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Tuesday, August 31, 2004


Tom Tomorrow had a great strip a week or so ago about undecided swing voters in which he noted with his usual subtlety that swing voters are idiots.

This article in the LA Times confirms it. They say they want specifics. They always say they want specifics, but they don't understand the specifics when they hear them so they just pretend that they didn't hear any and piss and moan again about the candidate not addressing "the issues."

Undecided Voters Want Bush to Offer Specifics

When he steps on stage at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night to accept the Republican Party's presidential nomination, swing voters say, they want to know how he plans to lower gas prices, make healthcare more affordable and create jobs.

America's shrinking cadre of crucial undecided voters say they want to hear Bush promise that he won't touch Social Security funds to pay for something else. They want him to describe how he'll get rid of the national debt. But most of all, they say, they want to know how he plans to extricate U.S. forces from ongoing combat in Iraq.

"We have soldiers dying every day. One thing I learned in the military is you have to have an exit plan," said Terry Eaton, 50, a paramedic training officer in San Antonio. "One of the things George Bush didn't have was a way to get out. I want to hear what his goals are for Iraq."


On the plus side for Bush, most of those interviewed said they think he has done a relatively good job in his first four years. And they take into account the Sept. 11 attacks when looking at the president's progress on improving the economy.

You can see why they need to hear more from him on where he stands. They've only had four years and he's done a relatively good job except for the jobs, gas prices, health care, social security, running up the deficit and Iraq. He just needs to lay out his agenda so they know what to expect.

Charlotte Stone, a nurse's aide and registered Republican from the central Missouri town of Crocker, said she was worse off than when she voted for Bush in 2000. She had $3,000 in the bank back then. Today, her savings have dwindled to $300.

She'd like to go back to school and become a nurse or a massage therapist. But she can't afford to quit her job to pursue her studies.

Kerry has yet to win her over, but Bush, she complained, doesn't understand how Americans are struggling.

"I had money saved, but the price of gas went up," said Stone, 50, who grosses about $14,000 per year. "People here live on $10,000 a year, and we have to drive. We're trying to afford health insurance and 401(k) plans. We want to pay our way. But we can't do it much longer, the way things are going."

Stone said she'll tune in to the convention in New York City, listening for a Republican plan to ease gas prices and a job-training program for older workers.

"I think he's been an excellent president," Stone said of Bush. "But with the economy and the gas prices, there are people out there who can't afford him."

Yes, he's been an excellent president except for the living hand to mouth and affording her 401(k)! on 14,000 a year and no savings. You can see why she'd be wanting to hear about his plan for job training for older people. Those Republicans are big on that kind of thing.

Even those who voted for Bush in 2000 said their biggest fear was that the war in Iraq would develop into another Vietnam.

Eaton, the paramedic training officer, said Bush "talks about bringing troops home, but I have friends who are being called up to the National Guard for two years."

Bush did a lot to make the nation safer by creating the Department of Homeland Security after the 2001 terrorist attacks, said Eaton, but that progress could be squandered if troops remain in the Middle East.

"It'll add more fuel to the fire for Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas," he said. "They'll be more angered about the Western presence. In some ways, I'd say, no, we don't have a right to be there."

But he might vote for Bush anyway.

Before the Republicans turned radical, there was a decent case to be made that you could split tickets or swing from one election to the other. Government was largely by consensus so it was possible that you could find a place in the middle of either party to be comfortable if you were a moderate. Small differences in terms of specific issues were relevant. Those days are no more and the much smaller numbers of swing voters (as opposed to independents who vote with one party or another) is a reflection of that change. Swing voters today are simply ideologically incoherent.

I recall focus groups in the last couple of weeks before election 2000, after the debates, when these swing voters were being f├ęted like visiting potentates by the networks. To the last person, they all said they still couldn't make up their minds because they needed even more specifics. This after hearing hours of discussions of prescription drug plans and patient's bill of rights and privatising social security and lockboxes and Dingell-Norwood until I thought I was going to kick in the TV.

The truth is that the issues really have little to do with this. These people cannot connect their own lives to the actions of the government in any coherent fashion. And they either love being seen as "above partisan politics" or they simply don't get the warring philosophies of the two parties. Their decision making process is incomprehensible and I'm not sure how you can fashion a message for them that makes any sense. They don't make any sense.

As Tom Tommorrow pointed out, it's frightening that the fate of the nation and perhaps the world relies on these people. They literally don't know their own minds.