What Makes a Dubya 2000 Vote an Understandable Decision?
August 25, 2008 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I'd honestly like to know why half of America voted for George W. Bush in 2000: what their reasoning was.

Please note right off the bat: I'm not asking this in order to encourage mockery of, or lambaste, those people who voted for George W. Bush in 2000. Quite the contrary: I am actually asking this in order to try to fuel an attempt to get rid of a mindset that does mock and lambaste them. (2004 was a different matter, as far as people's reasoning was concerned: the terrorist attack introduced the meme, appropriate or not, that Dubya was needed to continue to be tough on terror, that it was patriotic to vote for him, and so on. So that meme was there and can explain among other things the 2004 win.)

But in the 2000 election, patriotism while under attack was not a theme available to Dubya yet. Yet he got a huge part of the country. The precise vote count and the election controversy doesn't matter for this question: he convinced nearly (or over) half the country that he would be a good President.

My question is: why? Is there a way that this question can be modeled where that half of America doesn't come off as looking bad?

A few days ago, in order to write a comment in a thread (that ended up being deleted), I ended up digging up via the Internet Archive an old web post I wrote the first weekend of December 2000.

That made me realize this question was in my mind and had never been answered, and that it was really coloring my opinion of the people who live in this country with me towards the heavy negative. All that evidence was available before the election took place, if I was able to write that essay a few weeks after the election. Why didn't it count in the public eye? There's about ten to twelve good and even media-juicy stories, any one of which you would think would have sunk his campaign. Why didn't it?

Since the 2000 election, so for eight years now, my answer has been one that paints an extremely nasty picture of HALF of the country. "Those who voted for Bush in 2000 are fucking dumbasses who didn't bother to research their vote." Complete with the hostile anger implied by "fucking dumbasses."

I imagine some of you are going, "Yeah, that's exactly how I feel, they are dumbasses." But that's not what I want your answer to be! I don't want this thread to be a pile-on for Bush voters. I don't want to think that half of America are fucking dumbasses. I have walked around with anger and with cynicism, and while I'm not seeking to swing all the way over to the other pole of things ("Charrrrliiiiieee!"), I am trying to get a better framework — free of preconceptions made angrily a long time ago — of parts of my worldview. I think the world is filled with a lot more kindness and nobility than I gave it credit for, and I think I need to start thinking better of the world in general.

So in order to do that, I want to figure this out. I want to know why people thought about it and decided to themselves that George W. Bush would be a good President, a better one than Al Gore would. And, moreover, why that decision was made with such evidence as to have that decision repeated in such massive numbers that the 2000 election was so damn close. I don't want my explanation to be "nation of dumbasses" or "sheep led by media trends" or "neocon manipulation" or other cynical nastiness anymore, so I am trying to get a different perceptual framework of the event.

It doesn't necessarily mean that media trends or neocon manipulation wasn't at play. But I just want to get a handle on why it would be a understandable decision for half of America to make back in 2000.

posted by WCityMike to Grab Bag (99 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Not the whole story, but:

George Bush was a likeable guy, someone you could understand and have a beer with, as compared to Gore's perceived stiffness, arrogance, and snobby intellectualism. Bush was also a businessman who, while somewhat inexperienced, was going to pull in a highly-competent team of very experienced people - the CEO President, who knows how to delegate.
posted by Tomorrowful at 9:45 AM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: A Democratic President was smeared for 8 years and then impeached because he lied under oath about a sexual affair.

In 2000, Bush was basically doing what Obama is doing this year- promising a big change from all of that.

That's really it in a nutshell. What really happened on election night is a whole other thread.
posted by Zambrano at 9:46 AM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

My money is on partisan politics. Plain and simple. If you hear people on the other side of the fence calling you a "sheep" long enough, it makes you not want to even bother hearing what they have to say, because it tells you that the people on the other side of the fence not only don't understand you, they don't WANT to understand you, so why should you have anything to do with them?

What you are doing, in attempting to find out what makes other people tick, is the exact opposite to the way most political discourse works in this country. Things have gotten very, very divisive, and people on BOTH sides are more inclined to belittle each other than they are to find out what really makes the other half tick. For many people, Gore was part of the Clinton juggernaut, and many people who spent the previous 8 years listening to all sorts of Clinton-bashing, and Clinton-bashers-bashing, took it out on Gore.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:48 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd spent a fair chunk of my formative years as a conservative, and had a strong cultural aversion to "liberals" like Gore. While the long debacle of the Lewinski affair had soured me on Republicans in general, I approached the 200 election on the fence. Gore had ideas that sounded acceptable but would have been quite a jump for me. Bush's proposed "compassionate conservatism", combined with the sense that he was surrounding himself with idea-filled advisers willing to try new approaches to various social infrastructure problems reassured me. The 'soullessness' of traditional conservative economic policy had long been one of my concerns, and the idea of integrating community organizations, churches, etc. felt like a real attempt at a different approach.

And, hey. We were in a time of prosperity with budget surpluses and no wars or major military threats. How bad could he screw things up if the ideas didn't work out?
posted by verb at 9:49 AM on August 25, 2008 [11 favorites]

And, regarding the whole "10 stories that should have sunk his campaign," keep in mind that for me to even CONSIDER voting for Gore, I had already become profoundly disgusted with 'dig up the dirt' political campaigning. The Republican attacks on Clinton, ironically, made me far less likely to listen to random crap being thrown around about Bush's past business associations, past drug use, etc.

Shortsighted? Possibly. At worst, I think you can argue that the conservative movement succeeded in 'poisoning the well' of controversy, and securely anchoring the idea of moral and ethical equivalency in the public mind. At least, they did in mine.
posted by verb at 9:53 AM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: Bush was elected in 2000 for much the same reason that Carter was elected in 1976 -- regardless of its perceived effectiveness or lack thereof, large swaths of the voting public were simply fed up with having a Democratic administration. Recall that one of Bush's tenet at the time was "restoring dignity to the office."

Other items at the tops of people's lists:
* Bush promised a tax cut; Gore promised a "lockbox." At the time, U.S. coffers were flush, the big question being what to do with all the money.
* Bush promised to get the U.S. out of "nation-building" projects like Bosnia.
* Bush promised to restore sections of the military (i.e. the famous quote that in a time of crisis, several divisions would have to report "not ready for duty.")

Ironically, all four of the above points were worsened by Bush. I didn't vote for him in either election
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:54 AM on August 25, 2008

This is almost too obvious to mention, but you don't mention it at all in your long question:

Many people have very strong party allegiance. Many of them weren't comparing Bush to Gore at all; they just went and voted for the same party they always vote for.
posted by Perplexity at 9:54 AM on August 25, 2008

He was also running on his track record of working across party lines in Texas, and saying that he would bring back bipartisanship and civility. ("I'm a uniter, not a divider" was the quote... and there was that really awkward joke during his appearance on Letterman just after Letterman's heart surgery that he was going to stitch the country together like Letterman's chest.)
posted by yarrow at 9:56 AM on August 25, 2008

Speaking as a TX/OK resident, I ascribe Bush's win to charisma, the perceived image of him being a down-to-earth, honest person, and a desire to yoke oneself to the Republican party's agenda of strong business and money. I'd also cite the general distrust of "big government" frittering away tax dollars, which is something that seems to have been yoked to Democrats.

Just telling it the way I see it, of course. A lot of people put stock in religious backing, but I've known a ton of suburban folks in Dallas, Austin, and Houston that never go to church but feel they identify as Republicans, and for the reasons cited above.
posted by crapmatic at 9:56 AM on August 25, 2008

If it helps you not hate an entire half of the nation, remember the stats: only 51% of elegible voters voted, and only 47.9% of that 51% voted for George. 50.45M out of ~200M Americans over the age of 18 in 2000 (fudged, but close from the graph on wiki).

So, instead of half of America incurring your wrath, it is really a quarter of them who deserve it, max.

And what Zambrano said.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:59 AM on August 25, 2008

In 2000, Bush was basically doing what Obama is doing this year- promising a big change from all of that.

Absolutely. You should read Scott McClellan's book, he was there for a large portion of the administration and has some interesting insight from a Republican's point of view.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:00 AM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think you see too many people in the media who push this alternate image of a society and of a people. This is why on election night 2004 people were aghast that George won again.
Despite what the news, MTV and even PBS are pushing normal everyday man, America, USA no big breaks, no exceptional schooling, no fancy cars will vote for Bush and still would.
I grew up in one of these small towns and now, when I go home guess what I see? McCain stickers EVERYWHERE...
Gore was comming off a pretty bad 4 years, Bush was what Obama is now (though with a bit more applicable experience to his defense)...a new face with new changes and new new new...whatever.

I agree with Verb highly. I am and was and have been very weary of what we hear about politicians...
Example - When Dan Quail mis spelled 'Potatoes' he was forever dogged and made and example of
But when Obama says there are 57 states you barely hear a whisper...no one can be trusted so you have to go with what you feel is right. I didnt like Bush OR Kerry honestly, but my vote went to Bush because morally its where I found myself closer to.
Same this election - I dont like Obama or McCain....so maybe i'll write in Rommney....
posted by TeachTheDead at 10:04 AM on August 25, 2008

Mod note: A couple comments removed. Not so much with the ass-calling, or this not going to work. Benjy, you're welcome to repost with the main substance of your answer.
posted by cortex (staff) at 10:06 AM on August 25, 2008

So, instead of half of America incurring your wrath, it is really a quarter of them who deserve it, max.

Or you could argue that the people who didn't vote are the most contemptible.

(full disclosure: I didn't vote in 2000.)
posted by brevator at 10:06 AM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

For me, where I was and who I was around had a lot to do with it. 2000 was the first Presidential election in which I could vote; I was eighteen years old and a college sophomore at the time, majoring in computer science at a tech school in the South. It's my understanding that, as far as college campuses go, mine was a bit right-of-center to begin with. Additionally, it being a tech school meant there was a pretty strong Libertarian contingent as well. I don't remember talking politics with a whole lot of traditional Democrats there, I guess is my point, so the liberal message was probably filtered and distorted to a certain extent.

I mostly remember discussing how the dot-com bubble was starting to deflate right around then and how nobody in my major was going to be able to get a job when we graduated in a couple of years, and how Bush talked a pretty good game when it came to technology and Republican policies probably gave us a better chance to get hired and make a living than the Democratic ones did.

