For some reason, my (rare) posts in which I make direct comparisons between Serbia and the USA (usually about politics) tend to become wildly popular (as in: spreading like wildfire on digg, redditt, stumbleupon, etc.). See, for example: Bush is Milosevic, Comparative Wingnuttery, Darwin in Serbia, More about me, The Warriors, Never Again!, Sixteen years ago today, We are now officially living in a dictatorship and When religion goes berserk! for examples of my typically inflamatory prose on the topic
Let me take a stab at another one, connected to the current US election. I’ll try to keep it short if I can.
But first, read this essay by Jasmina Tesanovic about the demise of the Radical Right in Serbia:
The political climate has changed in Serbia. Boris Tadic, the Pro-European president, is wisely minding the nation’s business and doing it relentlessly. The ex-president Kostunica was doing the opposite.
A couple of days ago, journalists from various press groups were beaten up by Radical goons; at that point the new government declared Serbian journalists to be equivalent to Serbian police performing public duties, and severely penalized the street-thugs for attacking free speech.
For about fifteen years (starting around 1988), the Serbs had to endure: years of hated Milosevic; starting and losing five stupid, bloody wars nobody wanted; the surprising and sad spectacle of their brothers and sisters in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Montenegro turning their backs on them and leaving the union; economic hardship, hyperinflation and poverty; mass exodus of young intellectuals; mass influx of illiterate and armed refugees from the wars; deaths and wounds of loved ones recruited by force into the military and sent out to wars; sharp rise in crime and general thuggery; media serving as PR for Milosevic; opposition media getting shut down and beaten; election after election getting stolen by Milosevic; each election being followed by humongous, multi-day demonstrations in big cities, infused with fiery rhetoric of the democratic opposition, leading to vandalism, skirmishes with the police, deaths from gun-shots and a war-zone mentality; being made into pariahs of the world; daily reading lies and demonization of Serbs in the foreign press; getting bombed in 1999 which just paralyzed the opposition’s fight against Milosevic, strengthened his regime, delayed his downfall, not to mention killed many innocents, peppered the area with unexploded bombs and depleted uranium, and resulted in massive environmental degradation.
After enduring all of this and finally getting rid of Milosevic, replacing him with the loud revolutionaries of the opposition movement, the Serbs realized they had enough of the excitement. They wanted someone who will stop the yelling and get down to work instead. They looked for a technocrat, someone who will actually work on fixing the economy and improving the country’s standing in the world. Neither the defeated Socialists, nor greasy, bearded Radicals, nor fiery revolutionary Democrats quite fit that bill. The Serbs were looking for someone who is…..boring!
And they found it in Boris Tadic. He got elected, and later re-elected as the President of Serbia. He is so boring and grey that I guess he does not need security in the street – nobody will recognize him. He probably goes grocery shopping by himself.
Yet, as much as people there are vaguely grumbling (doesn’t everyone everywhere always grumble?), they are largely satisfied with his job. When I visited Belgrade in April I was stunned – the city has never looked so clean and colorful and vibrant. Lots of new shops and restaurants, people were cheerful, well-dressed and generally optimistic. It’s not perfect, but everyone notices that the movement is in the right direction – things are slowly starting to happen and they are all good.
Now, to the parallel with the U.S. We here have had a long time of excitement as well – a stupid, bloody war we cannot win, stolen elections, media acting as PR for the Administration, an economic crisis, shredding of the Constitution, obvious cold shoulder from the rest of the world, torture, wire-tapping, firing of District Attorneys, outing of a CIA operative, Terry Schiavo circus, appointment of extremist judges at all levels (starting with Roberts and Alito), Katrina and FEMA, ridiculous airport “security”, and now scandalously dishonest campaigning by McCain and incitement of the most extremist, racist, violent fringes of the society at the Palin rallies.
I think people had had enough of that excitement. They are not looking for fiery rhetoric. They want someone who will get down to work. They are looking for someone boring.
And Obama, with his poker face and unflinching cool, is exactly that. The angry faces of McCain at the three debates and the hate-mongering by Palin are exactly NOT what people are looking for. Slander, attack ads, sneering, fiery rhetoric, hate and fear – not this season, thank you. The slogans are not working any more. Obama’s boring explanations of policy details, things that used to guarantee an electoral loss for a Democrat in the past, are exactly what people are yearning for right now. He exudes competence – even if the audience does not understands the nuances of the policy, Obama obviously does and thus can be trusted to do his job well.
Thus, even though many people in the country are uneasy with Obama because of his race, or because they truly believe the lies about him being a terrorist, or because they have something irrational against Arabs, they will STILL vote for him. Their need for stability and calm is stronger then even their racism and fear. Look at these examples:
Sean Quinn reports from Pennsylvania:
So a canvasser goes to a woman’s door in Washington, Pennsylvania. Knocks. Woman answers. Knocker asks who she’s planning to vote for. She isn’t sure, has to ask her husband who she’s voting for. Husband is off in another room watching some game. Canvasser hears him yell back, “We’re votin’ for the n***er!”
Woman turns back to canvasser, and says brightly and matter of factly: “We’re voting for the n***er.”
In this economy, racism is officially a luxury. How is John McCain going to win if he can’t win those voters?
Or this stunning focus group report:
Reagan Dems and Independents. Call them blue-collar plus. Slightly more Target than Walmart.
Yes, the spot worked. Yes, they believed the charges against Obama. Yes, they actually think he’s too liberal, consorts with bad people and WON’T BE A GOOD PRESIDENT…but they STILL don’t give a f***. They said right out, “He won’t do anything better than McCain” but they’re STILL voting for Obama.
The two most unreal moments of my professional life of watching focus groups:
54 year-old white male, voted Kerry ’04, Bush ’00, Dole ’96, hunter, NASCAR fan…hard for Obama said: “I’m gonna hate him the minute I vote for him. He’s gonna be a bad president. But I won’t ever vote for another god-damn Republican. I want the government to take over all of Wall Street and bankers and the car companies and Wal-Mart run this county like we used to when Reagan was President.”
The next was a woman, late 50s, Democrat but strongly pro-life. Loved B. and H. Clinton, loved Bush in 2000. “Well, I don’t know much about this terrorist group Barack used to be in with that Weather guy but I’m sick of paying for health insurance at work and that’s why I’m supporting Barack.”
I felt like I was taking crazy pills. I sat on the other side of the glass and realized…this really is the Apocalypse. The Seventh Seal is broken and its time for eight years of pure, delicious crazy….
The Bradley Effect appears to be gone or reversed:
It may be generational. Expressions of racism are strongly correlated with age, and is much more common among pre-Boomer adults. However, a smaller and smaller fraction of the electorate each year came of age in the segregation era. The Pew study that I linked to above reports that 92 percent of Americans are now comfortable voting for an African-American for President. In 1982, when Bradley’s race occurred, that number was more like 75 percent. (Although the Bradley Effect isn’t about racism per se — it is about people misleading pollsters because of social desirability bias — racism is nevertheless one of its prerequisites).
The lunatic fringe will vote for McCain, surely. Those for whom anti-choice position is the litmus test will vote for Palin. But many lifelong conservatives will vote for Obama this time around. And if the things start getting better, they will vote for him again in four years. And they may become Democrats, as will surely their kids. The GOP brand will be so damaged, it will take years to recover, if at all. Just like Serbian Radicals.