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Floyd Ciruli's political trends from 2004

2004 will be a year of decision for Americans. The presidential election will be at the center of the choices. Key features of the election are fallout from the close and controversial 2000 election, the war on terror and the economy. Does the bitterness of the 2000 election linger with a majority of voters or only intense partisans? Is the war in Iraq seen as a logical extension of the war on terror—worth the effort and winnable? Or will Americans grow weary of war? Is a 10,000 DOW Jones average, coupled with two quarters of economic recovery, sufficient to assure voters the economy is sustainable and will create jobs?

September 11, 2001, remains the pivotal event in the Bush presidency and will shape the 2004 election environment. September 11 has changed the way Americans regard their military. Today Americans are commitment to providing security in Baghdad and credit the military for what’s going right in Iraq.

The re-election of an incumbent president, especially a wartime president, enjoys a degree of presumption. But recent incumbent presidents have failed to win second terms: Johnson, 1968; Ford, 1976; Carter, 1980; and the elder Bush in 1992. Complicating President Bush’s re-election is that Americans today remain anxious about security and the economy, and are closely divided in partisanship. And although the post-9/11 war on terror had broad-based support, the preemptive war in Iraq ignited the Democratic left and swelled its ranks as fighting dragged on and casualties mounted during the summer and fall.
Ins and Outs for 2004
IN Out
Iraqification War with Iraq
Liberal rage Clinton wing
Political outsiders Political insiders
Al Franken Rush Limbaugh
Recovery Low interest rates
Under the mattress Mutual funds
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy Martha Stewart Living
Blogs NY/LA Times
Sofia Coppola Francis Coppola
Protein Carbs
Target Wal-Mart
Internet dating Blind dates
The Da Vinci Code Catholic church
Hotspots/TiVo DSL/VCR's
Courts Legislatures
Creative cities Convergence corridor
Rainy day fund Perfect storm
South Metro Authority Big Straw

There was some good news for the president in 2003: The economy has picked up speed, Saddam Hussein is in custody and Democrats are divided between the rejuvenated left and dispirited center.

It is not yet clear whether the presidential election is stirring the average citizen. While elites are animated and highly polarized, voter participation is low and marches and demonstrations are non-existent (even on liberal college campuses). But as the California recall shows, voters can engage quickly, and direct democracy continues to be the voter’s most popular form of anger management.

Either the close partisan divisions seen in recent elections will be repeated in 2004, or Republicans will solidify control at the federal level with improved majorities in both houses of Congress and the re-election of the president. Following are highlights of the political trends of 2004.

The “2004 Ins and Outs”

  • Facing an up or down test from voters in 2004 will be the Bush doctrine of American primacy, preemption and unilateral action, and the goal of spreading freedom and installing democratic regimes.

  • Following the initial euphoria brought by a quick victory, the war in Iraq has become a burden. The political solution is Iraqification. The Bush administration intends to hand off security to the Iraqis as soon as possible.

  • Although the American military has become among the nation’s most respected institutions, especially its officers and soldiers in the field, management in Iraq is shifting from Donald Rumsfeld and Pentagon planners to non-military leaders Condoleezza Rice and Joe Bremer.

  • Neo cons, who were on the defensive because of stubborn Iraqi resistance and failure to find weapons of mass destruction, enjoyed some wins by year end with Saddam in custody and Quaddafi giving up weapons of mass destruction.

  • Outsiders are upsetting political insiders. Howard Dean, Arnold Schwarzenegger and John Hickenlooper are examples of people outside the political establishment who dominated 2003 politics.

  • The best-seller list and radio talk shows are the front lines of the political culture wars. Al Franken and Michael Moore dominate on the left with “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right” and “Dude, Where’s My Country?” But the right is close behind with Ann Coulter’s “Treason” and Bill O’Reilly’s “Who's Looking Out for You?”