Looking back on it I certainly wish things didn't turn out as they did, but I remember being pretty ok with the results back then. I mean, it sorta worked out for me (my first job after graduating in '03 was with a huge defense company) so I kind of have mixed feelings about the whole matter.
posted by xbonesgt at 10:07 AM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: This is an important question and though, in 2000, I was yet a year shy of being able to cast a vote, much of my family did verbally support Bush.

Reflecting back on it, I can think of one family member in particular who knew from the beginning that he'd vote for W, no matter what.

And the two reasons were basically guns and the environment.

Many of my family members own guns for a variety of reasons. This family member, my uncle, is a hunter but also believes in personal protection - more specifically, that it is his task as the father and leader of his family to provide for their protection. We live in a very rural area, however, we are nightly subjected to the local news broadcasts reporting diligently on the violence taking place in the city 20 miles distant to our homes. Violence that, for whatever reason, primarily concerns minorities. Where we live, everyone is white. I believe that this encourages a certain degree of hostility and racism - "those murderous bastards in the city could roam around here someday and try to pull that shit with us - well, in that case, I'm ready and I'll not let my family fall prey to the stuff I saw on the news last night."

This, of course, is utter nonsense and has no grounding in reality, however - if you consider this as the premise you are operating out of - the idea that someone, anyone, might attempt to seize your firearm (especially, Lord Almighty, the federal government) and effectively prevent you from saving your wife and children from the criminally insane who move closer and closer to our pastoral homesteads year by year - you start to get an idea of why some people around here take their guns so seriously. It's not just about wanting to kill someone - rather, it's about your ability as a human being to provide for your family's defense. Forced registration, handgun bans, all these things represent one thing in the mind of the committed gun-owner (at least as far as I've seen) - a neutering of the American homeowner. And it won't fly around here.
Of course, I support gun ownership, but only for as long as the federal government and local police carry guns. For me, owning a gun is not about drawing your concealed pistol and taking down that rapist before he overtakes your keep, but rather, a populace well-supplied with the same sorts of rifles we used to ruin the British when it came time for revolution. In this sense, my desire to see a downsized military trumps my desire to carry a pistol. (After all, my rifle is far more effective against federal rangers than some stupid handgun.)

Regarding the environment - it's somewhat the same issue - my uncle would never, ever vote for an environmentalist, because his freedom might be curtailed by some federal law from Washington stating that he couldn't drive the kind of truck he needs to move his livestock, or that he might not be allowed to do what he wants, when he wants, on his land. Environmentalists want to make things more expensive, more difficult to acquire, and after all - isn't it those huge cities and all the people on the coasts who are polluting the landscape anyway? As a sportsman, he would rather support candidates who fit the trope of "outdoorsman," someone who would keep the wilderness wild for all those who hearken back to an age when America was truly a frontier. Bush with an axe in his hand and a Stetson on his head embodies this image much, much more than Gore with his perfectly pressed suit and hand-waving ice-cap polar bear save the whales whining.

Once again, I want to keep this country wild and I loathe, loathe, loathe the people from the coasts trying to tell us folks in "flyover country" what we can and cannot do with our land - however, I see the global catastrophe that is looming in the face of unchecked global warming and I recognize sportsmanship as a luxury item that I can ill-afford if I cannot manage to get the land to produce in the first place. So I swallow hard and vote for Dems, somewhat safe in the knowledge that despite the core values of either party, the treacherous Republicans have only further expanded our Federal government into this multi-headed behemoth while the States, bless them, are becoming floundering economic weaklings with no real power. Perhaps, now, the dems mean smaller federal government. If Obama could sell my uncle on that right there, he'd win a multitude of rock-ribbed Republicans.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:09 AM on August 25, 2008 [8 favorites]

I think a lot of people forget how much Clinton was disliked in the 90s. With his hiring of Dick Morris and triangulation, "I did not have sexual relations with that women" on TV and his last minute pardons left a bad taste in a lot of peoples mouths. A lot of this rubbed off on Gore and Bush ran a campaign with an anti Clinton persona. Personally I was pretty disgusted with Clinton, though I just sold my vote to a friend for a six pack and ended up voting for Nader (I wasn't in a swing state, don't punch me in the dick)
posted by afu at 10:11 AM on August 25, 2008

Response by poster: Cortex zapped the comment I was going to respond to, but I really want my intent to be perfectly clear to people, so I'll post this anyway:

Benjy, I don't think you really read what I wrote, unless you think I was being disingenuous, which I wasn't.

As I said, I've walked around for eight years thinking poorly of those who voted for Bush. I completely agree with you that "treating them like they are the dumbest people to ever walk the Earth certainly isn't going to help [me] understand them." That's why I want to get rid of the "fucking dumbasses" mindset. But you don't just get rid of a feeling that is backed up by facts by saying "feeling, go away!" You convince yourself using, "Oh, so they thought this and this and this and this. Well, I guess that makes it fairly understandable." I'm seeking the "this and this and this and this", because 2000-2008 has severely colored my views and most of America's and I'm trying to get the 2000 view of things.

That's why I want to know what the non-bad reasons were. That's why I don't want to think their dumbasses and want to know the specific "different things" they valued that "Bush seemed to represent." Because I don't want to hate ... well, I never used the word "hate", but I've been angry at the "half of the country that voted for Bush" for a while, despite not generally having problems with pre-2000 Republicans. As I said, I want it to be an understandable decision. I'm not so rabidly liberal that I can't usually understand Republican reasoning even if I disagree with it. But I don't understand a 2000 Bush vote, especially in light of aforesaid controversies, and that's why I asked this — to understand so that I can get rid of being pissed off at them and stop carrying that around, because thinking poorly of half the country is more of a burden to me than it is to them.
posted by WCityMike at 10:13 AM on August 25, 2008

That came off harsher than I meant for it to. That'll teach me to reply while on hold. Sorry for the derail.
posted by Benjy at 10:14 AM on August 25, 2008

Response by poster: (Clarification: I wrote that before Benjy's post was deleted, and posted the reply even after noticing the deletion on preview.)
posted by WCityMike at 10:14 AM on August 25, 2008

Bush also claims to be a born-again Christian. Many people believe that this condition makes one qualified for any given task or position.
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:16 AM on August 25, 2008

Response by poster: Good grief, that's the first time I've mixed up "they're" and "their" in about two decades. WTF?
posted by WCityMike at 10:17 AM on August 25, 2008

Republican here, and I think the best answer is very nicely distilled in the responses posted by EmpressCallipygos and verb (responses 2 and 3 in the thread).

I don't want to vote for John McCain. Not at all. However, the partisanship referred to in the post by EmpressCallipygos has only gotten worse, and it makes me not -want- to vote with the people who consider me a "Rethuglican" or a "fascist".

After years as a political junkie, I just completely hate it all now.
posted by DWRoelands at 10:18 AM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: *dons asbestos suit*

You don't have to agree, but if you want to understand, then be aware that for a decent number of conservative voters, a vote for Bush was the most realistic stand they could take against abortion (the other, more pro-life/anti-abortion candidates not being viable).
posted by recoveringsophist at 10:19 AM on August 25, 2008

Also, though I'm a dem, I met someone in my travels overseas that made me want to vote for Bush so hard I almost pulled a muscle. Coincidently, or perhaps not so, this also relates to guns.

Guy was a British expat, met him at a bar with some friends. He thought he was absolutely hilarious and as I was the only American within a couple hundred miles I instantly became a target for his lampooning. "So! You're a yank! I suppose you own guns, right?" *nudge nudge*
Everyone looked at me.
"Well, I went hunting as a boy and so yeah, I have a rifle, but..."

Before I could even begin to explain state's rights or the second amendment, he was off on this tirade about how he understands the real reasons for the civil war and why Americans are all xenophobic bastards who are armed to the teeth because they have shitty schools and all this other nonsense. And they hate Mexicans.

I realized I had reached my point of violence and so I calmly explained that my cousins and uncle are Mexicans, I lived in Mexico, and I took my beer elsewhere.

But the kind of simplistic, "As a pacifist and a culture-jamming revolutionary, I know why middle Americans love their guns," kind of bullshit is why I am so wary of elitist Dems who presume to understand how Republicans think, who cite newspaper articles and other garbage when in reality all they'd have to do is have a conversation with someone without trying to preach at them about the stuff they learned during their freshman polisci classes.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 10:21 AM on August 25, 2008 [7 favorites]

I-Am-Not-An-American, but I always thought that Nader bled off just enough of Gore's support to hand it to Bush. No?
posted by timeistight at 10:24 AM on August 25, 2008

I didn't vote in 2000. If I had, I probably would have voted for Bush (if not a third party) because Al Gore would have retained virtually none of (what I believed were) the Clinton administration's group of good policy choices and Al Gore has no personal redeeming qualities on par with Bill Clinton's.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:29 AM on August 25, 2008

I lived in (very conservative) Orange County at the time of the 2000 election, and most of my co-workers who were voting for Bush cited that he was the more pro-business candidate and was more likely to lower taxes than Gore.
posted by The Gooch at 10:30 AM on August 25, 2008

Response by poster: timeistight: "I-Am-Not-An-American, but I always thought that Nader bled off just enough of Gore's support to hand it to Bush. No?"

Regardless of my opinion one way or the other on that (which I'm not going to say since I don't want a derail), that would be an answer to "Why did Bush win?", not to "What was the reasoning behind a 2000 Bush vote?".
posted by WCityMike at 10:32 AM on August 25, 2008

Half the country is conservative, to an extent, and half is liberal, to an extent. It's not all that complicated.
posted by Autarky at 10:36 AM on August 25, 2008

Semi fucking dumbass here. When I got to the polling place in 2000, there was no place left to park and there was a long line out the door. Since he was obviously going to win Texas, I just went home without voting and through this technicality have avoided the full on fucking dumbass label in this instance.

But I supported GWB in 2000. Why? He received good marks as governor from across the political spectrum for reaching across the aisle to get things done. With all of the partisanship during the Clinton presidency, I was hoping GWB could do it in Washington too.

4 years of wimpy Gore after 8 years of hound dog Clinton was not appealing to me. I was ready for a change. Clinton seemed weak on national defense. The Cole bombing, the African embassy bombings, the strike on the Sudan pharmaceutical plant, the "Wag the Dog" cruise missile strike against Bin Laden, the Somalia "Black Hawk Down" fiasco all made me wish for someone who would be strong on national defense. I now know that strong on national defense and smart on national defense can be two very different things. GWB had the backing of people with a lot of experience: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and many others. Little did I know what would happen when these misanthropes (Powell not so much) were allowed to run unchecked.

