Is the American electorate able to think?
US electorate undecided
Gerald Feldman: I mean, American society is divided anyway. It's a huge cultural difference. You can see that at this republican party convention today. On the one hand, there is a Republican electorate, especially the grassroots of course, which has not yet emerged. Of course she is very patriotic, but she also believes that this administration, that Bush, did the right thing. Then again there is a very great aversion to Bush - one can certainly also say hatred - which believes that this administration really did everything wrong. They believe that in terms of foreign policy the government has led America into a war that was not very well founded, it is perceived as very dangerous and it is believed that America has alienated itself from the Allies. Domestically, the government did the wrong thing. It's very cultural, it has to do with what old American values are, i.e. the republican side. On the democratic side, of course, there is a much more free and liberal attitude.
Wagner: As a consequence, that means there is no political center at all, a social center.
Feldman: That is hard to say. The political center was represented today, for example, at the Republican Party Convention by John McCain, who is really a liberal person, very moderate and very much against this exaggerated split. And then of course by Giuliani, he was more of a partisan, but he is also a representative of the liberal republican tendency, not so much in foreign policy but definitely in domestic policy. But the problem, of course, is whether Republicans can bring these two sides together. Today it was done very skilfully, very impressive.
Wagner: How so? Can you explain that? What was the strategic means?
Feldman: The speeches were really gripping but sensible, they were impressive, and were accepted by the audience at the Republican Party Convention. It was an attempt to somehow reconcile moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats. The arguments were not irrational, including those about Iraq. They said there that we had not found the weapons and so on, but nevertheless it was necessary to finally end this terrible dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, that was right and it was a moral act.
Wagner: So we also have a split within the Republican Party. How could the compromise at the end of this party congress with the Republicans look like in terms of content, which can then also be presented to the outside world, where the archconservatives and the liberals of the party also stand behind it?
Feldman: First, the archconservatives know that their fate depends on Bush, there is no one else. And the liberal Republicans want a different party, but Bush is the only one who comes into question. Kerry does not yet have the charisma to overcome this division. If you ask Americans, "Is everything okay today?", The answer is, "No". It's really negative. But one wonders, are they for Kerry? Many are for Bush. It is very divided. We have a presidential system and the question is who is more attractive. It is very difficult in Europe to think that Bush is attractive. The fact is, he does. So Kerry's problem is building that, convincing people that he can run the nation and be a real president. That is the open question, we do not know how that will affect. In the next few weeks, of course, Bush will win votes because of the party convention, that is very clear. But in the long run it doesn't matter that much. The question is what happens in the campaign over the next few months.
Wagner: It is said that the liberals are clearly in the minority within the republican party, that they have little influence and that the conservatives are clearly at the helm. Is that so?
Feldman: In certain countries, they have quite a lot of appeal. There's a liberal Republican group in New York, and Schwarzenegger in California is really liberal. They are of course very important in order to win over the undecided and moderates for Bush. The base is of course extremely conservative and very right-wing and totally in favor of this government. The grassroots are very important, but you can't win this election campaign with just that foundation, you have to appeal to a broader electorate. There is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the economic situation and with the course of action in Iraq. Americans die in Iraq every week, and of course that will hurt Bush a lot. And there is a feeling that this government is incompetent, especially Rumsfeld. This whole prisoner story and so on doesn't help the Bush administration, of course. But what matters is which candidate is more convincing in this entire election campaign.
Wagner: The image of America abroad has undoubtedly suffered from the Iraq campaign. Do you even notice this damage in the USA or are you only concerned with yourself?
Feldman: With the Democrats, it's a lot more of an issue. At this party convention today, Giuliani expressed an anti-German mood or a feeling that the Europeans had not really noticed it. Thank goodness Bush did something different. So it is perceived, but it is not central.
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