  • Rush Limbaugh, the godfather of conservative talk radio, hit a prescription drug speed bump. But there are many conservative talk jocks ready to replace him (e.g., Hugh Hewitt and Sean Hannity). And Fox’s news with “attitude” continues to whip CNN and the rest of the more liberal and mainstream broadcast outlets.

  • Liberals aren’t taking it anymore. They are fighting back by starting websites, buying radio stations, funding think tanks and backing Howard Dean’s anti-war presidential campaign. Out are the so-called Clinton wing of the Democratic party (represented by Washington politicians), the Democratic Leadership Council and Democratic National Committee chair Terry McAuliffe.

  • The economy finally appears to be on a steady recovery and cycling out of the recession and dot-com bust. The market lead the economy down and now appears to be leading the way up. But Americans remain cautious. Manufacturing jobs are disappearing as productivity and globalization change the American workplace. An expected rise in interest rates before the end of 2004 is dampening Dow enthusiasm.

  • The last bastion of integrity among financial institutions, mutual funds, began to crack under New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer’s charges of insider trading and fee gouging. If mutual funds can’t be trusted, where can one invest today—under the mattress or in a coffee can? Mutual funds are still attracting money but there is a fight for quality with Vanguard, Fidelity and American Funds leading the way.

  • Local economic development strategies have shifted from high-tech recruitment and branding (Silicone Valley/Convergence Corridor) to developing creative cities. The new goal is to create street-level business and cultural amenities that attract and hold the professional and analytical class (see “The Rise of the Creative Class,” by Richard Florida).

  • Mainstream media continues to lose ground to upstart technologies. Cable stole audience share from networks; the Internet is invading print’s turf. Weblogs called blogs got their big start after 9/11 and are now daily reading for millions. They have the major media outlets looking over their shoulders as charges of bias, inaccuracy and plagiarism have forced changes in procedure and even leadership (Howell Raines at New York Times). The Internet also has become the dating forum of choice.

  • TiVo, hotspots and cell phones with data and picture transmission continue technology’s contribution to customization and connectivity. Self check-in technology at airports minimizes the inconvenience caused by terror alerts.

  • Number-one best selling “The da Vinci Code” and its surfeit of half-baked religious conspiracy theories proved to be just one of the Catholic church’s trials in 2003. A weakened Pope and priestly scandals made for a bad year.

  • The gay movement continues its decade-long progress in winning the culture war. As Martha Stewart headed for court, “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” became the lifestyle advice show of choice. Howard Dean claimed he was a metrosexual, then later admitted he wasn’t sure what it meant. Gay rights will be a 2004 presidential issue. But the gay drive for marriage rights will face continued opposition due to the public’s religious belief that marriage should be between “a man and a woman.”

  • Women film directors won audiences and critics in 2003, including, Lost in Translation (Sofia Coppola) and Something’s Got to Give (Nancy Meyers). Sofia Coppola could be the first female director to win an Oscar.

  • Protein is in and carbohydrates out. The Atkins diet and its less strenuous cousin, the South Beach diet, finally overcame critics and are now changing eating habits and restaurant menus.

  • Wal-Mart has become the target of the anti-globalization crowd. Target, while smaller, appears more nimble in the current climate. But Wal-Mart is still one of the world’s largest employers and contributes to the productivity benefiting the economy the last few years.

  • Major political issues were decided by courts, not legislatures in 2003: U.S. Supreme Court outlawed sodomy laws and upheld affirmative action. In Colorado, vouchers, the Pledge of Allegiance in schools and Congressional redistricting were overturned. The trend could continue in 2004.

  • Many of Colorado’s politicians consider the state’s Constitutional fiscal rules, TABOR, Amendment 23 and the Gallagher Amendment, unworkable under current financial conditions. Political leaders are calling for reform. But the window of opportunity has narrowed. The improving economy, the failure to change the Gallagher Amendment in the 2003 election, and continued disagreement over what changes should be made all make major change unlikely in 2004.

  • The loss of Referendum A slammed the political brakes on large-scale water projects. However momentum is building to address the south metro water shortfall.

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