Gore seemed like a pushover and GWB seemed like a leader. I don't have time to write the essay I would like, but these are the high points.
posted by Daddy-O at 10:36 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Abortion politics are a not insignificant piece of this puzzle. For people who believe strongly that every abortion which occurs in the U.S. is murder, that there is a terrible, terrible crime being perpetrated, any hope whatsoever of stemming the unthinkable horror is a good one. There are many, many people who think this way, and it is central to their politics. A candidate for office could be otherwise perfectly qualified and ideal in every other way, but there's a substantial population that steadfastly refuses to vote for and endorse any person who does not share their convictions on this matter.

I've never claimed to understand the so-called "pro life" stance on abortion, but those who take it honestly (as opposed to the folks who argue the position because of their discomfort with women's sexual and reproductive freedom) generally consider it absolutely non-negotiable. If you heard someone get up there on a podium and endorse widespread infanticide, wouldn't it alarm you at least a little about their suitability for high office? There are a lot of people out there who view legal abortion as being Federal endorsement of one of the most terrible crimes they can imagine. Someone who does not share their beliefs is, at best, tacitly endorsing something they abhor.

There are plenty of other reasons that people voted for the current President at the time, sure, but one I don't see discussed in any depth here is the issue of a woman's reproductive rights over her body.
posted by majick at 10:42 AM on August 25, 2008

Best answer: What Perplexity wrote.

A substantial portion of the electorate votes this way. They know how they're going to vote, and that's why they're more likely to vote than someone who's undecided.

Don't forget that there are a number of issues that Bush and Gore disagreed on, which were important to adherents of one side or the other. Pro-life/pro-choice is one that has already been mentioned, but there are others as well. Some people are simply one-issue voters who don't care about the rest of it; some people are straight-ticket party-line voters who rely on the parties to do their thinking for them; some people vote for personality over positions; some people vote based on faulty information; some people vote they way their friends or family vote; some people don't decide until the last minute and may make a decision based on criteria that may seem crazy to you and me.

Both parties have a certain percentage of the electorate they can rely on to vote for them no matter what; campaigns are about taking those people, and adding to them the votes of the might-for-for-us crowd, and getting them to the polls.
posted by mikewas at 10:43 AM on August 25, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, everybody: this is great thus far. I'm actually already hearing in my head, Well, that's understandable and Yeah, that would have made sense if that was an important issue to you and so on.

Please, keep it up. I'm actually learning here and that's good, even I daresay a little bit exciting.
posted by WCityMike at 10:44 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for what it's worth, I haven't voted for a major party's nominee for president since 1992 until probably this year.
posted by mikewas at 10:44 AM on August 25, 2008

Good question, WCityMike. I'm a pretty flaming liberal, but I've got a lot of conservative relatives, and it's been pretty important for me to try to see why they make the choices they do. Big hint: nobody thinks of themselves as a villain. Most people are trying to make the best choices they can in an very imperfect world. I've talked pretty extensively to one of my older male relatives who voted for Bush in 2000. Here's a rough summary of the reasons that he's given me:

- He believed the "compassionate conservative" routine (especially after the ugly spectacle of the Clinton impeachment). Bush seemed to speak to his moral perspective, which is basically "Don't be mean to people, but stand up for your traditional values." He's a socially conservative guy, and yet, he's also unfailingly kind to the people he meets, no matter what their identity or politics. He'd never, never insult a gay person or a divorcee in the street -- in fact, he'd probably invite them to the neighborhood barbeque -- but he doesn't want his kids to be gay or get divorced, and he doesn't like his kids to see gayness and divorce on TV. Bush's "compassionate conservative" implied the same kind of perspective.
- He thought Bush would be better for the economy. He's worked all his life as a middle manager at a very large auto company, and he believes that his future depends on the health of that company. He gets irritated when unions seem to harm the company's bottom line, and he felt like the Dems were owned by the unions.
- As a recent immigrant who grew up in poverty and pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, he liked it that the Republicans were talking about self-reliance rather than social welfare.
- He thought Gore was arrogant, and disliked him for it.
- He really, really hated Lieberman -- he thought he was a war-mongering jerk, and that he'd lead us into a war in the Middle East.

While I don't share all of this guy's values, I can see that he's been shaped by his upbringing and his life experience. I also respect the fact that he was trying to make a good, principled choice. He actually ended up being unbelievably disappointed with Bush's first term, because Bush didn't live up to his promises. Specifically:

- He wasn't a "compassionate conservative," but a radical who seemed to be persecuting people.
- He wrecked the economy (that auto company has been taking a real beating).
- He started a war in the Middle East.

In 2004, he voted for Kerry. So, that's what I know about how Bush won and lost one man's vote. Hope it helps.
posted by ourobouros at 10:46 AM on August 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Times were good, easy, and prosperous, and so to a large extent it didn't seem to matter who you voted for, but plain-spoken Bush was a refreshing change from both the usual presidential types, and a bit of a change from the Dems, who had been running the show for the last 8 years.
Bush was a bit of a buffoon, but that seemed like a harmless quality at the time - endearing even. It didn't really matter who was at the helm because the ship was sailing in clear waters with not a cloud in sight. So it might as well be someone who wasn't a robot.

In that environment, if you leaned Republican, or supported his policies, there didn't seem much reason to not vote for Bush
posted by -harlequin- at 10:46 AM on August 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

Both my parents voted for George Bush (twice, I'm sorry), in Massachusetts. My dad is a registered Democrat and my mom is an independent.

My dad has consistently voted for Republicans because he believes they will keep his taxes down. He's pretty much a single-issue voter these days.

My mom did not like Al Gore. She thought he was "stiff" and she completely bought into whatever the media was throwing around about him - that he "invented" the Internet, whatever. She also dislikes the Clintons and I think some of that disliked rubbed off onto Gore and affected her vote. I'm just recalling the conversations we had about the election eight years ago, and really, I think my mom was sick of the Clintons and wanted a change. She saw Gore as more of the same - even though she did vote for Clinton twice.

As far as I've been able to determine, my mom has voted for the winner every time she's voted in a presidential election. She hasn't decided this year who she's going to support; my dad is going with McCain because of the aforementioned taxes thing.
posted by sutel at 10:48 AM on August 25, 2008

Fair enough. Okay, then, it seems to me (again, as an outsider) that the two-party system has become so entrenched in the US that the choice for most voters is between voting for "their" party or staying home. Elections appear to be decided by shifts in very small numbers of true independents and, more importantly, by the relative enthusiasm of each party's voter mobilization machine.

In other words, I think the answer is that most of the people who voted for Bush would only ever vote for a republican candidate.
posted by timeistight at 10:49 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think it came down in many cases to black-and-white choices on what I call "hot button" issues- guns being one, but also including abortion, gay marriage, etc. These are all issues that, if you are on the liberal side of the position, the conservative side paints you as *not* part of the socially acceptable side using the "You're either with us or against us" mentality. In social circles, churches, places of employment, etc., it is categorized as either unpatriotic or immoral to be on the liberal side of each issue, villifying alternative views to the point of making it not worth it to even put the counter-argument out there.

I was recently stuck on a 3-week business trip with such a conservative. On each and every issue, he toed the party line. But when pushed further, he eventually revealed caveats that put him in that uncomfortable gray area that wasn't exactly the conservative political position. For insance, he agreed with several exceptions to a total ban on abortions. Yet even though he agreed that sometimes abortions should be used and might even be considered "necessary", it would not change his stance on the issue. His affinity group said abortions are always bad; therefore they are always bad. His affinity group was more important to him than his personal views.
posted by Doohickie at 10:49 AM on August 25, 2008

Best answer:
  • There was a perception that there was very little differentiation between W and Gore in terms of policy. They both ran centrist, moderate campaigns; Gore's Clintonian New Democrat versus W's Compassionate Conservatism.
  • Cheney et al were perceived as the adults returning to Washington. "You're not voting for the president, you're voting for his team." Clinton and his team were perceived as kids, and people were sick of all the (largely manufactured) Clinton scandals.
  • Bush was the MBA president. He ran a oil company! He owned a baseball team! He's a CEO! There was a perception that a successful businessman could run the government better than Washington fat-cats. (Co-opting the Ross Perot message.)
  • I remember having a conversation with a fellow college student who was from Texas in 1998. He was liberal but said very positive things about W's role in Texas. The media and his campaign pushed this image of W, the bipartisan consensus builder (uniter, not a divider), citing his taking a weak position (in terms of executive power) and making it work with a Democratic statehouse.
  • Distaste for Clinton-style democracy and foreign policy. W: "I don't think our troops ought to be used for what's called nation-building."
  • Dog-whistle statements aimed at social conservatives, while maintaining a centrist position to the general public.

  • posted by theclaw at 10:50 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Note that people who vote and don't vote tend to be different.
    -non-voters tend to be more Democratic than voters
    -which implies voters are more conservative than the population as a whole
    -and, of course, voters are older
    posted by milkrate at 11:00 AM on August 25, 2008

    How ourobouros described why one of their relatives voted for Bush in 2000, the same can be said of my brother and dad. They're both kind of "old school" Republicans - fiscal conservatives, and support small government, and government not meddling in the lives/money of citizens. I'm very liberal, and believe the same. But I didn't trust Bush. My brother and dad didn't really trust Bush all that much, but hated Gore's running mate, Joe Lieberman, for being a war-mongering Zionist. This for them, was a big enough factor to not vote for a Gore/Lieberman ticket.

    I couldn't stand Lieberman either. But I voted on a comprehensive level, feeling that I shouldn't vote based on my opinions of Middle East politics, but vote taking into other positions/stances/issues that are also important. For my brother and dad, this just trumped their listed of important issues.

    Of course, Bush's Middle East "policies" turned out to be pretty disastrous, as it turned out.
    posted by raztaj at 11:00 AM on August 25, 2008

    "[Y]ou don't just get rid of a feeling that is backed up by facts . . . "

    Step 1. Allow yourself to admit that what you actually have is a feeling backed up by opinions that you think are facts, not actual facts.

    There just weren't any "facts" that unambiguously told us that one would be a better president than the other.

