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From the August 2002 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 49, No. 8)

Eye on the United States

The Nation's Father and Mother

Ilya Baranikas, Moskovskie Novosti (liberal weekly), Moscow, Russia,

Martha Stewart
Martha Stewart serves brioche with scrambled eggs to New York Stock Exchange President William Johnson to celebrate her stock's first listing on the exchange, Oct. 19, 1999 (Photo: AFP).
The latest public opinion polls indicate that President Bush’s ratings, which skyrocketed to above 90 percent right after Sept. 11, are returning to normal levels. Today about 70 percent of the population approves of his activities. This can be easily explained: The patriotic fever, after remaining fairly high for half a year, is fading. Though the economy is recovering, it still hasn’t created a labor market where demand exceeds supply.

The political opponents of the Republican president are waiting for Bush Jr. to weaken sufficiently so that they can attack him and give him a beating like the one his father sustained 10 years ago. According to many observers, however, they will have to wait a long time, as the current situation is hardly like it was 10 years ago.

George Bush Sr. enjoyed ratings over 80 percent during the Persian Gulf War. Then his popularity started to tumble, falling by January 1992 to as low as 46 percent. The same percentage of the population opposed Bush. Back then, voters, by a ratio of 2-1, did not approve of the elder Bush’s economic policy, while today, despite their difficulties, they approve, by the same proportion, of the younger Bush’s economic program.

There was the war back then, but it was not the kind of war that there is now—against America’s enemies, who have struck at its heart, on its own soil. Today, according to sociological data, Americans believe that combating terrorism is as important as the economy, and this issue won’t fade into the background for a long time. The fight isn’t over yet. For example, the war with Iraq is forecast for early next year.

Bush Jr. has a firm hand, which is especially appreciated by people in troubled times. He is waging the war against terrorism decisively and strongly—not the way Clinton conducted the military operation in Somalia. Clinton did not know what to do with Russia; Bush, in contrast, has decisively opted for closer cooperation—although, in all fairness, as much credit should be given to [Russia’s President Vladimir] Putin for that.

President Bush’s views are not always to everybody’s taste, but at least he expresses them openly; he is not evasive and does not equivocate, as Clinton did. People like that. Authority, you see.

People’s sympathies, however, remain an unpredictable thing.

Psychologists claim that people are attracted to archetypes—images that resemble the average person. And if George Walker Bush is the archetype of a strong leader, then, for instance, the lady named Martha Stewart is the embodiment of a “strong woman.”

She is so omnipresent that she could be compared to McDonald’s restaurants or Rite Aid drugstores, which are everywhere. You walk into a Kmart store in any town in the United States, and you will find Martha Stewart’s products there. You turn on the television, and on the CBS network (which is watched all over the country) you will see Martha Stewart giving everybody advice on cooking, washing the dog’s paws after a walk, the family budget, physical exercise, home buying and selling, gardening, and everything else—you name it.

You switch on the radio, tune in to the local CBS station, which is available anywhere in the United States—and Martha Stewart is back, telling you how to live your life. Martha’s syndi-cated column is published from Miami to Seattle, from Chicago to Los Angeles. Open a local newspaper in the morning, and you will gain access to her universal, comprehensive wisdom.

What’s the secret to the popularity of this newly emerged guru? Martha looks like an ordinary, average woman (she appears to be about 40, while in fact she’s over 50)—homey and simple, not a television star, not a sex bomb, just like everybody else. Whatever Martha can do, you can do, too; in a way, she is no better than you are. That’s her approach to the spectator, radio listener, reader, and consumer.

Martha had a hard life before she became a multimillionaire: She grew up in a poor family with many children; she earned her college tuition money herself working as a model; she got married early and had children, worked as a broker on Wall Street, then showed a talent for housekeeping and started writing best-selling books.

What wins the audience over is that both Martha and the lifestyle she popularizes are perfection itself. Martha Stewart is a tool for fulfilling a dream, a guiding star, and a book of wisdom open to everybody, which men as well as women can look into. How can you not love her?

True, not everybody loves her; there are some who taunt Martha with sarcastic parodies, bilious caricatures, and scathing articles. That’s where there is a striking resemblance between her and Bush. She is being reproached for conceit and arrogance, promoting expensive goods and products, which people can’t afford to buy, targeting a wealthy audience.

But, as the saying goes, the dog barks, yet the caravan keeps on going. Martha Stewart’s empire is flourishing, and in this epoch of instability, especially so: There have to be some lighthouses in life, pointing the way to the hidden harbor.

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