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Jewish World Review August 21, 2002 / 13 Elul, 5762

Matt Towery

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Consumer Reports

Unsure Americans | Months ago, this column focused on the fact that Americans seemed unusually unsettled and unsure about their personal views and their future, as well as that of the nation. As early as late spring, I noted a growing concern over the government's slow response to the declining economy, an uneasiness about national security, and an overall feeling that no one seemed to be leading the country.

Since then, President Bush has suffered the first real signs of a decline in his strong post-9/11 popularity. The public continues to feel uncertain about not only the state of theirs and the nation's pocketbook, but also about how much "homeland security" we really have -- and at what cost in dollars and civil liberties -- as well as the consequences of a possible unilateral invasion of Iraq.

As predicted, all this uneasiness has resulted in a 2002 electorate that doesn't seem able to make up its mind on which political party can best provide decisiveness and direction for America's future.

In this space, we've chronicled the shifting political sands in places like Florida, where an unknown Democrat named Bill McBride has strong behind-the-scenes support from powerful party leaders. McBride is tempting the party faithful to bypass the better-known Janet Reno in favor of his more moderate candidacy. They hope that McBride would stand a better chance of beating the seemingly invincible Republican incumbent Gov. Jeb Bush and "avenging" the results of the 2000 presidential battle in Florida. McBride's late-in-the-game surge might provide that hope.

Florida is not the only state where voters appear to be taking a look at "breaking away" from more predictable behavior. President Bush's home state of Texas offers another example. There, the African-American Democratic nominee for the U.S. Senate, former Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk, is reportedly receiving heavy backing from that city's conservative business leaders and is leading in several polls against his GOP opponent, state Attorney General John Cornyn.

Some of Kirk's strongest support appears to be coming from the same type of atypical alliance that supports McBride in Florida -- including Republicans who personally know Kirk and supporters of former President Bill Clinton. This is doubly surprising because Republican Cornyn is seeking to take the seat of popular retiring Texas GOP Sen. Phil Gramm.

The Florida and Texas races are representative of the near-schizophrenic character the voting public is now exhibiting across the country. And issues polls from coast to coast also illustrate the point: too many voters have too little idea what the Republicans or the Democrats stand for, and what policies they might put into play if elected.

Here's a warning to all candidates in this unusual election year -- be on guard, because the public will abandon you in a wink. Case in point: Bill Simon, the GOP's nominee for governor of California. State political pundits were shocked when the unapologetically conservative Simon knocked off former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan last March in the party's primary. With incumbent Democratic Gov. Gray Davis reeling from public disapproval of his handling of last year's California energy crisis, Simon appeared to have a genuine chance to stage a major upset over a well-financed and politically sophisticated incumbent.

But a $78 million fraud verdict last month against Simon's investment firm threw his effort into disarray, forcing the Simon campaign to drastically cut staff and try to re-establish credibility. Easy come, easy go. And just as with the mentioned races in Florida, Texas, and many other states, the political winds might shift three or four more times before Davis and Simon are finished.

There will likely be no rhyme or reason to how the American people select their political leaders this year. Many of the results will likely hinge on how, on any given day, people feel about their own personal safety and security. But the one characteristic that candidates hoping for success might do well to display at this unique time in American history is decisiveness.

From the president's four-week holiday in Texas, which has gone from a vacation to a "working vacation" to a venue for a dog-and-pony "economic forum," Bush and other leaders are leaving Americans feeling as unsure of things as the leaders who represent them. "Am I rich or poor? Am I safe, or will I be the victim of terror? Am I working or on vacation?" they are asking.

Of late, no elected official seems to have answers to these questions. As a result, voters across America are still trying to figure out what their own answers will be when they go to the polls.

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08/15/02: A white, Southerner faces discrimination at sports dome
08/08/02: The hidden story in the Reno v. Bush race
08/05/02: McKinney, 9-11 conspiracy theorist, in fight for political life
07/31/02: GOP quietly shoring-up domestic policies
07/25/02: Media snobs need to look beyond New York, D.C.
07/18/02: A letter to President Bush from Outside the Beltway
07/11/02: Dear President Bush: An effort in futility
07/03/02: Updates and freedom
06/27/02: The coming election: Seeking change for the sake of change?
06/20/02: The inside story re the political future of controversial GOPer Bob Barr
06/11/02: On dirty bombs and scare-mongering: Sometimes a columnist wishes he was wrong
06/06/02: The emerging confused GOPer?
05/30/02: In search of an aggressive GOP leader
05/21/02: Anticipating new terrorism: "Dirty bomb" is no fantasy!
05/16/02: The oddity of Carter's legacy
05/09/02: Replay of 1992 coming?
05/02/02: The hottest family on television might have to abandon the United States
04/25/02: One step ahead of devious minds capable of unthinkable crimes?
04/18/02: Alaskan battleground?
04/11/02: How the peaceful fairways of the world's most revered golf course, may serve as a brilliant strategic battleground the most recent round of "cola wars"
04/05/02: The most likely immediate threat to our national security is being ignored
03/14/02: Clinton's influence looms
03/07/02: Poll turns up surprising views on Bush and more
02/21/02: The recession is over --- so why are the sophisticates still using scare tactics?
02/14/02: This Enron story directly affects our own pocketbooks
02/07/02: The epicenter of quiet but powerful shifts in the American political landscape
01/31/02: A little bipartisan hope
01/24/02: Secrets of the past can often provide guidance for dealing with the future
01/18/02: And I thought explaining Jane Fonda was tough
01/09/02: Dubya falling into Dems' trap?
01/02/02: A few adjustments and 2002 might turn out all right
12/27/01 Rudy, the 'perfect excuse'?
12/19/01 Haig the madman?
12/12/01 That senator with the funny name

© 2001, Creators Syndicate