    This is a huge problem that I have with a major portion of partisans on both sides of the aisle... saying something is a fact does not make it so. One side thinks they are enlightened for believing as they do, and if the other side would just listen, if the "enlightened" side could just get their message out then all would be right with the world. This is complete bullshit.

    So, to me, the answer to your question is that you should stop feeling so superior and concede that there are people in this world who just don't think the way you do or believe what you do. Realize that this doesn't make them stupid.

    Also? Some of us just didn't care for Gore or his policies.
    posted by toomuchpete at 11:01 AM on August 25, 2008

    Response by poster: Again, what's been written thus far has been great, and I definitely want to hear more of stuff about general reasoning.

    One thing that hasn't really been addressed, though, is that I still am surprised eight years later that any one of those stories mentioned didn't sink him. Even if you wanted to write off the smaller but no less offensive stuff like mocking Karla Faye Tucker or using "pussy" with the Courant reporter, wouldn't the bigger stories — specifically I'm thinking of dodging the National Guard service, the DUI, and his dad's Chief of Staff saying he was a coke fiend — have nailed him in almost anyone's mind, even people who value the aforementioned values? Maybe this stuff somehow discounted as untrue by Bush voters — if so, was there an actual rationale used for that?

    toomuchpete: "

    Fully admitted, in fact already believed. The phrase "points you believe in" would've been more accurate in that context than "facts."

    posted by WCityMike at 11:05 AM on August 25, 2008

    These are all issues that, if you are on the liberal side of the position, the conservative side paints you as *not* part of the socially acceptable side using the "You're either with us or against us" mentality. In social circles, churches, places of employment, etc., it is categorized as either unpatriotic or immoral to be on the liberal side of each issue, villifying alternative views to the point of making it not worth it to even put the counter-argument out there.

    Unlike, say, here, where it's just the opposite.
    posted by recoveringsophist at 11:07 AM on August 25, 2008

    Response by poster: The quoted phrase there was "Allow yourself to admit that what you actually have is a feeling backed up by opinions that you think are facts, not actual facts."

    And, with regard to this: "who just don't think the way you do or believe what you do. Realize that this doesn't make them stupid. "

    I'm just not going to go over this anymore, because I don't want an argument to derail the good stuff that's going forward. But people who are saying this are not paying attention to the post. The point is that I DO realize that it is a bad thing to think that 2000 Bush voters were just "stupid", and I am trying to UNDERSTAND them, and the very purpose of this question is to gain an UNDERSTANDING.

    So stop calling me smug and superior, because this question was prompted from realizing that thinking that 2000 Bush voters were "fucking dumbasses" was in itself a fucking-dumbass thing to do, and trying to alter that mindset. The question itself was perfectly clear on that point, and one — now two — clarifying posts have made that even clearer.

    So I'm just really not going to waste time saying this same thing over and over again.
    posted by WCityMike at 11:11 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    1. Many, many people will simply always vote Republican. They believe the role of government should always be smaller. They don't want to give one red cent to their country. End of story.

    2. Republicans can be overly sensitive. They have no problem dishing out dirt, but some college kid says the wrong thing and gosh darnit they've got to vote Republican.

    3. Bush promised no nation-building, bi-partisanship, and that he would rely on a dream team of advisors to make his decisions. This was all non-sense, but we didn't know that.

    4. During the Clinton years, there was non-stop Republican criticizing of everything Clinton did. Republicans came up with a new neo-conservative philosophy they felt could solve all the world's problems, such as total de-regulation of businesses, etc. A lot of people believed them.

    5. People were tired of Clinton, and Democrats in general. People recognized the name "Bush", and were comfortable with and nostalgic for that time.

    6. Many of Gore's key issues: the environment, saving money, etc. were not generally recognized as priorities. In retrospect, this is tragic.
    posted by xammerboy at 11:13 AM on August 25, 2008

    Best answer: Another angle: Some people, liberal or conservative, vote with the Supreme Court in mind. The idea being that the president only affects policy for four or eight years, but a Supreme Court justice can have a tremendous effect on the country for decades. So, if you're conservative you vote for someone who's going to appoint conservative judges, whether or not you care for them as a president.
    posted by lore at 11:28 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Best answer:
    wouldn't the bigger stories — specifically I'm thinking of dodging the National Guard service, the DUI, and his dad's Chief of Staff saying he was a coke fiend — have nailed him in almost anyone's mind, even people who value the aforementioned values?
    Ironically, those kinds of stories -- at least for me and the people I knew -- were the ones that carried the least weight. They were the stories where the most partisan potshot-taking coalesced, and where it was hardest to find relatively 'neutral' sources of information without becoming your own investigative journalist.

    A guy got a DUI years ago? Someone said he did coke? Hell, I'd just spent five years listening to talk radio hosts and conservative magazines assuming, as a starting point to most discussions, that Clinton was a coke-smuggling draft dodging adulterer who had killed a member of his staff and covered it up.

    This is what I mean when I say that the years of pounding on Clinton had effectively poisoned the well of 'controversy'.
    posted by verb at 11:37 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: Yeah, I think the main reason is that in 2000, it really didn't seem to matter who you voted for. There was some truth to the Nader line of "they're both the same", or at least there seemed to be. Both candidates seemed to be pro-corporate milquetoast standard issue politicians, and although the Republicans were the party of ban-everything Christian wingnuts, Bush didn't appear to be one at the time. The crowd of Nixonian thugs Bush was surrounding himself with was worrisome, but hey, what's the worst that could happen, right? I voted for Harry Brown because I was 20 and my main concern was the failed "war on drugs".
    posted by DecemberBoy at 11:37 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    4. During the Clinton years, there was non-stop Republican criticizing of everything Clinton did. Republicans came up with a new neo-conservative philosophy they felt could solve all the world's problems, such as total de-regulation of businesses, etc. A lot of people believed them.

    Without addressing your other points, this is flatly incorrect. Neoconservatism did not originate in the 1990s.
    posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:38 AM on August 25, 2008

    Maybe this stuff somehow discounted as untrue by Bush voters — if so, was there an actual rationale used for that?

    I'm not sure that all these stories were widely known at the time. Honestly, I was unfamiliar with about 30% of the stories on your list, and I am a liberal who reads liberal papers and magazines. My guess is that there are a few different levels of political awareness among the general population.

    1. The most uninformed citizens don't listen to much political news. If they vote at all, they vote on party lines or with their friends and family.
    2. Moderately informed citizens read the paper (ie, whichever Gannett rag gets delivered to their doorstep every morning), listen to the radio on the way to work, and maybe watch a debate or two. This means they're not getting many opinion or investigative pieces -- they're mostly listening to (fairly) objective reporting of what the candidate says about him/herself.
    3. Political junkies read national and local papers, plus political journals, blogs, etc. They're consuming tons and tons of editorial content, investigative reporting, talking head debate, radio discussion, internet forums, etc. Though they're consuming lots of news, it's probably not very balanced, since their preferred sources have a political bias. After all, there's only so much time in the day -- you can either listen to Rush or Air America, not both at once.
    4. The truly informed citizen (probably non-existent) pays attention to mainstream news sources, keeps up with opinion from both sides of the aisle, and also researches the issues -- for instance, studying the geography of the Caucasus, perusing the scientific journals for news about global warming, reading the Qur'an in the original Arabic, etc.

    If you can accept these hypothetical levels for the sake of argument, I'd say that my Bush-voting relative was at level 2. He wasn't searching out political news; he was just keeping up with the most mainstream sources. He was mostly listening to the candidates talk about themselves. From this perspective, it's pretty easy to see why your list of issues didn't make a difference: most of them didn't exist to the moderately informed voter.

    There are only two issues on your list that I can remember getting much mainstream coverage:
    - Bush's verbal slips -- "misunderestimate" and the like. I don't think my Bush-voting relative gave much credence to these -- he figured everybody makes mistakes sometimes and the Dems were obviously trying to make it into a bigger deal than it was.
    - Dodging National Guard service -- as I recall, this was a serious issue, but since Dan Rather got fired for it, I think it was pretty effectively discredited in my relative's mind.

    I could be wrong on several counts -- I'm relying on my (admittedly hazy) memory of the lead-up to the 2000 election -- but all the same, I think it's important to distinguish between what is widely known to the political junkie and what is widely known to the moderately informed voter.
    posted by ourobouros at 11:43 AM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Best answer: be aware that for a decent number of conservative voters, a vote for Bush was the most realistic stand they could take against abortion

    This, this, this.

    In 2004 as part of my most inept attempt at political involvement, I volunteered to go door-knocking in West Virginia to talk to registered Democrats (with the implicit end of drumming up support for Kerry in a swing state).

    One conversation I had went pretty much like this:
    [pleasantries pleasantries pleasantries]
    Me: May I ask who you're voting for?
    Nice Lady: Bush.
    Me: What's the main--
    Nice Lady: Pro-life. [smiles, clearly knowing conversation is over]
    Me: OK, er, have a nice day!

    Another conversation included a resident adamantly telling me that Kerry was a draft-dodger who skipped out on going to Vietnam. Which brings me to point 2: sometimes voters are just misinformed. There's no law saying you have to know anything to vote. Some people probably thought in 2000 that Gore was an evil robot from New Yorkifornia. It sounds silly, but it's not impossible.
    posted by kittyprecious at 11:55 AM on August 25, 2008

    . . .impeached because [House Republicans believed that ] he lied under oath about a sexual affair.

    posted by Neiltupper at 11:59 AM on August 25, 2008

    Best answer: I'm probably repeating things other people have said - it's a long thread - but here's my take:

    Most people don't pay any attention to politics. I believe in what I call the "30 second rule," which is the idea that most voters have about 30 seconds of knowledge about any given politician. In 2000, what people thought about Bush was: "Regular guy, owned a baseball team, going to lower my taxes." Al Gore was an "intellectual, a wimp and a liar."

    And that's it. I understand that there are more knowledgeable voters, but I think they tend to cancel each other out. Winning elections has become about how you define the other guy - and whether you can get media outlets to repeat that meme hundreds of times before the election. Bush did it better in 2000 and 2004.

    Whether the way Gore and Kerry were defined is in any way accurate or ethical is, well, it's something you said you didn't want to introduce into the thread.
    posted by cnc at 12:03 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    One thing that hasn't really been addressed, though, is that I still am surprised eight years later that any one of those stories mentioned didn't sink him.

