"A day may come when the courage of men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship, but it is not this day. An hour of wolves and shattered shields, when the age of men comes crashing down, but it is not this day. This day we fight! By all that you hold dear on this good Earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"
- Aragorn in "Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King."
CHICAGO - In divided America, political analysts determinedly seek to peg voters according to demographics, from geography, race, sex and age to religious belief, marital status, education and hobbies.
Bushites, we're told, tend to dwell in red states (read: rural) and belong to the newest category - the "Retro" group. They lean toward evangelical Christian beliefs, tote guns, attend NASCAR races and prefer God in their Pledge of Allegiance. They are, in other words, ignorant, bigoted, intolerant and un-evolved. Or so we are to infer.
Kerryites, by contrast, tend to occupy the blue metropolitan, and therefore cosmopolitan, areas. They are, of course, wildly sophisticated, tolerant, educated and progressive.
They also apparently enjoy conducting surveys and crunching data, as Retros are too busy harvesting crops and trucking them to inner-city markets for the nourishment of the Starbucks and low-glycemic carb set to dabble long in the obsessive-compulsive exercise of counting, labeling and cataloging America's appetites.
Lest e-Hell let loose the harrumphing herds, let me quickly acknowledge the rule of exceptions. Yes, there are metro folk living in rural areas, and there are bloody knuckles aplenty in downtown Chicago, as the view outside my hotel window confirms. Some Ph.D.s doubtless find stock car racing amusing, and some Metro evangelical Christians may well be yellow dog Democrats.
Noted. Meanwhile, though polls, surveys and labels may keep pundits pacified as they try to predict voting patterns, the more apt demographic may be less complicated and philosophically independent of the usual classifications. My own theory of voting patterns breaks down as follows.
The nation is essentially divided into two cinematic camps: (1) those who believe that America's story was best told in Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," and (2) those who think Peter Jackson pretty much captured the essence of current events in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, based on J.R.R. Tolkien's literary masterpiece of the same name.
In Moore/Kerry metro-blue-state world, Bush is a moron and the war on terror, especially the war in Iraq, is a tall tale told by an idiot. In Tolkien/Bush retro-red-state world, we are in a global struggle against Mordor's Orcs (radical Islam's terrorists) to save Western civilization.
Unfortunately, Tolkien's fantastical invention seems brutally prophetic today. Even the conflicts between his characters - those willing to battle and those averse - mirror our own divisions, as summarized by British Prime Minister Tony Blair in his Tuesday address to Britain's Labor Party Conference.
Reiterating Britain's necessary alliance with the United States, he described two conflicting worldviews that define today's politics both here and abroad:
One view is that there are isolated individuals, extremists, engaged in essentially isolated acts of terrorism . not qualitatively different from the terrorism we have always lived with. If you believe this, we carry on the same path as before 11th September. We try not to provoke them and hope in time they will wither.
The other view is that this is a wholly new phenomenon, worldwide global terrorism . If you take this view, you believe September 11th changed the world; that Bali, Beslan, Madrid and scores of other atrocities that never make the news are part of the same threat, and the only path to take is to confront this terrorism, remove it root and branch, and at all costs stop them (from) acquiring the weapons to kill on a massive scale because these terrorists would not hesitate to use them.
While Blair expressed regret that the evidence on weapons of mass destruction was wrong, he said he couldn't apologize for ridding the world of Saddam Hussein. Advancing democracy in the Middle East is the only hope for security at home, he said.
They (terrorists) are in Iraq for the very reason we should be. They have chosen this battleground because they know success for us in Iraq is not success for America or Britain or even Iraq itself but for the values and way of life that democracy represents. That's why they are there. That is why we should be there .
Such is the Tolkien view and the Bush view, even if it takes a Tony Blair to articulate it clearly. Those who believe that the Orcs are hell-bent on snuffing out the light of Western civilization will vote for Bush. Those who believe that we've merely stirred up a hornets' nest by taking the war to Iraq and need a more nuanced, law-enforcement approach to terror will vote for Kerry.
The vote may be just that simple, though the stakes are something else.