- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 16, 2003

This week I thought I would say something about America’s famous “liberal media bias”:

Bring it on, baby.

That’s the short version. The long version is that, as some readers may recall, after the midterm elections a year ago, I decided “liberal media bias” was far more harmful to liberals than conservatives. In fact, if I were a Democrat, I would be getting a little miffed at the recurring pattern: Throughout the election campaign, my newspaper produces a poll showing my guy way ahead; finds “typical voters” (choreographers of environmentalist dance companies, etc) anxious to blame President Bush for the worst recession since Herbert Hoover; runs front-page features on how Bill Clinton has flown in to campaign with my man, exuding the rock-star glamour that so enthuses the base, etc.

And then the morning after Election Night, I wake up to discover that, in a stunning upset utterly predictable to everyone but the expert media analysts, the Democrat got hammered.

But not to worry. Just as your rattled Democratic supporter is beginning to feel a harsh jab of reality in what Slate’s Mickey Kaus calls the “liberal cocoon,” the media rush to lull him back to the land of make-believe, assuring us the Democrat defeat is attributable to strictly local factors and definitely not part of a trend.

Thus, the New York Times on this month’s gubernatorial election in Kentucky:

Before: “Kentucky race is test for Bush on economy.”

Got that? The Times boys figure there’s a lot riding for the president on this one. If the Republican doesn’t win, it could presage trouble next year.

After: “The Kentucky race was viewed largely as a referendum on the leadership of Mr Patton … .”

Sure, the Republican won, but relax, say the Times guys. Nothing to worry about. Strictly local. No national significance here.

Oddly enough, all these nontrends seem to trend the same way:

• November 2002 — Democrats lose control of the U.S. Senate.

• October 2003 — Democrats lose the California gubernatorial race.

• Early November 2003 — Democrats lose the Mississippi and Kentucky gubernatorial races.

• Mid-November 2003 ? Democrats lose the Louisiana gubernatorial race.

(At the time of writing, I don’t know the result of the Louisiana gubernatorial race, so I’m merely extrapolating from the earlier nontrends.)

Nonetheless, a significant number of commentators, having been up all night snorting Democratic talking points, persist in clinging to the notion America remains as “deeply polarized” as it was in the presidential race of 2000. The victories in Mississippi and Kentucky were merely Mr. Bush shoring up his heartland. Against that must be set, er, Republican defeats in New York’s Suffolk County.

Well, it’s true even Democrats can find good news if they know where to look. In my town in New Hampshire, a Democrat neighbor recently got elected cemetery commissioner, which may prove useful experience, the way things are going for her party.

The American electorate is “polarized” in the sense that a seesaw would be with Kate Moss at one end and me at the other. The 50/50 nation of the 2000 election is gone. A small but significant sliver of the electorate shifted right after September 11, 2001: We can argue about whether it’s 4 percent or 12 percent, but not whether it exists. Who are these voters? They seem to be young, hitherto natural Democrats who aren’t as hung up as their wrinkly parents on Vietnam nostalgia. A lot of them are female, which is why the so-called Republican “gender gap” the media like to harp on about was wiped out in 2002, while the Democrats’ own gap with white male voters has widened to a chasm.

As for Mr. Bush merely solidifying his base, Kentucky hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1967 and Mississippi has only elected two in the last 125 years. Meanwhile, in the swing states, the change in voter identification since September 11, 2001, is all in one direction:

• Florida: Republicans up 6 points.

• Minnesota: Republicans up 8 points.

• Michigan: Republicans up 9 points.

• Iowa: Republicans up 12 points.

• Arkansas (home of the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library): Republicans up 15 points.

Doesn’t sound that polarized to me. But, driving around the other day, I heard a radio reporter taking refuge in a favorite recent formulation: “Despite polls showing increasing public unhappiness over Iraq, the president continues to insist … .”

That crazy George Bush, eh? Flying in the face of what some guy told some pollster over the telephone? But why don’t we try the same formulation with some actual votes? “Despite losing three governorships in the last month, Democrats continue to insist that their strategy of running every election as a referendum on Bush is working.”

You can maintain these are all local flukes, but, if so, Republicans seem to be noticeably better than Democrats at finding horses for courses, from the Terminator in California to the first Indian-American gubernatorial candidate in Louisiana. As for the Dems’ willful unseriousness on the great national issue, this isn’t quite the same as their traditional weakness on foreign policy. For most of its final phase, the Cold War was a rather remote and abstract thing — as useless as the Dems were on Grenada and the like, voters had no direct stake in these obscure pinpricks on the map. September 11 is different: it’s not a foreign-affairs think-tank subject, it’s closer to those gut cultural issues like gun rights that Democrats score so badly on.

In the president’s speech a week ago, the bit I liked best was this, and not just because I’ve been saying it myself for two years:

“Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe — because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty.”

That’s essentially a cultural argument, and one artfully in tune both with white rural male gun nuts who resent Democratic predations on their own liberty and with newer, younger, September 11 Republican national-security converts who think the way to stop Islamic terrorism is to fix the problem at source. And the pretzel contortions of the Democratic candidates can’t match it.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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