    I don't think most voters are that influenced by such stories once they've come down on one side or the other. If the stories are about the other guy, you take them seriously and they outrage you, but if they're about your guy, it's "the [liberal/conservative] media" trying to do your guy in, and you dig in your heels. And a lot depends, too, on how the candidate handles it; Nixon's "Checkers speech" in '52 was brilliantly disarming and the public response persuaded Ike to keep him on the ticket.

    Great thread!
    posted by languagehat at 12:11 PM on August 25, 2008

    I can tell you why my very conservative family voted for and contributed $$$ to Bush in 2000 and 2004, which is also why they will vote for McCain in 2008:

    1. Guns
    2. Black and white, us against them, white knuckle partisanship that leads them to believe that a democrat in the white house is absolutely the worst thing that could happen to this country; ANY republican is better than a democrat, regardless of the latter's qualifications.
    3. Taxes

    That last one probably doesn't help the understanding part much, but in the case of my conservative relatives, it is true.
    posted by jennyb at 12:14 PM on August 25, 2008

    Er... that second one. The last one is probably pretty self explanatory.
    posted by jennyb at 12:16 PM on August 25, 2008

    For what it's worth, I remember thinking there was little difference between Bush and Gore.

    "Funny" in hindsight.
    posted by rokusan at 12:21 PM on August 25, 2008

    You don't have to agree, but if you want to understand, then be aware that for a decent number of conservative voters, a vote for Bush was the most realistic stand they could take against abortion.

    Absolutely, and there are plenty of people who will vote Republican going forward for that very reason- because they believe the Republican party is more likely to "take a stand against abortion" then the Democratic party.
    posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:25 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

    Even if you wanted to write off the smaller but no less offensive stuff like mocking Karla Faye Tucker or using "pussy" with the Courant reporter, wouldn't the bigger stories — specifically I'm thinking of dodging the National Guard service, the DUI, and his dad's Chief of Staff saying he was a coke fiend — have nailed him in almost anyone's mind, even people who value the aforementioned values?

    These were just baseless smears by the other side. As a general rule, this stuff is only true when it's about democrats, otherwise, you can just dismiss it summarlily as negative campaigning by a team that must be really desparate to bring on these blatant lies.

    But to answer your question, in the past 7 out of 8 elections or so, it was not about issues at all. Picture the two contestants as high-school students. Who would have been more popular? There. That's your winner and easily explains the lasts two Bush wins.
    posted by sour cream at 12:34 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    posted by bluesky43 at 12:36 PM on August 25, 2008

    I think a lot of people forget how much Clinton was disliked in the 90s.
    Clinton was more popular when he left office than Reagan was when Reagan left office (or as popular, depending on the poll).

    posted by kirkaracha at 1:07 PM on August 25, 2008

    Best answer: Seconding and adding to what Baby_Balrog said:

    In 1968, in the wake of the rioting in Washington, DC, I heard the pastor of my church proclaim from the pulpit that "those people" weren't going to interfere with our worship service. (I was 12 years old.) I can't recall a word being said about the tragedy of the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, nor of the longstanding, deplorable conditions in the inner city.

    The church was 32 miles from DC in what was then an overwhelmingly white Virginia exurb, but the 14th Street riot corridor might have been just across the street, from the tone of that sermon.

    While I am sure that no mention was made of defending the church with guns, the unspoken subtext was clear that "we" would do whatever was necessary to defend "our" rights.

    It has been 40 years since the riots and the events of 1968 and that sermon have been on my mind this entire election year. My sense is that Baby_Balrog's relatives who voted for George W. Bush probably also, earlier, voted for Richard Nixon, and for the same fearmongering reasons.
    posted by apartment dweller at 1:08 PM on August 25, 2008

    Best answer: Between taxes, guns and abortion, there are a lot of single-issue Republican voters.
    posted by box at 1:14 PM on August 25, 2008

    I know exactly one person who I know (A) voted for Bush, and (B) told me his reason for doing so. It was this, and this is a direct quote, fully describing the entire reason that he told me:

    "I don't know."

    As far as I am aware, he intends to vote Republican in the coming election. Angrily.
    posted by Flunkie at 1:19 PM on August 25, 2008

    I-Am-Not-An-American, but I always thought that Nader bled off just enough of Gore's support to hand it to Bush. No?

    That's actually hard to tell. It's a commonly-quoted assertion, but the people who most commonly quoted it may have been people in search of a scapegoat. However, a friend of mine who actually IS in the Green Party has showed me statistics that prove it isn't as clearcut as that; I also have the anecdotal evidence of my parents, who both voted for Nader; I asked them who they'd have voted for if Nader wasn't running, and one would have gone to Gore but the other would have gone to Bush. (In that case, abortion was the big issue.)
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:27 PM on August 25, 2008

    I'm just not going to go over this anymore, because I don't want an argument to derail the good stuff that's going forward. But people who are saying this are not paying attention to the post. The point is that I DO realize that it is a bad thing to think that 2000 Bush voters were just "stupid", and I am trying to UNDERSTAND them, and the very purpose of this question is to gain an UNDERSTANDING.

    So stop calling me smug and superior, because this question was prompted from realizing that thinking that 2000 Bush voters were "fucking dumbasses" was in itself a fucking-dumbass thing to do, and trying to alter that mindset. The question itself was perfectly clear on that point, and one — now two — clarifying posts have made that even clearer.

    It may be instructive to try the reverse. Imagine yourself as one of the people out there who voted for Bush. Except the trick is to do it without reflexively assuming they are stereotyped villians. For example, you may be pro-affirmative action, your counterpart is not. Now make the argument against affirmative action without saying "I am a racist and therefore I am against affirmative action." If you can do that, you're all set. If you can't then you are doomed to a closed mind.

    It's quite refreshing to see someone trying this rather than being content to go on parroting some snarky op-ed as a political philosophy.
    posted by dzot at 1:27 PM on August 25, 2008

    A little more detail: The person I mentioned is not going to vote for Obama, because, and I quote, "Sounds like he's from Pakistan."

    I think it's admirable and perhaps useful to try to understand the reasons why people make decisions like this, rather than immediately resorting to mockery. But the sad truth is that at least some of these people deserve mockery for the reasoning behind their decisions.
    posted by Flunkie at 1:31 PM on August 25, 2008

    Response by poster: Flunkie: "But the sad truth is that at least some of these people deserve mockery for the reasoning behind their decisions."

    No doubt. But we liberals most definitely have our mockery-deserving idiots, too. Intelligent people came to reasoned decisions that they wanted Dubya in office in 2000. That's what I'm focusing on with this question.
    posted by WCityMike at 1:41 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Without addressing your other points, this is flatly incorrect. Neoconservatism did not originate in the 1990s.

    Neoconservatives (which is a term that never was amazingly accurate beyond describing some leftists/liberals who became newly conservative in the second half of the twentieth century) certainly originated in the 1990s and before that, but was not an ideology in power under that name until the second Bush administration. You are correct that WCityMike gets his description of neoconservatism wrong, which is closer to another much abused term, neoliberalism. Neoconservatism has had lots of explanations concerning its origins, but generally is considered to have roots in liberal cold warrior "anti-totalitarianism", the building of the conservative movement that led to the rise of Reagan, and the "irrational exuberance", to appropriate a phrase, brought about by the end of the Cold War as far as what American power could do. So while free markets are part of it, another part of it is establishing a network of liberal democracies (as defined by the US) under American hegemony. This might be useful for understanding a very influential think tank in that movement, the Project for a New American Century.

    As for the original question, I think that, first, people do vote along party lines, as others have mentioned, and that Bush, however mediocre some of us might have considered him at the time, provided something for the segments that make up the Republican party, and benefiting from his opponent's mistakes and the circumstances of the time. For religious conservatives Bush was anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, pro-faith based initiatives and had become born again along with triumphing over a personal sin that was not too seamy. For anti-tax libertarian and small business people he offered the traditional Republican program against progressive taxation and had that Harvard MBA and business experience. One point where I do get confused on Bush's appeal is what exactly was going on in Bush's appeal to more isolationist conservatives when it came to opposing "democracy building." Obviously, candidates say many things on the campaign trail, and the official narrative is that September 11 was a wake-up call for engagement, but there is also evidence for plans concerning Iraq prior to that. Anyway, for more "independent, centrist" Republicans, you had his claims to be a unifier and a "compassionate conservative". The compassionate conservatism also appealed to parts of the other segments I mentioned (least to the pro-business libertarians). A characterization was created that Gore talked down to voters. Some people just vote against incumbents, too. This plainspoken (he might even call himself "misspoken") man was seen as a friendly conservative who would restore that "lost honor" that Clinton had taken from the office with his all too seamy sin. A boring, arrogant, elitist lecturer who even claimed to have invented the Internet, was a crazy treehugger, a fake, and was Clinton's VP, was not set to be characterized as the man who would do that, however desperately Gore kept Clinton away from the campaign.

    Of course, that's only why people voted for Bush. It was also a very, very close election which Gore in all likelihood won and during the campaign there was a definite feeling the Democratic base was not energized to campaign and vote for the guy. Also, sorry for opening with a pedantic paragraph.
    posted by Gnatcho at 1:42 PM on August 25, 2008

    I was just arguing with someone about this last night. Their contention was that most Americans are stupid (i.e., poorly educated, brain-power-lite, etc.), and thus voted for Bush because of all the media-babble about him being a born-again Christian and the first CEO president (despite his well-publicized track record of driving every company/baseball team he ever ran directly into the ground).

    My point was that most Americans are ignorant, not stupid -- either organically (because they don't read, or never learned civics in school), or purposely, because they're so lazy/greedy/in denial that they'll vote against their own interests. When people don't understand (or choose to ignore the fact) that taxes pay for stuff everybody needs, and that the President has no control over whether congress or state legislatures ban AK-47s, then you get single-issue voters (like my parents, and probably some of yours).

    And while we're discussing mass psychology, don't forget self-hatred. For a long time, my Bush '04 theory was that there was a critical mass of people in this country who, deep in their subconscious, wanted to vote for a guy who would do his best to destroy the country -- literally. If lots of smart, college-educated Americans do self-destructive things on a daily basis -- eat bad food, engage in risky sex, buy lottery tickets -- why wouldn't they vote for a guy who's pretty much proven he's out to kill America in order to save it?

