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Jewish World Review May 21, 2001 / 28 Iyar 5761

William Schneider

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The answer is men -- THERE'S an old rule in politics: Dance with the one that brung you. Who brung George W. Bush to the White House? The answer is men. Men voted for Bush by a decisive majority, 53 to 42 percent according to the exit polls. Women voted just as decisively for Al Gore (54 to 43 percent).

The gender gap goes back to Ronald Reagan. Reagan was always more popular with men than with women. But women still voted for Reagan -- twice.

In the case of George W. Bush last year, the gender gap was larger and more decisive than ever. The 2000 presidential election ended up with two competing landslides -- a landslide for Bush among men and a landslide for Gore among women.

The result is what we see before us: government by gender gap.

What do men like? They like sports and business.

Bush was a businessman. He has surrounded himself with former business executives and touts his business credentials at every opportunity. Bush also ran a ball club, and he's the fan-in-chief when it comes to sports. He had the world champion New York Yankees over to the White House earlier this month, where he announced that he was setting up a T-ball park for children on the lawn. "Yankee Stadium is hallowed grounds,'' the President said, "and so is the White House.''

Is there a payoff for the President? You bet. At the outset of his Administration, Bush drew slightly better personal favorability ratings from men (64 percent in the Gallup Poll) than from women (60 percent). At the end of 100 days, his ratings had stayed about the same among women (61). But he soared among men (70).

President Bush the First had a problem with men. Remember "the wimp factor''? Not a problem for President Bush the Second. This President Bush has been far more aggressive and visionary than his father. Not just "no new taxes,'' but a huge tax cut. Not just "kinder, gentler government,'' but "the courage to confront and resolve tough challenges.''

No sooner were his first 100 days over than George W. Bush proposed an ambitious missile defense plan, a fundamental change in social security and a shift in energy strategy from conservation to production. Asked to rate President Bush's personal qualities after 100 days, "has a vision for the country's future'' tops the list, ahead of honesty and leadership. This is no "in-box President,'' as his father was described. This Bush has "the vision thing.''

But it's more than style or sports. What men like most about Bush are his policies. In selling his tax cut, Bush associated himself with two other Presidents who were especially popular with men. "Forty years ago, and then twenty years ago, two Presidents, one Democrat, one Republican, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, advocated tax cuts to, in President Kennedy's words, 'get the country moving again,''' Bush told a joint session of Congress on Feb. 27.

Sure enough, a solid majority of men supports Bush's tax cut (64 percent, according to Gallup). But not women (49 percent). Men like Bush's proposal to allow workers to invest a portion of their social security taxes (60 percent). Women are skeptical (50 percent).

By a narrow majority, men favor Bush's missile defense plan (52 percent). Women don't (37). And men tend to support school vouchers (51 percent). Women say no (43).

What Bush's policies have in common, and what appeals to men, is the element of risk-taking and competition. Let people spend their money instead of giving it to the government. Let private schools compete with public schools. Let private investments compete with social security. Let us defend ourselves with high-tech, space-based weapons.

Risk-taking, competition -- that's what sports and business are all about. That's what President Bush wants government to be all about. When Al Gore warned voters about Bush's "risky schemes,'' Bush ridiculed him. "Every one of the proposals I've talked about tonight, he's called a 'risky scheme,' over and over again,'' Bush told the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia last year. "If my opponent had been at the moon launch, it would have been a 'risky rocket scheme.' If he had been there when Edison was testing the light bulb, it would have been a 'risky anti-candle scheme.' . . . He now leads the party of Franklin D. Roosevelt, but the only thing he has to offer is fear itself.'' How's that for macho talk?

Most women don't think government should be about risk-taking and competition. They think government should be about security. What attracted women to Gore was his commitment to the safety net. Which is what defines the Democratic Party these days. Republicans get in trouble when they threaten the safety net -- as the GOP Congress did under Newt Gingrich.

Has Bush threatened the safety net? Yes. On the environment. And polls show both men and women give President Bush low marks for his environmental policies. But men are still standing by President Bush. He's their President. And men are his safety net.

Or more precisely, his base. Every political leader needs a base. Because sooner or later, every politician gets in trouble. Your base are the people who are with you when you're wrong. President Clinton got into plenty of trouble. Who stood by him? Women. Despite what he had done. President Bush has to hope that he can count on that kind of loyalty from men.

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05/10/01: Bush v. Carter?


© 2001, William Schneider