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The great disconnect

And the big surprise of this election? It wasn't even close. Where was the squeaker? Where are the court fights that were supposed to drag on till next spring? Where are those battalions of lawyers who were girded to contest every hanging chad? They're back to their day jobs, because there's nothing to contest.

Remember how the tea leaves looked only 48 hours ago? They were supposed to spell out K-E-R-R-Y. The apparent record turnout was said to be a good sign. "People don't line up for hours just so they can vote for the incumbent," said everyone (including me). The exit polls were fabulous (but wrong). He'd get the youth vote, the newly registered, the late undecideds.

Nope. All that was nothing but a load of wishful thinking. We just couldn't help ourselves. Almost all Canadians and the major U.S. media were rooting for John Kerry. We couldn't quite bring ourselves to believe that the great unwashed, deluded masses would re-elect a man so spectacularly incompetent as George Bush -- even though nearly every poll taken in the past few weeks predicted they would.

The media should make their national political reporters go live somewhere like Sioux Falls, S.D. Then they might have a clue about what's really going on.

The media and the Democrats accuse the Bushies of being driven by moral righteousness, untroubled by doubt and never listening to anybody but themselves. And they are largely right. But they're no different.

Tom Wolfe, the chronicler of the pretensions of the upper classes, had a lot to say on this subject in The Guardian this week. He lives in Manhattan but can't abide the smug superiority he sees all around him. The liberal elite hasn't got a clue, he says. "Tina Brown wrote in her column that she was at a dinner where a group of media heavyweights were discussing, during dessert, what they could do to stop Bush. Then a waiter announces that he is from the suburbs, and will vote for Bush. And . . . Tina's reaction is: 'How can we persuade these people not to vote for Bush?' I draw the opposite lesson: that Tina and her circle in the media do not have a clue about the rest of the United States. You are considered twisted and retarded if you support Bush in this election."

And that's a giant problem for both the Democrats and the media. Mr. Kerry didn't lose because he was a dreadful candidate or because Americans think Mr. Bush has done a great job in Iraq. He lost because the core values that Mr. Bush articulates are more aligned with theirs than Mr. Kerry's.

"How could people vote against their own economic interests?" the media people marvel, baffled that even voters in hard-hit places such as Ohio wound up endorsing tax cuts for the rich. If anybody in the media had a son or sister serving in Iraq, maybe they'd understand. And maybe they'd also understand that, although many voters think Iraq's a mess, they don't want to let the troops down, and they trust Mr. Bush not to do that.

We media types tend to cover George Bush's America as if it were some sort of freak show, populated by gun nuts and wacky Christian fundamentalists. We're alarmed and appalled that a third of the nation is evangelical. But we really don't know the first thing about these strange and scary people (many of whom are way more tolerant and liberal than we imagine). We don't know the difference between a fundamentalist and an evangelical, and we certainly wouldn't be caught dead socializing with either one. Those poor slobs who voted for Mr. Bush are not our class, dear.

Don't get me wrong. I think the Christian right is way too strong in America, and I'm afraid that the Bushies will mistake an endorsement of Mr. Bush's values for an endorsement of his policies. But the media and the Democrats would be way better off if they could get to understand (and even appreciate) some of those values from the inside out.

But I won't hold my breath. The National Press Club in Washington and the salons of Manhattan are a whole lot nicer than the diners in Sioux Falls. Those folks whose job is to explain America to the rest of us won't be relocating any time soon.

mwente@globeandmail.ca

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