    When people go in that voting booth, their crazy comes out. Voting for president is the only time we get to express our secret wants and prejudices in a way that will actually effect the world.
    posted by turducken at 1:45 PM on August 25, 2008

    Response by poster: Turducken, kind of looking for stuff going the other way here, i.e., why I shouldn't believe that people who went into the voting booth and voted for Dubya were just doing it because of "their crazy."
    posted by WCityMike at 1:50 PM on August 25, 2008

    Although my wife and I were never going to vote for Bush, I remember telling her that, if Bush gets it, it won't be the trainwreck for the country that Reagan was. In retrospect, I have never been more mistaken in any utterance I have ever made.

    That is how much he fooled the country.
    posted by Danf at 1:58 PM on August 25, 2008

    Best answer: wouldn't the bigger stories — specifically I'm thinking of dodging the National Guard service, the DUI, and his dad's Chief of Staff saying he was a coke fiend — have nailed him in almost anyone's mind, even people who value the aforementioned values? Maybe this stuff somehow discounted as untrue by Bush voters — if so, was there an actual rationale used for that?

    This was an interesting point, and prompted a bit of research. The "coke fiend" allegation comes from a single remark (not actually "coke fiend" but "cocaine use") allallegedly made by former GHWB Chief of Staff Michael Dannenhauer to a reporter in April 1998. The claim was never published and Dannenhauer denied making it. That's pretty thin gruel for the average voter to conclude that he had been "nailed."

    The DUI was from 1976, and Bush admitted to it. I don't think a 24 year old misdemeanor is likely to change anyone's vote.

    The "dodging" claim has obviously been the subject of a great deal of investigative reporting, to mixed results. If you describe "dodging" as using his father's connections to remain in the Texas Air National Guard, my guess is that most folks understand that kind of thing happened. The more speculative claims -- that Bush had gone AWOL for a year while in the TANG -- were never fully supported, and to this day remain somewhat uncertain. As of the election in 2000, there was at best a cloud of uncertainty over the issue, but certainly no definitive proof.

    I never intended to vote for Bush, so these items had no impact on my vote. But I would speculate that none of the three things you cite were enough -- either individually or collectively -- to change someone's vote in 2000.
    posted by pardonyou? at 2:03 PM on August 25, 2008

    Turducken, kind of looking for stuff going the other way here, i.e., why I shouldn't believe that people who went into the voting booth and voted for Dubya were just doing it because of "their crazy."

    I'm using "crazy" in an affectionate way here -- since we're all crazy in the same way. You shouldn't believe that people who voted for W are "bad" any more than they should think you're evil for voting for Obama, or the guy who invented the internet. My point is that voting for president is a deeply personal decision for everybody, more so than voting for Senator or Prom Queen. Indeed, so personal that for some Americans -- for most, even -- their vote for president is the manifestation of deep-seated psychological issues that have nothing to do with politics, social justice, states' rights, or their own economic status. They can't help themselves, so who are you to judge them?

    (If you're looking for absolution, however, I can't help. Crazy may be a mitigating factor in lots of crimes, but it's not an excuse.)
    posted by turducken at 2:07 PM on August 25, 2008

    Best answer: I'm surprised no one has mentioned James Dobson yet.

    I don't know a lot about policy, but I can talk about the conservative Christian angle (I hope that doesn't preclude intelligence for you). Majick and recoveringsophist are right. Both of my parents voted for Bush in 2000, and moral issues were the only issues they went by, particularly abortion and gay marriage. They just couldn't endorse someone who would make it okay to kill children when it was so easy to vote for a guy who promised to uphold the sacredness of life. This makes sense because the physical world is temporal, but spirituality and morality and related decision-making are eternal. They didn't want to invest a lot of time in looking at the issues (partly because, again, temporal! Satan is in charge of the earth right now and God wins in the end anyway, so the hemming and hawing and arguing that we do now isn't all that important: the big stuff is decided already). Voting along these moral lines is easy and uncomplicated; it was very easy to justify a vote for Bush.

    You also want to vote for a Christian, if possible. This makes sense because God made the world and is much better at running it than we ever could be; he's always right, and he always works for the ultimate good. If someone is up for election who is in communication with God and taking guidance from him, that's really, really, really good. This reasoning could also work for patriotic quasi-Christians -- you want God on your side so that your country succeeds. If Bush had seemed like a total skeez, voting for him might have been tougher, but he seemed like a nice, upstanding guy.

    As a Christian, you want every part of your life to reflect your Christian identity. Everyone does this differently, but (personal opinion here) if you were taking the easy way out, Bush was it. I know that propaganda and media stuff played a tremendous role, but think about this: The Bible is your lifeline. It's your guide to family, jobs, work, romance, self-worth, context, destiny. The guy who's going to run your country says he reads it every day. That's huge. I personally remember being impressed that he read Oswald Chambers' My Utmost For His Highest every day. I think that's a sweet book, and hearing that he read it made me feel a little like we would understand each other on a deep and important level. It wouldn't have been enough to make me vote for him, but I can see how it would have helped had I made that decision.

    It is a totally different, counter worldview, but that doesn't mean it's unreasonable. It's just reasoning based on different precepts and with different goals. I can give you Bible verses if you want the source material that some voters would have used. I can also give you lots of other little reasons that may not occur to you if you weren't coming at it from the same direction -- for instance, having a Christian in the most powerful seat in the White House could help other people become Christians, and that is the best possible thing in the world -- they're aligning with God, with reality, with their true purpose, etc.

    [W]ouldn't the bigger stories ... have nailed him in almost anyone's mind, even people who value the aforementioned values? It's very easy to compartmentalize and separate those mistakes from his current character, or even to accept them with the understanding that personal problems won't interfere with good policy. Another possible response would be mercy, as in: He made some mistakes, but he's moved on now and we can give him another chance. This fits into both American self-improvement and Christian forgiveness ideas, so I can see a lot of people being very comfortable with it.

    It's hard to get back into the 2000 mindset knowing what we know about Bush today, but back then, I don't think it would have been a matter of convincing yourself to vote for a horrible, incompetent guy (a la 2004, for my parents), but rather trying to find reasons not to. Basically, the spiritual trumps the carnal/physical/earthly, and Bush had the spiritual dimension, plus a media machine making sure that everybody knew it and could match it with their own ideologies.

    Ugh. I always write really long responses. How are the rest of you so concise?
    posted by ramenopres at 2:15 PM on August 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

    (I hope that doesn't preclude intelligence for you) Errr... upon rereading, I realized that the tone of this is a little too ambiguous. I meant it as a joke, and based on the fact that you're asking these questions, I couldn't imagine that it does. :)
    posted by ramenopres at 2:21 PM on August 25, 2008

    Response by poster: ramenopres: "I can also give you lots of other little reasons that may not occur to you if you weren't coming at it from the same direction."

    Please do (if there were more than the one you provided following this quote). It may not be the reasoning I'm used to, but I'd like to hear about it.
    posted by WCityMike at 2:22 PM on August 25, 2008

    Best answer: I agree with way too many people to list at this point, but I think there are some main themes worth expanding on, but a lot of it has to do with what sour cream and gnatcho mention. Gore was the nerd in high school that mocked the dumb kids who, y'know, meant well, but just weren't as smart. There is a strong current (remarked on, I think, post-election, by a lot of non-American media, though no, I can't find any links at the moment) of anti-intellectual behavior in the States. Bush came across as that lovable, yet kind of dumb kid in class that everyone liked, and Gore came across as an intellectual bully, especially in the debate where he sighed, loudly and audibly during Bush's answers. I think that one debate swung a lot of "sympathy" votes towards Bush. I imagine Bush's C average actually swung people towards him, because, well, people get C's. Gore was that A student from that "Ivy League" school (and Bush's camp did a lot of work glossing over his own Ivy League-ness).

    Think back to the comedy at the time, especially, say, Leno. Leno's made jokes about both of them, but Bush jokes were a lot more like, gee, he's kind of dumb. Gore joke were made with accompanying eye-rolls and the "God, what a snobbish prick" body-language. For whatever reason, people feel protective of the dumb guy, and resent the intellectual, probably having something to do with the fact that Gore clearly thought (rightly or not) that he was the smartest guy in the room, and wanted everyone to know it. In some ways, you could say people voted for Bush because they could see themselves enjoying having a chat/sharing a meal with him, where they couldn't do so with Gore. Bush's campaign did a masterful job of making Bush look like an average Joe, making most people ignore the Ivy League background, the life of privilege, and played up the corporate connections, making him seem competent. His messages of unity and compassion (which, like nearly all of his campaign promises, were baldface lies) were swallowed whole by a lot of people who were tired of all of the negativity (ignoring that 98.7% of the negativity during the Clinton years came from the Republicans).

    Another key was how badly Gore's campaign was run. There was the awkward distancing himself from Clinton, because Gore's people thought (perhaps correctly) that Clinton's presence in the campaign would give Republicans too much ammo. At the same time, Gore was cutting himself off from all of the positives (mainly, y'know, the economy at the time) that should have been focused on. The debates were a catastrophe, in particular. The orange makeup, the poor prep/coaching which should have prevented the sighing, or, at least, Gotten Gore ready to disarm the "aw, shucks" responses.

    Lastly, for whatever reason (this was touched on above, but I think it needs to be hammered home), the Republicans own negative campaigning. During Clinton's run, he was accused of murder, treason, and more (Listen to Rush, if you can). Different election, but Kerry's problem with the Swiftboat ads follows the same line. It seems like Republicans can pretty much make any kind of attack they want, but if the Democrats point out anything along the same lines, they're playing "the politics of personal destruction." The DUI, the coke, the National Guard stories, the C average, they were all off limits, because the Republicans were able to spin those stories as the Democrats playing dirty pool.
    posted by Ghidorah at 2:49 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    The only thing I can contribute here is that with a single vote, a rational voter doesn't want to waste it, and hence is led to strategically compromise their preference toward one of the two dominant coalitions. I happen to think that a system that tends to obscure the true sentiment of the population is broken. However, this was apparently part of the intent of the Founders.

    When the two dominant coalitions collude in avoiding any debate on matters of substance however, rationality goes out the window, and a voter will make an emotional decision. In 2000, there were emotional decisions like this: Gore seems to hold himself superior to me, so I will show him by voting for someone who seems more like me. Gore seems too tied to the establishment, so I will punish him by voting for a protest candidate. Gore was associated with Clinton and I disliked Clinton's morals, so I will punish Gore for the association.

