MORE THAN 300 guests crowded anxiously around TV monitors at the American Ambassador’s residence in Lapa last Tuesday to see state after state fall to President George W. Bush.
The assembled, who represented Lisbon’s diplomatic community, press and leading figures in US expatriate society, had been invited for the traditional ‘Election Watch’ in the three-storey Regency mansion.
A cheese and wine buffet was provided for the evening to sustain those who had braved the torrential rain. In keeping with the theme of the evening, the building was decorated with red and blue balloons and festooned in red, blue and white crepe drapes. Crowds gathered around the balustrades on the colonnaded second floor of the mansion to see states colour blue (Democrat) or red (Republican) on a gigantic screen that was specially installed for the election results.
A special debate commentary, organised by the US Embassy, included a panel of distinguished political commentators, academics and former politicians, who argued the case for either side from the Portuguese point of view. These were Miguel Monjardino, Álvaro Vasconcellos, José Freire Antunes, Joaõ Carlos Espada and Vasco Rato.
Then followed a secret ballot whereby all the guests were invited to cast their vote in a mock election which yielded somewhat different results to those in the US, while George W. Bush managed to win over 3.5 million more votes than John Kerry, or 51 per cent overall against 49 per cent at the Ambassador’s residence in Lisbon, reflecting the European preference for Democrat presidential candidate John Kerry, the Republicans were sent packing – garnering only 25 per cent of the votes, giving Kerry a landslide victory.
The party broke up at around 3am, but it wasn’t until the following day that the world woke up to the reality that George W. Bush had won a second term in office leaving Democrat dreams in tatters.
Nelson Tereso, American-Portuguese Democrat supporter in Lisbon, believes that George W. Bush skilfully played on ignorance and fear from an uninformed and isolated inland population terrified of change and terrorism. “I think in the main coastal cities, as in Europe, people are much better informed and can see what George. W. Bush did wrong in his past term of office,” he said. Tereso believes that with Bush at the helm, the US public will move further apart unless his policies change with the real issues of spiralling national debt, environmental blindness, employment, education and health taking a back seat. “We really have two Americas – the urban America from New Hampshire and New York down to Florida and California which is educated, well informed and cultured. Then we have the interior, which is small-minded, conservative, prejudiced, fearful of change and very religious – states like Iowa, Wisconsin and South Dakota.”
According to Tereso, George W. Bush was clever in exploiting these fears, especially over the taped message from Osama Bin Laden released only days before the election. “They are afraid of terrorism, even though in the interior they are least likely to encounter it. They like to see a president who claims he is one of them and can protect them from terrorism. The result is an America that is more divided than ever rather than united, as it should be,” he concludes.
Chris Thurlby, an American Republican supporter in Lisbon, believes that President George W. Bush has been labelled the ‘great white Satan’ among European and some American intellectuals. According to Thurlby, many Americans in the interior see things in black and white. “Many Americans are conditioned to see only right and wrong, which is a national trait many Europeans fail to grasp,” he says.
He believes continental Europeans are more cynical and pragmatic having been ‘ground zero-ed’ in two world wars in the last 100 years and having experienced the deaths of millions, the shame of collaboration and accommodation. “Therefore they do not understand the US reaction to September 11.
As to the future of the Democratic Party and Liberalism, I would, as a moderate conservative but life-long Republican, urge my liberal Democrat friends to join us in a discussion of questions of right and wrong instead of right and stupid,” he stresses. “George W. Bush’s response to September 11 and the new challenges in the post-modern world may not be completely right but they are not stupid. The US will need bi-partisan support and counsel to get it right.”
As for the evangelists, that the losing Democrats and liberal media now give credit for Bush’s victory, Thurlby stresses that these are not ‘American Taliban’ who will turn back the clock on everything from tight trousers to women voting. “These are ordinary folk who choose to make religion a major part of their lives – but not the only part. They dance and sing, watch TV, drive cars, work hard and care about their neighbours. They respect other religions and those who have none and simply vote for candidates with whom they feel most comfortable to preserve their way of life,” he concludes.