalist.

And of course, Marc Andreesen, who helped create Mosaic, took his degree, went to Silicon Valley and created Netscape.

Why all the deep geek history?

Well, I thought to myself back then sitting at the University of Illinois wow, someday, I'll put together text, pictures, maybe even video and audio and make these really compelling multimedia stories.

And I thought, wow, maybe letters to the editor will be more like an online chat.

A decade later, and we're just starting to get there.

I've been really fortunate to do a lot of cutting edge work here at the BBC.

I remember four years, dashing around the US with correspondent Tom Carver, a videophone, a mini satellite dish and a mini DV cam doing webcasts.

Six days, five webcasts, 6,500 miles. Cutting edge and crazy! But we had some really good interaction with our viewers.

However, I have to say that of all the high-tech projects I've done, this blog, which I consider pretty low-tech, probably comes closest to all my university dreams of what online journalism could be.

I know a lot of you have written in and asked me what I think about this and that.

It's flattering that you care what I think, but I see my job as a BBC blogger to grease the wheels of global dialogue, not to pontificate about what I think.

Besides, you can ask my friends (and definitely my parents), you don't want to encourage that tendency in me. It's a bad enough habit already.

But the best part of the blog has been this virtual conversation.

As I've often said, I'm an American.

Now, I can empathise with my countrymen when they sometimes get bent out of shape because someone is patronisingly telling them how to run their country.

It's a bit irritating. But having said that, I'm always fascinated when someone with a little bit of critical distance has something well thought out to say about my country.

And it's hard for me to hear Americans reflexively heap vitriol on Europeans. It's not really productive.

But that's not what has been happening here in the blog.

Yes, we have our little flame wars, but I was just sitting this morning, scrolling through all your comments and being amazed at the range and intelligence of the comments.

I hope that people reading the blog got a broader sense of who Americans are and what they think, not just from me but from all of the really wide range of opinion that came in.

I hope that Americans got a better sense of the world out there.

Not everyone out there is as anti-American as some here think, and most of the anti-European stereotypes are just as ridiculous as anti-American stereotypes.

Chew on that for a minute everyone. It's a little more productive than shouting at one another.

All this talk about enemies has made us all forget who our friends are.

But oh, I'm starting to pontificate. As Christian Slater said in the movie Pump Up the Volume: "Stick a fork in me. I'm done."

Thank you for your time, your intelligence and your respect not only for me but for one another. It's your comments that have made the blog a success.

I'm sure we'll see each other somewhere out there in cyberspace. Thanks again and good night.

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5 November


Well, time is winding down on this election blog, but just a few final thoughts.

Call it post-electoral philosophising. It's what happens when I don't get enough sleep.

Eric Alterman, a columnist for The Nation and MSNBC, wrote a book entitled ''When Presidents Lie''.

He examines Franklin Roosevelt and Yalta, John Kennedy and the Cuban missile crisis, Lyndon Johnson and the Gulf of Tonkin and Ronald Reagan and the Iran-Contra scandal.

And Mr Alterman concludes that the lies of the past lead "inexorably, to George W Bush's 'Post-Truth' Presidency".

I'm not going to touch that with a barge pole.

But I am left wondering after this campaign if we as Americans are entering post-truth politics.

Yesterday, in taking a look at how deeply held moral values were crassly manipulated for best political effect by Republicans, I didn't fully explore how Democrats engaged in their own distortions.

It was pointed out by conservatives writing into the blog, including Judy O'Day in Indiana who wondered how I as a lying member of the liberal media slept at night.

But apart from questions about my sleep-wake cycles, it was great to hear some excellent defences of the conservative position. Thanks.

But I digress. Not for any false sense of balance, but to expand on my brief mention of Democrat distortions, I'll point to a few.

Democrats continued to charge that President Bush intended to reinstate the draft. He denied this several times.

For some Democrats, Mr Bush's word is worthless, and Mr Kerry made a more nuanced charge that "stop-loss orders" and extension of tours of duty were in effect "a back door draft".

But Mr Bush stated several times he would not reinstate the draft.

And Mr Kerry had no basis for saying that President Bush would cut Social Security benefits by 45% or that he subsidises companies to send jobs overseas.

And as FactCheck.org and several other journalists pointed out, neither candidates' plans for "energy independence" were feasible. It just ain't possible.

And as Factcheck.org also said of their and all the media's efforts to sift fact from fiction: "We haven't addressed every false or misleading statement in the campaign - there were too many of them and our resources are too limited for that."

And then there were the 527s, these non-party political groups like MoveOn.org and Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

See above statement from Factcheck.org about lack of time and money to address all of the misleading statements.

