<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>


By John Hanchette

OLEAN -- Pardon me, while I devour this large serving of crow after having predicted John Kerry's victory a week ago in the presidential election, replete with several reasons why, all of which turned out to be flat wrong. I'll get started with the column in a minute.

Common Ground
Mt. Views
Local History

(Did you know, by the way, that some etymological scholars believe the phrase "to eat crow" -- an expression which indicates humble admission of previous incorrect statements or boasts -- originated in Niagara County during the War of 1812? The story, unproven, is that a British soldier on a wooded footpath happened upon an American partisan who had just shot a crow, and to humiliate him, made him start eating it. The Yankee somehow got the drop on the Redcoat in the middle of the unwanted dining session, and turned the tables, making the Brit finish off the unwholesome meal. Other word detectives think it's a crock, but it's as good an explanation as any.)

But I digress. Back to business.

My theory that American voters in key states would fall back on concerns about the economy, the environment, health care and taxes after they tired of the campaign din over the war in Iraq turned out to be as whimsical as the above theory on eating crow. A majority of voters interviewed as they left the polling places indicated they agreed the economy stinks and Bush's tax cuts had not improved anything, but they re-elected him anyway.

President Bush's resident Machiavelli -- political adviser Karl Rove -- had the winning instinct (and internal survey numbers) in figuring most Americans, even a surprising chunk of the hordes of new voters, still rated safety and national security among the top concerns, along with that somewhat amorphous phrase "traditional family values." This term can usually be defined as "Americans collectively will go to hell in a handbasket if you elect Democrats."

Fully 20 percent of those voting indicated their top concern this year was that category -- traditional family or "moral" values. This concern tied with fighting terrorism as a motivating feeling in the ballot booth. Bush enjoyed 80 percent support from those listing "moral values" as a motivating concern.

When the balloting dust settled, exit polls highlighted some further striking voter behavior. President Bush increased substantially his 2000 support from married women. Bush's already strong support from Hispanics greatly increased.

The religious angle was interesting. The Catholic but pro-choice John Kerry did not enjoy any edge from members of that faith. The non-Catholic but pro-life Bush staved off the challenger by splitting that portion of the electorate. Catholics who attend Mass weekly chose the incumbent by a substantial margin. Bush increased noticeably his 2000 support from older voters and even city dwellers.

As The New York Times noted, "The idea that increased turnout would benefit Democrats was turned on its head by Tuesday's election."

Bush took many states with higher-than-ever turnout, and he actually increased his share of the vote over 2000 in 87 percent of the counties across the country. The president even managed to turn around a longstanding tradition that Americans elect the taller White House candidate. Kerry clearly had the edge if this were true, but he might as well have been a munchkin for all the good it did him.

And Bush had coattails, too -- not long ones, but coattails nonetheless. The Republicans convincingly increased their majorities in both the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate.

Democrats are left to comfort themselves with some irrelevant or meaningless statistics compiled by Internet bloggers, such as Kerry won most of the states with higher average IQs among its citizens, while states that supported Bush seem to possess lower average IQ numbers.

Since when has intelligence had anything to do with elections?

Some Democrats I know are already subscribing to the "chicken-killing dog" theory advanced by liberal Texan columnist Molly Ivins.

She wrote after the election that the only way to cure a rogue farm dog who kills chickens is to wire a dead one around the dog's neck and let it stay attached "until that dead chicken stinks so bad that no other dog or person will even go near that poor beast."

The theory goes that it smells so bad even the dog won't kill another chicken.

"The Bush administration is going to be wired around the neck of the American people for four more years," wrote Ivins, "long enough for the stench to sicken everybody. It should cure the country of electing Republicans."

Now that ought to promote national unity and legislative cooperation, don't you think?

There are other incidents of soreheaded behavior. A teacher in Durango, Colo., had to apologize publicly to a student after kicking him in the leg on Election Day for wearing a Bush T-shirt -- and for loudly wishing her foot could reach about 18 inches higher.

I hope, for the sake of the nation, both Ivins and the Colorado school teacher are wrong. I hope things get better, that George W. Bush continues to keep the pressure on terrorists who wish to kill us, and that Dubya turns out to be a much better president than he was in the first term. I hope four years from now, we aren't all so crazed and discouraged that we're running around trying to kick each other in the crotch just to prove a political point.

I rarely make mention of the Buffalo News, a venerable newspaper for which I once worked, and while I acknowledge the new press and redesign of the paper have made it much easier to read, I deplore some of the thoughtless editorial content. I haven't ripped that publication once since beginning this column almost three years ago, but some recent abysmal News efforts have left me wondering what in hell is going on inside that establishment. Its employees seem to be going out of their way to pick brainless fights.

In the latest, the once-proud and careful publication sabotaged one of my best senior journalism students last week by soliciting an interview on what young persons thought of the presidential election, then -- after he cooperated with some highly intelligent insights and observations -- denigrated him with name-calling and close to libelous characterizations. What's up with that? Be assured I won't forget it.

Despite this, I wish to give credit where credit is due, and I hereby announce my support for an idea from News columnist Donn Esmonde, who suggested after the election that we abolish the useless and lobbyist-dominated state Legislature. As he notes, New York's lawmakers are in the viselike grip of three men -- Gov. George Pataki, and party bosses Sheldon Silver (Democrat) and Joseph Bruno (Republican). The lawmakers can't get a budget out on time, the state's economy is shot to pieces, real jobs are disappearing, property owners are crippled with outrageous taxes, local governments are crippled with Medicaid costs, yet the lawmakers pass dumb law after dumb law (like the no smoking in bars law that is ruining the restaurant business) that mostly make matters worse. Businesses and young people are fleeing the state, and for good reason.

Yet, the first thing we hear after election week is the next item of business in Albany may be a pay raise for these same do-nothing legislators who already receive the nation's second-highest salary -- $79,500 a year. The first is California, which gives lawmakers $99,000 a year, but unlike in Albany, no stipends for rank-and-file members.

In New York's legislative chambers, it seems almost every member gets a "lulu" -- the long-given term for a stipend for leadership and committee service. In essence, these stipends are proven methods for members of leadership in state legislatures to buy votes and allegiance from the rank-and-file. Senate Majority Leader Bruno and Assembly Speaker Silver -- who get $43,000 lulus in addition to their pay -- are already saying nice things about the pay raise and have come up with a suspicious term to describe it: "uniform pay base" with a cost-of-living increase "every so often," as Speaker Silver put it.

This "uniform pay base" -- under the guise of "reform" -- would allegedly eliminate "most" stipends in return for salary increases.

Listen up. I have covered Congress and legislatures in four different states. I have lived and paid taxes in five different states. I know about this. Here's what will happen:

The lawmakers in Albany, with approbation from the governor and leadership, will vote themselves hefty and undeserved pay raises. They will make a big show of "eliminating" stipends. The leaders will keep theirs.

The "cost of living" increases will come fast and furious -- and a lot more frequently and in much bigger percentages than the old folks get for Social Security. And, in a few years, maybe sooner, when we aren't paying attention, the stipends will be restored -- fatter and more widely distributed than ever. Bet on it -- it's the only way you're likely to see any money out of this sham.


John Hanchette, a professor of journalism at St. Bonaventure University, is a former editor of the Niagara Gazette and a Pulitzer Prize-winning national correspondent. He was a founding editor of USA Today and was recently named by Gannett as one of the Top 10 reporters of the past 25 years. He can be contacted via e-mail at Hanchette6@aol.com.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Nov. 9 2004