    I don't see much commentary here about the Nader factor. Nader pushed the idea that there was very little difference between the candidates. People who liked Nader tended to be those who might otherwise have compromised on Gore.

    As we have seen, there may have been very little difference in the stated positions of the candidates, but there was a huge difference in how those positions would have been implemented.
    posted by Araucaria at 4:23 PM on August 25, 2008

    Best answer: Bush's "story" resonated with a lot of 40, 50, and 60-something white evangelicals in a way that Gore's didn't.

    Bush was able to articulate an identity that was both contemporary and familiar: he was a family man who had some person problems (drinking) but straightened out once he found Jesus.

    I don't want to sound glib here or to over simplify. You have to understand that Bush's conversion resonated in a way that say... Jimmy Carter's faith did not. It reflects a deeper shift in American faith, away from organized religion and towards the individual. The American Christian faith today is about self-help. It's about saving your marriage, turning your career around, getting your bratty teenagers to act right. Bush typifies this experience and thus was able to connect with millions of Americans who themselves were going through a similar conversion.

    No other candidate before or sense has recognized such an immediate and visceral undercurrent in American society and taken advantage of it.

    Whether Bush's "story" is accurate or not, or true, is besides the point. Look at how people talked about Bush - they would always say he is a guy they would like to have a beer with - never mind the fact that he was a raging alcoholic.

    - He's the sort of guy I'd like to have a beer with... you know, if he drank.
    - He's the sort of guy I'd like to sit next to at church... you know, if either of us went regularly (remember, Bush studies the bejebus out of the bible, but doesn't attended church - a growing trend among many of today's Christians.)

    The reality doesn't matter, it's the presentation.

    Bush connected in other ways as pointed out above. The pickup truck, the ranch, the baseball, the rowdy teenage daughters...

    In 2000, Bush was wrong in so many ways. But so were most Americans. We were slow, we swaggered, we'd had enough of book'learning, and prissy intellectuals. We wanted to return to that Norman Rockwell fictional universe where we could be good without trying, and for many Americans Bush represented that...
    posted by wfrgms at 4:42 PM on August 25, 2008 [2 favorites]

    Best answer: To make up for my earlier jerkishness, let me try to explain what I was going for without the hold-induced vitriol.

    I grew up in a small town in TN, and was still living there during the 2000 election. Gore, of course, was from TN and was generally well liked by the residents of said small town, but he still lost the state handily. Of the family members I know who actually got out and voted in 2000, the ones who voted for Bush had become really uncomfortable with what the Clinton era had brought into American society. The Lewinksy scandal was a big issue--no one really cared that much about the actual scandal itself, and I heard people say that, but a lot of my family members felt that America was becoming a coarser society. It's hard watching the national news with your family before dinner when it involves cigars, vaginas, and semen stains on blue dresses' breasts. At the same time, other uncomfortable topics were being brought up in other areas of media--cable television didn't really penetrate our area until the mid '90s. With cable television came increased violence and sexuality that a lot of people found/find distateful--2000 was the same year one of my uncle's tried cable so he could watch more baseball games, and the "premium channel" trial they give out to new subscribers convinced him to cancel it within the week.

    Into this environment came the Bush campaign, with it's famous descriptor "compassionate conservatism". This is something that resonated with a lot of my family members--they didn't hate those that were different, and didn't want to stop anyone from living their lives, but at this point they definitely had a feeling that more socially liberal values were being foisted upon them. Bush's "compassionate conservatism", I think, appealed to them as a label for their own social and moral ideas--they didn't see themselves as bigots, and were capable of feeling for those different from themselves, but they also wanted to move society back towards traditional values.

    Heaped upon this foundation were more obvious factors. Gore ran an excruciatingly poor campaign--I was in a polysci class during the debates, and the almost universal reaction to his first debate performance was a "what the hell was that?". He, perhaps rightly, seemed to talk down to Bush throughout the campaign, and thus he was indirectly talking down to a whole section of the population that may have doubted Bush's expertise but still liked what his 2000 campaign represented.

    And ultimately, the stakes in 2000 seemed much lower than what they would become. The Cold War was almost a decade into the past, the country was prosperous, the Internet and the home computer were truly hitting their stride. I'm speculating here, but without 9.11 the Bush presidency may have resembled the promises of its campaign. Sure, I think they would still have tried to pass some crazy-ass stuff, but without the 92% approval rate and the abrupt social upswing in conservatism and patriotism, I think the Bush campaign would have accomplished a lot of what people like family wanted--a slowing of what they saw as a coarsening of society, a hand-off approach to a booming economy, etc.--and little of their more outlandish policies.

    Today, none of my family members who liked Bush in 2000 still like him. Most of them have accepted that American society is becoming more socially liberal, though they don't like it, and they realize that a lot of what they wish to see in this country may be best accomplished through non-political means. Some like Obama, others like McCain, but the tone of family conversations about politics has definitely taken on a somewhat remorseful, contemplative tone.

    And sorry for being an ass this morning!
    posted by Benjy at 5:32 PM on August 25, 2008 [3 favorites]

    And just to say some similar things as above in a different light--the Republicans paid particularly sharp attention to organizing evangelical/religious/social conservatives in 2000 (and 2004). The Republican campaign reached out to them more heavily than before, offered a candidate they liked, and did get-out-the-vote operations.

    Rove and company made a strategic choice to put their emphasis there in 2000 and 2004 and it worked where it mattered -- in helping to win swing states that otherwise could have gone to either side.
    posted by gimonca at 5:52 PM on August 25, 2008

    I'll try to present another perspective. Take it with however much salt you'd like, as I did not vote for Bush, but I've yet to vote for a Republican or Democrat for president yet, and it's looking more and more like this election won't break that record.

    Many people actually believe that voting for a third party candidate is a waste of a vote in the current system, so when they go to vote, they are not voting for the guy they like better but the one they dislike less. For many people with a middle of the road bent, and a middle of the country address, the Democrats seemed to voice a scorn for them.

    People who don't think abortion should be illegal, but still think it's a bad idea; people who think guns are dangerous, but we should still have the right to have them; people who understand that some people really do need help to clothe their kids, but still feel that having 30% of their paycheck go to taxes while ODB takes a limo to cash his welfare check is unfair; these are the people who may have been pushed to the Bush side of the fence by the kind of people the OP is trying not to be anymore.

    In my experience (I'm a theater tech with family that farms in rural Iowa, so I'm around people at both extremes of the spectrum (and not always the ones you'd expect at the ends you'd expect)), the die-hard Republicans don't consider people who vote Democrat to be "fucking dumbasses" just misguided, and out of touch with reality. At least not with the kind of vehemence that I see regularly here on the web for the ones who view things the other way around.
    posted by Morydd at 6:26 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    I remember seeing coverage of Bush in Texas debates where he was pretty nimble, speechifying-wise, and at the time, Gore was still as wooden as Pinocchio. *shrug* Bush just looked a little better in a thinking-on-his-feet way, without needing to use flip charts or PowerPoint.
    posted by wenestvedt at 6:39 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Getting inside the mind of a voter is not an easy thing. Part of what follows is the political backdrop to help make the process of answering this question about 2000 easier.

    a) Gore was running two races: one against Bush and one against being tied to the scandals (especially Lewinskygate) of the Clinton administration. The scandals were still fresh in the public mind, regardless of their merit, import, or lack thereof. Just as McCain is having to delicately distance himself from Bush, in order not to be dragged down by Bush's unpopularity, so too was Gore having to distance himself from the philandering and perjury of Clinton. Now some people say that Clinton was still popular enough that he could have won a third term in 2000 against Bush--if third terms were allowed. I'm not so sure about this. Lewinskygate really tarnished his legacy.

    b) Whether accurate or just media manipulation, Gore was seen as wooden, and Bush was seen as down-to-earth. A lot of Americans don't want to vote for someone who they think might be smarter than them: that has never been a problem for Bush. Please note that that is not snark: Bush and his handlers were cultivating the Reaganesque plainspoken God-fearing cowboy thing with Bush in 2000, and even though it's simplistic and transparent it can be an effective image for many "low information" voters.

    c) Most voters vote along party lines, and few cross sides. That is why the coveted swing and independent voters, although they are few, are so coveted by politicians and also why their indecision remains so utterly baffling to most of us.

    d) Perhaps the moment was ripe for a swing of the pendulum? One can say this even if one thinks Clinton's presidency was mostly a success, or also if one does not. Two terms of the executive in one party can make it likely that the other party will win back the executive: I think this is a collective psychology of not wanting one party to dominate too long, but I readily admit this is just an intuition on my part--and cannot be backed up with much evidence (it also may be, given the current moment and my own political predilections, simply a case of wishful thinking on my part). But I do sense that, speaking psycho-politically, the onus is on the party that's been in the executive for eight years to prove why a party switch is now not in order.
    posted by ornate insect at 6:45 PM on August 25, 2008

    Best answer: I think the debates were a bigger issue than has been discussed here. I think there were three.

    In the first, Bush came off like a grade-a moron. Gore came off like an arrogant professor who was pounding on the dumb kid. Bush "wins".

    In the second, Bush was far better prepared, and Gore was (seemingly) on Quaaludes. Wooden, dull, trying desperately not to be mean to the dumb kid. And the dumb kid wins.

    And in the third, I believe that's when Gore sighed derisively a couple of times, on-mic, while Bush was speaking. Again, arrogant guy not being respectful. And Bush wins.

    People complain about the liberal media, but I think they were very much to "blame" for the Bush election by allowing Bush to get away with the "zero expectation" thing. It made great story for the dumb redneck mildly retarded son of a president to be trouncing the sitting vice president, so they ran with it. Then the Florida thing, where I think the media also contributed negatively to the democratic process. The amount of ridiculous "lawyer TV" that went on, where they picked two guys to debate either side's side, and then letting the viewers decide was reprehensible. How about, read the laws, and demand they be followed. But that's no fun. It's way better to get live cameras in courtrooms and feed the "election in peril" fire.
    posted by gjc at 7:10 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Full disclosure: I don't remember who I voted for in either 2000 or 2004. But it wasn't Bush or Kerry. Possibly Gore and then some crackpot 3rd party candidate. And I'm not calling names at Bush, just using colloquialisms for how he appeared and how the media perceived him.
    posted by gjc at 7:13 PM on August 25, 2008

    It's very easy to compartmentalize and separate those mistakes from his current character, or even to accept them with the understanding that personal problems won't interfere with good policy. Another possible response would be mercy, as in: He made some mistakes, but he's moved on now and we can give him another chance.

