Sunday, September 12, 2004

The true swing voter

Republican pollster Lance Tarrance and former Bush administration official Leslie Sanchez claim to have discovered “What Women Voters Want.”

They want “feminine appeal,” which seems to involve three things: Bush’s “building an emotional connection, humanizing himself and portraying himself as the candidate who can keep America safe.”

Apparently “an emotional connection” hinges on feel-good rhetoric. The example Tarrance and Sanchez use is Bush’s remark that “In the heart of this great city, we saw tragedy arrive on a quiet morning.” I can hardly begin to express my emotional connection to this man: the principal emotion I feel is double outrage—-that he can’t create a cliché-free image and that he expects me to be moved by it.

(You can read Bush’s acceptance speech here, peppered with canned responses and applause reminiscent of the published versions of Mussolini’s speeches.)

Bush’s “humanization,” they say, comes through here:

He told a story to give Americans—-women in particular-—a glimpse into his persona: “I’ve held the children of the fallen, who are told their dad or mom is a hero, but would rather just have their mom and dad.”

Sure: what human being wouldn’t feel bad for a kid who lost a parent. Rhetoricians have, for a long time, appreciated the value of emotional appeal: if a listener can feel something, based on what a speaker says, they are more likely to listen.

But then the questions are, what are they going to listen to and what reasoning backs up the feelings? Tarrance and Sanchez say that women want a candidate who can portray himself as capable of keeping America safe. That assertion—-and the emphasis on Bush’s “persona”—-implies that women voters are more interested in image than reality, in feeling good than in knowing the truth. The women voters I know prefer that America be safe than be portrayed as safe. Are we more safe now that Iraq has become a recruitment center for “Islamist terror groups”? And now that Osama bin Laden’s name appears nowhere in the Bush acceptance speech because he has still not been brought to justice?

The Bush administration’s desire to appeal to women is hardly new—-it brought us “compassionate conservatism,” doublespeak for policies that have eroded environmental protections, led to stunning job losses, tried to demolish social security, sent soldiers to die for the president’s popularity ratings, and amassed a deficit our children and grandchildren will never pay down. And after years and years when feminists begged people to pay attention to the situation of women in Afghanistan under the Taliban, years during which the plight of women there received no attention from the American government, the Bush team seemed finally to prick up their ears and make Afghani women one of the causes they were fighting for—-now that American armed forces were going there to hunt down Osama.

The concluding sentence of Terrance and Sanchez’s piece:

In this presidential election, it is becoming more and more clear that the female voter is the true swing voter.

I guess women still play the same role for the current administration—-a target market to be manipulated

I offer several hints for those selling Bush. What women voters do not want is

· to be all lumped together as “the female voter,” regardless of views or motivations;
· to be condemned once again as changeable and fickle; and
· to be seen as a group easy to manipulate through transparent portrayals and personae.


bkmarcus said...

I subscribe to the weekly newsletter from, in which I found the following pertinent link:

A new condescension greets women voters

bkmarcus said...

More from Wendy McElroy of on the "vagina vote":

Individual Rights vs. Identity Politics