Maybe I'm too Jeffersonian, (as in Thomas Jefferson), and am na´ve and idealist in believing as he did that "let common sense and common honesty have fair play, and they will soon set things to rights".

Here's my problem with all of this plain and simple.

The politics of distortion and deception has led to mistrust in government in the US, pick your party, it's a non-partisan issue.

And as Judy in Indiana demonstrates, there are many who have no faith in the "fact-checking gaze of the media" as I put it yesterday.

But not wanting to say anything about the outcome of the election but more about the process, is there something wrong when the debate becomes so debased?

Again, I'll show my idealism. As a journalist, I believe very deeply in John Milton's marketplace of ideas, where truth and falsehood grapple and truth more often than not wins.

What happens when there is so much falsehood that truth doesn't stand a chance?

As commentators pointed out, the candidates could get away with not only little white lies but even a fair number of pretty obvious, medium-sized ones in the debates, and they would go unchallenged long enough to become accepted wisdom.

At any rate, post-truth politics, bad thing, or am I just guilty of being politically puritanical? Maybe it's not about truth at all.

Come on you amateur historians out there. I am sure that you can send in a long list of historical "whoppers" - American slang for the really big lies - that politicians have told throughout history.

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4 November


A few days ago, before I took my election day break from the blog, I asked what issues you thought weren't talked about enough during the campaign.

The last couple of weeks of the campaign are always devoid of substance. That's why it's called the "silly season".

But what about the rest of the campaign? What about the debates? What questions would you have asked of the candidates?

Someone wrote in to the blog, asking what the candidates were saying about environmental issues. They didn't have much to say.

The high-water mark for talk about the environment had to be during the second debate, when citizen James Hubb asked: "Mr President, how would you rate yourself as an environmentalist? What specifically has your administration done to improve the condition of our nation's air and water supply?"

President Bush responded: "I've got a plan to increase the wetlands by three million. We've got an aggressive brown field programme to refurbish inner-city sore spots to useful pieces of property.

"I proposed to the United States Congress a Clear Skies Initiative to reduce sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and mercury by 70%."

Mr Kerry responded: "The Clear Skies bill that he just talked about, it's one of those Orwellian names you pull out of the sky, slap it onto something, like 'No Child Left Behind', but you leave millions of children behind. Here, they're leaving the skies and the environment behind."

But that was about it for discussions about the environment.

Social Security, the public retirement benefit system in the US, is heading for a meltdown.

Apart from a few misleading attack ads, neither candidate would honestly address the issue.

But why would they want to? The meltdown in the system is still way off.

However, Social Security trustees said that by 2078, either payroll taxes would have to be increased by 50%, or benefits will have to be cut by 32%.

But then I don't know of any American under the age of 40 who expects that the Social Security system will still be there by the time they retire.

But what issues did you want to hear about that weren't discussed at all?


I don't know how much faith to put in the exit polls, seeing as they were so wrong about the outcome in so many states.

But probably one of the biggest stories to come out of the election is the "moral values" vote.

The exit polls found that 22% of voters said that "moral values" were their number one issue in the election, a bigger issue than the war in Iraq, bigger than terrorism, bigger even than the economy.

Democrats have argued that they have morals too, and they say that all this talk about moral values is just code for opposition to abortion and gays.

But of the 22% of voters who said that "moral values" was the most important issue to them, 80% voted for President Bush.

To understand what was at work, we need to take a quick look at not only what was said by the candidates, but also what messages were going out in automated robo-calls and in direct mail.

Conservative activist and former Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer set up an organisation called Americans United to Preserve Marriage.

They poured $1m into Ohio, Michigan, and other states where propositions to ban same-sex marriage were on the ballot.

The group warned that if John Kerry were elected president, homosexuals would be allowed to marry and polygamy would be also permitted.

Mr Kerry stated on several occasions his opposition to same-sex marriage, but not civil unions. As for polygamy, the issue was never discussed during the campaign.

But it wasn't just about gay marriage.

The Republican National Committee mailed church-goers in West Virginia and Arkansas with letters saying that if they didn't vote for Republican candidates, godless liberals would ban the Bible from American life.

Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln has responded by saying: "I hope that there will be an apology for their claims that Democrats want to ban the Bible, and the inference that Democrats for some reason cannot have a faith as close or as deeply held as the other party."

This isn't to say that Democrats don't use direct mail campaigns.

They do, and often the messages fly under the radar of the media as the much more high-profile ad campaigns get all the attention and are dissected in detail.

These messages can often be more strident and less accurate because they escape the fact-checking gaze of the media.

The first casualty of politics is often the truth.

