Tuesday, November 02, 2004
I had been intending to write something quite extensive about today's election, but the pressures of work (you know: what they pay me to do) have made it impossible.
Contrary to what you might think, given that (for a New Yorker at least) I'm a pretty conservative Republican, this was not an easy election for me. Going into the 2000 election, I wrote a 20 page essay explaining why I was voting for Bush when everyone in my family was voting Gore. I was genuinely conflicted, then, because I faced two candidates with character flaws I thought were serious. But one had run a good campaign on a platform I basically agreed with, while the other had run a terrible campaign on a platform I basically disagreed with. Going into the 2002 mid-terms, I was fired up about a President Bush who had passed a bunch of his domestic agenda, won a war in Afghanistan, and made me proud to be a Republican. My character concerns with respect to Bush went substantially into abeyance. Needless to say, since then they have returned with a vengeance.
This time I'm faced with two candidates with serious character flaws - and *neither* is running a good campaign on a platform I basically agree with. And the stakes are higher than they have been in over 20 years.
In my heart, I know President Bush does not deserve reelection. As Steve Sailer put it: if you reward the kind of behavior he has displayed, you'll get more of it. If Bush wanted my vote, he should have levelled with me, given me some indication that he has learned from his mistakes, that he knows he has made mistakes. He hasn't.
In my gut, meanwhile, I want to vote for the guy who is going to kill evildoers. The President whom Bush most resembles in American History is Andrew Jackson, and 3+ years after 9/11 I am still in a pretty Jacksonian mood.
But I don't want to make decisions with my heart or my gut. I want to make decisions with my head. I'm not awarding a prize to the one who deserves it, nor am I voting to gratify my own emotional needs. I'm voting to choose who would be the best President: Bush or Kerry. That means weighing incommensurables like the two candidates' respective (profound) character flaws as well as their policy preferences as well as their likely ability to achieve their objectives.
In the end, I'm sticking with the President. I expect very little of him domestically in the next four years; his campaign has done nothing to build up political capital and I don't think he's got any interest in doing anything. And after the last two years, I'm increasingly convinced that if he tried to do anything he'd spend too much money and not do much to solve the problem. (See, e.g., Medicare "reform".) But this is an election about the war, and everything else is secondary.
Outside of Iraq, I actually think Bush's prosecution of the war has been pretty good. He won an important war in Afghanistan doing exactly the opposite of what he did in Iraq and exactly the opposite of what his Democratic critics are saying he should have done. He's working to contain the most dangerous potential threat to America - Pakistan's nuclear bomb - and I don't hear Kerry saying anything that suggests he'd do better on that front. This (Pakistan) is one area where Bush's emphasis on personal loyalty is an asset, and where he's completely dropped his enthusiasm for spreading democracy. Good for him. While Bush's relations with France and Germany are terrible, his relations with many Asian governments are much better, and frankly, the Asians matter more. Bush has no idea what to do about North Korea. Neither do I. Neither does Kerry. Bush is severely constrained in how he deals with Iran because of the Iraq war. So is Kerry, and Kerry's inclinations on Iran are exactly wrong.
Then there's Iraq. Frankly, furious as I am that Bush has held *no one* accountable for Iraq, and that he has admitted *no* mistakes, I still think Bush is the guy to clean up the mess. Kerry's inclination is going to be to cut and run, and blame Bush. We can't do that. We have to make the best of the situation as we have it now. And Bush is the better guy to do that.
There's a long list of pro-Iraq-war types who are actually backing Kerry (Andrew Sullivan, for example) or who have talked as if they might (Max Boot, even Bill Kristol). I won't join them, and the fact that they've made this switch strikes me as very instructive. They urged Bush in a certain direction, cheered him on, to a great extent on the basis of scenarios that did not relate to reality. Now that reality has struck back, they are not abandoning their scenarios; they are abandoning their President. I was among their number once, cheering the President on. I'm not going to be among their number now, blaming him for not implementing their policies with the perfection they required.
Finally, a word about Israel. Most (~75%) Jews are going to vote Kerry today. Kerry has a sterling voting record on Israel that cost him exactly no political capital and about which he had to think not at all. This record tells us nothing. Things change completely once you're in the Oval Office, and Kerry's character does not offer comfort. Carter was favored by Jews over Ford, and Carter turned out to be about the worst American President for Israel. Meanwhile, a minority of more right-wing Jews, particularly among the Orthodox, are going to back Bush strongly. They think Bush is going to support the grandest ambitions of Israel's Right. They are wrong, too. *Whoever the next President is* Israel is going to have less absolute support from the American President than Bush has extended at times in his term. And no one understands this better than Ariel Sharon. He knows what Bush has given Israel: breathing space to restore their deterrent and diplomatic support for unilateral moves that retreat from much of the territories and consolidate Israeli control of what Israel intends to keep. He knows what Israel owes America in return: action on the ground. His most vociferous supporters in America will echo calls for his head, and if Bush pressures him to deliver they will call for Bush's head. I won't be among *their* number either. But their behavior will *also* be instructive, if they (and Bush) behave as I expect.
For myself, I voted for Bush in 2000 against a Democratic nominee with a truly sterling pro-Israel record (and an Orthodox Jewish Vice President) because I thought a President who was baseline supportive of Israel but didn't try to solve all their problems for them (as Clinton did) and who didn't raise expectations among the Palestinians (as Clinton did) would be salutary; I also thought a President who was baseline supportive of Israel but had better relations in the Muslim world (which Bush did, via his father) would be better for Israel. I still believe all of that. The American President - whoever it is - cannot change the fundamental realities of Israel's situation; he can only improve things at the margin. What Israel needed more than anything in the wake of Oslo's delusions was a dose of realism. Arafat, Bush and Sharon, each in their own way, have provided that, and the Left's illusions are (mostly) shattered, at least in Israel. (In Europe, they have been replaced by even more alarming delusions, and outright paranoia.) Now, the group that needs a dose of realism is the Israeli Right. Limor Livnat, a member of Sharon's inner circle, recently said that Sharon doesn't want to make the same mistake the Right in Israel always makes, of refusing the best possible deal and hence getting a worse one. Shamir rejected Madrid, so Israel wound up with Oslo; the far Right torpedoed the Netanyahu Premiership, and so got Ehud Barak and the terror war that followed Taba. Sharon is going to walk through the door that Bush has left open, I truly believe that. Because the next available door to walk through will not be as appealing. But it will cost him. If Bush tries to give him a shove through the door - as he may - that will cost *him.* But not from me. I've learned from 1992, when America's Jews abandoned a President - Bush's Dad - who had garnered a healthy share of their support in 1988 for a man - Clinton - who, for all his deep emotional connection to Israel, helped lead her down a garden path to near ruin. They made that switch even though Bush I was instrumental in helping to get the Ethiopian Jews to safety in Israel (an interesting story - Sudan's help in achieving that exodus may have played a role in the fall of that country to the Islamists), fought a war with Saddam Hussein that certainly improved Israel's strategic environment, and in general "did right" by the Jewish state. His sin was in pressuring Israel to stop settlement construction and in trying to get a comprehensive peace deal at Madrid. In retrospect, Israel would have been far, far better off had that effort succeeded than in going down the path of Oslo.
Why do I bring this all up? Because if Bush gets 4 more years, and in those years tries to steer Israel in the direction of its best interest, against those of its own rejectionists, I won't be shocked, and I won't be appalled. And if Kerry wins, and either recapitulates the diplomatic errors of the Clinton years or simply backs away from the kind of diplomatic support that Israel does need at times, I won't be shocked either. Even if he does have a Jewish brother.