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Issues take back seat in election
Election speaks volumes about the state of America and its electorate.

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RICHARD AMRHINE
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Date published: 11/17/2002

By RICHARD AMRHINE

AS THE POLLS closed on Nov. 5, the analysts went into overdrive with their explanations of what had taken place and why, and President Bush's coattails were flapping in the airwaves.

They talked about how gosh-darn likable this president is, and how, because of that, the longstanding trend of the president's party losing seats in Congress in the midterm election had been broken. And isn't that just so interesting.

Well, it's interesting all right, but only partially valid. What they should have been discussing--and what's more impressive--is nearly any president's influence, as opposed to that of a particular individual who holds the office.

This is just one aspect of America's greatness: Americans respect the office of the president of the United States, no matter who--in spite of who--the office-holder happens to be. It's the one true example of bipartisanism that goes beyond rhetoric.

At times like these, when Americans face the deadly reality of terrorist attacks on their home soil, when their nation may go to war with a most unconventional foe, when a couple of angry sociopathic snipers can tangle the lives of everyone in a major metropolitan area, America goes on autopilot, and the president's approval ratings soar.

They look to the president for reassurance and to fortify their belief that America continues to stand tall. Those feelings are especially potent because they cross all racial, social, and political lines. Even the devoutly religious among us are often first and foremost Americans.

Back when President Clinton was embarrassing himself and the nation during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, some of his many detractors fretted that he was bruising the presidency. But that was not the case. He certainly bruised his presidency, but not the office itself.

Had the World Trade Center towers come down in the middle of the Clinton impeachment hearings, Americans would still have turned to the president for strength, and they would have found it.

So I guess I shouldn't be so amazed at President Bush's popularity, even if his victory two years ago came with the mandate one gets from winning a coin toss. Barely half of all eligible Americans bothered to register or vote in the 2000 presidential election. Barely half of those voted for Bush.


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