Hi Kevin,
I'm a Ph.D. student at UCLA and the atmosphere here is kind of as if someone died. People walk around in a bleary, world-weary stupor, trying not to talk about the obvious thing getting us down. Almost half of the electorate voted against Bush, yet he undoubtedly will govern as if "all America" supports and loves him. My sense is that centrists and liberals will be befuddled for awhile, but quickly get back to their role of attacking the right, albeit from the sidelines, on the grounds that hey, what else are we going to do? Bush has made activists of even the moderates.
Andrew Rosenblum, Los Angeles, CA USA

My biggest disappointed with this election is that Kerry was the best that the Democrats could come up with. The Democratic Party is out of touch with the American public. A large portion of the Democratic vote was anti-Bush and not pro-Kerry. That is the wrong reason to vote a particular party. They have moved too far left of centre to be an effective political party. They can not embrace people like Michael Moore and expect to be a party of the people.
Fred DiMarco, Moorestown NJ, USA

And what of the voices of Americans who want nothing to do with the imposed ethics and restrictions relating to such organised religion? Perhaps it's the circles I 'blog' with, but from what I hear, there's much cause for cultural revolution. We are the left thinkers and we do have a voice. Party affiliation labels such as 'Democrat' and 'Republican' mean very little when citizens logically fear the slow and systematic phasing out of our previously inalienable rights. Democrats (or any governmental party) should have to pander to no god. I believe this will be the basis for all future conflict in American politics.
Ryan Duffy, Chicago

"The fact-checking gaze of the media". I guess you mean those like yourself. I'm crying I'm laughing so hard. There are no bigger liars in the entire world than the liberal media that you represent. I don't know how you sleep at night buddy. Give me a break!!!!
Judy O'Day, Columbus, Indiana USA

I am a liberal Christian who voted for Kerry. The saddest thing to come out of this election is that somehow most Republicans now think that Democrats are a bunch of godless heathens! Somewhere along the line, "liberal" and "Democrat" became the equivalent of a 4 letter word to many Republicans. That is, of course, a misconception. I can only assume that Republicans pushed this idea and are responsible for the many divisions in the US. They have hurt ALL Americans by their greed for votes.
Donna Mansker, St. Clair, MO, USA

Good grief people! If conservatives could survive 8 years of Clinton, then you can survive 8 years of Bush. You lost. Get over it!
Kurt, Baton Rouge, USA

As a target shooter here in the UK, I'm very aware of the way that left-wing politicians and journalists (including, alas, the BBC) demonise people like me as a danger to society, and use the phrase "gun culture" to lump us in with inner city drug dealers. Such lies are then used to argue in favour of "gun control"; that is, laws that victimise the peaceful and law-abiding, but are falsely claimed to be effective in reducing crime.

Although the media culture in the UK is such that this passes almost unnoticed, you can bet that gun owners in the US haven't missed the way that many Democratic politicians - including for example, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry's partner as senator for Massachusetts - take the same attitude as the British Left, and tell the same lies.

The 2nd Amendment right to bear arms exists to provide a fundamental check against undemocratic government, as anyone interested in politics, especially US politics, knows or should know very well. If someone doesn't support this check, what does that tell you about them?

Legal gun owners, in both the US and UK, tend to be honest, straightforward sorts of people who understand the argument instinctively but aren't, sadly very good at articulating them. Even if they did, the media here would certainly not represent them fairly.
Alex Swanson, Milton Keynes, UK

The 2004 Presidential Election can be reduced to the clashing of two worldviews -- Theism and Secular Humanism. Belief in God ruled the day in this election NOT because it was "flashy" in the eyes of the American Public, but because it is our core. We needed as a nation to return to our core beliefs in God and his Providence. In this election the substance of Providence was victorious over the shadows of secular mockery.
Paul Parke, Corona, California

The real problem the Democrats have is their idea that "moral values" are somehow unreal issues and unimportant. They have to learn that "moral values" is not a code for anything since people were very clear and open about their opposition to abortion on demand and homosexual "marriage." Those are moral issues that most people are concerned about, and if the Democrats are not concerned, they are in deep trouble politically.
Robert E. Williams, Shohola, PA, USA

I am not a Christian and I am not against legal abortion. But I voted for Bush and "moral values" was one of the reasons I did so. Eight years of Clinton's White House sex-capades is now reaping a backlash from many moderate Americans. We look to our leaders to set a positive example. I didn't appreciate my son, who was in middle school at the time of the Lewinsky scandal, discussing oral sex as part of his current events. Mr. Kerry committed treason after his tour in Vietnam. When the Democratic Party gives us a "good" candidate, we'll vote for him or her!
Maxine Dorsette, Destin, Fl USA

Vote USA 2004







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