    Yes, this too: redemption is a huge deal in the American evangelical mind. Going from sinner to saint is a strong asset.
    posted by kittyprecious at 7:26 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    What you're going to have to do is find out the name and address of every single voter who voted for GWB. Then, you'll have to contact each of those voters individually to ask them why they chose him over another candidate, or not voting at all. Because no amount of snarky speculation about why one does, says, or thinks anything will adequately explain why one does, says, and thinks what they do. What I mean is, you can hypothesize all you want, but it won't get you closer to the truth.

    (And, really, I didn't vote for the guy, but I'm getting tired of people who claim that every person who disagrees with them, politically or otherwise, are fucking dumbasses.)
    posted by Mael Oui at 8:58 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    Because Bush seemed like a nice man, with honor, integrity, and a commitment to broad American principles. Gore, OTOH, appeared to be a smarmy politician -- too much association with no-class politicians (his boss, for one), a lifetime of silver-spoonism (not necessarily a bad thing, but he wore it way too stiffly), and even then his "green" theology was way out of proportion to the threat of "global warming."

    In a nutshell: Bush seemed nice, patriotic, and not too "insidery." Gore seemed to be the ultimate insider, and his green tendencies REALLY turned off a huge number of people.
    posted by davidmsc at 9:50 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    This is a really interesting thread. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool liberal who always votes Democrat, and live in one of the liberal coastal cities you hear so much about, surrounded by other liberals. I'm for abortion and against the death penalty, and I think Republican policies have been demonstrably bad for business and the economy. I really don't understand why anyone loves Reagan. Just so you know where I stand.

    I've spent the last 8 years going through cycles of surprise-shock-disillusionment-righteous indignation-ennui. (repeat ad nauseum.) I was genuinely surprised when Gore didn't win in '00, and have had this growing "told you so" feeling for the last 8 years, as well as growing distrust of the election system, to the point where I'd forgotten that the '00 was an amazingly close race. And wasn't it the closest presidential race in US history at the end? (If not the closest, then one of the top 3.) The intelligent answers in this thread are eye-opening for me, and are helping me remember it was nowhere near as simple as I've made it in my mind.

    - Lieberman: that bastard. He is horrible, I don't like him one bit. I think he turned a lot of folks away from Gore.
    - Gore: he had my vote, but what a stick in the mud. Honestly, he was pretty stiff and unappealing. He only really seems to shine as a public speaker when he's talking about the environment, which he is passionate about. And at that point, the environment was still tree-hugging nonsense. Easy to forget how quickly the reality of global warming has become obvious over the past decade.
    - 8 years of Clinton: yes, now I think of those 8 years as a golden age. (Booming economy, budget surplus, low unemployment and crime rates. Things were so good.) However, these things are easy to credit to society as a whole. There had also been 8 years of focused media criticism of the Clintons, and he had cheated on his wife in the oval office, which sits very poorly with folks. Think of the intense hatred of Bush & Co. now; the intense focus with which every step and misstep has been dissected for the past 8 years. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost. There had been an equally virulent (although I think less deserved) focus on Clinton since '92.
    - voter apathy. Eligible voters not registered to vote, registered voters not bothering to vote. Shameful. (I've skipped votes myself, of course, haven't we all?)
    - The conservative media: yes, there is a bias in media, and it is a conservative bias. Fox News, Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and their ilk are highly focused against progressive politics in this country. They present a united criticism against Democrats and progressive politics, to the point that their standards of fairness and journalistic integrity are extremely compromised. On the other hand, the so-called liberal media does not have a single party line or point of view, instead doing its best to foster debate and journalistic integrity. (Not always successfully, of course.) I don't think most journalists or politicians had realized at that point how pervasive the the conservative media's message had become. I personally still dismissed them as a bunch of clowns, the right-wing equivalent of Howard Stern. Good for a laugh, sometimes pissed you off, but ultimately entertainment as opposed to real news. How wrong I was.
    - Nader: Ralph Nader had a compelling point of view, and drew a lot of votes away. In theory, I think we should have 3 or more parties. It would make our politics so much healthier. In practice, I think Nader's campaign just managed to split the progressive votes enough to turn the tide to Bush.
    - Some very serious irregularities in the vote count. Think about it - in a nation of ~300,000,000, the election came down to counting and recounting confusing paper ballots in a few districts in one state. The state's governor happened to be W's brother. The federal judge who decided to stop the recount was a Republican. I'm not saying Florida's count was rigged, but it didn't seem fair either. Multiply the irregularities we saw there by all the voting districts in the country.
    - Oh yes, there is the fact that Gore actually got the majority of popular votes. It was a slim majority, but it was a majority. Our election system is archaic and nonsensical, and it bit us in the ass. I was actually naive enough in '00 to think that election might spur some reform in the election system. I then thought that Bush might have the character and integrity to at least look into election reforms. What a laughable notion that is now.

    Alright, I know I've gotten a little bit into the kind of ranting this thread was not supposed to be about. But I have honestly found this thread eye-opening in a lot of ways, and it has helped remind me that it really wasn't an us-vs-them situation then, and it really isn't now. Despite my apparent soapboxing, this has been helpful to me in getting my mind in a better place before the '08 election.

    Of course, I'm still putting all my hope behind the idea that the crazy old man from Arizona can't possibly win in November.
    posted by Cranialtorque at 11:01 PM on August 25, 2008

    I think I voted for Bush. I'm not sure, really. I was a third party supporter and I threw my support towards Browne. Choosing between Bush and Gore really, didn't seem to matter. It was the same two party system of the same debates where there's so much balance that nothing gets done. I just couldn't make myself care enough to vote for either of them when I could vote third party and hope to have some impact on the two party platforms, which is probably how many Nader supporters probably saw it as well. Then, as the election seemed closer and closer and I was in a state that seemed to matter (FL), I became more and more concerned with Gore. Not Al, mind you, I like him. It was Tipper that had me scared. She seemed like a much more dangerous first lady than Laura. Laura's issue would be education and she didn't seem all that concerned about getting involved with any real policy debates on it. When I looked at Tipper, however, all I could see was censorship. That bothered me. A lot.

    Coming off of the Clinton years, I figured that there'd be some retribution given to Bush by the Dems, but all in all, I thought the country was in pretty good shape. How could he mess it up, really.

    I can't remember who I finally cast my vote for, Bush or Browne. It might have mattered (had they let the recount continue) and I probably would have been a bit upset if Gore had won.

    Not so much, now. Hindsight is just so much clearer.
    posted by imbri at 11:22 PM on August 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

    the die-hard Republicans don't consider people who vote Democrat to be "fucking dumbasses" just misguided, and out of touch with reality. At least not with the kind of vehemence that I see regularly here on the web for the ones who view things the other way around.
    I wouldn't say that, really. You're comparing your conservative family members to commenters on a left-leaning website. I hung out on a conservative web site and when I really 'made the switch,' admitting that my internal compass had swung towards the liberal side of many arguments, I was attacked with an enthusiasm that suggests posters believed candy would fall from my corpse if they beat it hard enough. I was called a tool of the antichrist, an idiot, vile and despicable, and one guy referred to me as his "blue-state enemy." The kindest statements were generally along the lines of, "You're a 'useful idiot' for the evil people trying to destroy our country."

    Talk radio and the 'net in particular have a profound amplifying effect on these kinds of things, I think. On the one hand, forums for discussion tend to be "safe zones" for one ideology or another. This leads to a great deal of news about what the other side is up to, but no opportunities to actually dialogue with them. It can very quickly ramp up the feelings of frustration and anger.

    My first real experience with it was in the early 90s, when what eventually became known as the "right wing noise machine" was beginning to ramp up. I could easily keep myself buried in books, newsletters, radio, and so on that did nothing but tell me what the liberals in congress and the horrible NEA bureaucrats were doing to destroy the country. When Rush finally landed his TV show, wow! It was like the beginning of a new era. Rush's TV gig eventually folded, but FOX more than filled the gap.
    posted by verb at 5:55 AM on August 26, 2008

    the die-hard Republicans don't consider people who vote Democrat to be "fucking dumbasses" just misguided, and out of touch with reality. At least not with the kind of vehemence that I see regularly here on the web for the ones who view things the other way around.

    Oh, that kind of vehemence is definitely out there. There is jackassery on both sides.

    And actually, believing that someone is "out of touch with reality" isn't all that better than believing they're "a dumbass," either.
    posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:35 AM on August 26, 2008

    the die-hard Republicans don't consider people who vote Democrat to be "fucking dumbasses" just misguided, and out of touch with reality. At least not with the kind of vehemence that I see regularly here on the web for the ones who view things the other way around.

    Yeah, how is that better? Many, many conservatives honestly believe that liberal-types hate the country and want to tear it down. Maybe they don't believe that it's their fault, but that's just arrogance- silly liberals, always falling for some sweet talker. On average, the conservative voter doesn't respect the liberal voter. The liberal voter (again, on average) understands the conservative desires and disagrees vehemently.
    posted by gjc at 5:29 PM on August 26, 2008

    Best answer:
    On average, the conservative voter doesn't respect the liberal voter. The liberal voter (again, on average) understands the conservative desires and disagrees vehemently.
    I don't believe this is the case. As someone who spent about twenty years as a "tribal" religious conservative, I spend most of my time now explaining to other liberals what actually goes on "on the other side." Most genuinely believe that conservatives -- especially religious conservatives -- are either gun-toting racist nutbags who think women should stay barefoot in the kitchen, or power-mad dominionists bent on restoring Old Testament law. Liberal and Conservative stereotypes abound, and the nature of the 'net these days means that either side can always find a handful of examples to support the wildest caricatures.

    There are conservatives who honestly, legitimately, understand what liberals are trying to accomplish and believe that they are taking a doomed approach. There are also conservative Bush-voters who are outright racists. There are also liberals who believe that the rich should have their possessions seized and given to inner city drug addicts.

    The challenge is to honestly dialogue around the crazies.
    posted by verb at 7:00 PM on August 26, 2008 [3 favorites]

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