I’m going to explain why I’ll vote for Bush, but I’ll start with my reasons for disliking his administration. I disagree with him on almost every issue of domestic policy. He has vastly increased the size and scope of government. Spending has increased under his watch to a level that Bill Clinton only dreamed about. No government is too big for Bush—and yet he has the gall to criticize Kerry for being a tax-and-spend Democrat. He believes the federal government should run marriage-counseling, should cure AIDS in Africa, should increase farm subsidies by seventy percent, should protect American steelworkers from having to compete fairly. He can lay no legitimate claim to believing in the free market, yet he continues brazenly to make that claim. (I consider this the biggest lie of the campaign season.) He promised us a market solution to the Social Security crisis. Instead, his administration has decided to tax my grandchildren to pay for pills for old folks today.
As far as social issues go, he believes in an absurd conception of “life” by which he has barred federal spending on stem-cell research. Normally I’d be okay with barring federal spending on something that is not the government’s business, but this decision was made in the service of what Jason Kuznicki has rightly called a mysticist notion of individual rights for which Bush rightly deserves condemnation. Bush’s supporters are eager to undermine the crucial separation of church and state in this country. On top of that, Bush’s call for a Constitutional ban on gay marriage lacks a convincing philosophical basis, and his supporters betray genuine bigotry.
This post (which I saw via Instapundit) argues that, on balance, Bush’s domestic policies are still more pro-liberty than Kerry’s. I’m not convinced of that, but I am convinced that, were Kerry elected, the division between the Republican Congress and a Kerry White House would cut down on the amount of spending and the growth of government. Were it not for the war, I would vote for John Kerry.
But I think it would be extremely irresponsible to ignore the fact that the fundamental issue in this campaign is the war. As I’ve said earlier, the question here is, how should we act in the face of inevitably weak information? George Bush says that we should be willing to strike first in some cases. That can be a dangerous argument, but in the case of Saddam Hussein, it was warranted. Hussein was a tyrant, who had no legitimate claim to sovereignty, and oppressed his own people. He had supported terrorist attacks in the past and was willing to use chemical and biological weapons. The justification for attacking Iraq was that intelligence suggested a reasonable probability that Hussein was going to develop dangerous weapons—something that Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and others agreed with, until it became politically unpopular to say so. Bush tried, I think too much, to work with the United Nations in his efforts against Iraq. When that was not forthcoming, he was faced with a crucial choice: wait longer? Or attack now?
John Kerry seems to believe—and I hasten to say “seems,” because it’s never been clear what he believes—that the right answer is, wait. But how long? Kerry has never told us when we should stop waiting for international cooperation. His record suggests that he would never stop waiting for international cooperation, but perhaps there is such a point. What is that point? It is always easy to say afterwards that Hussein wasn’t a threat, and we shouldn’t have gone, but the question is not one to be answered in hindsight. Do we want a president who will make the tough call in favor of preemptive action, or do we think that preemptive action is never right? That’s the question.
I answer it this way: I assume that retaliation is legitimate. It follows that stopping an attack that is in progress is also legitimate—when a person tries to punch you, you can act to avoid or strike back. At some point, therefore, a threat becomes serious enough to justify acting preemptively, because the threat is tantamount to an initiation of force. This argument runs a serious risk, however, of rationalizing attacks on innocent countries. I think that, so long as it is against a regime like Hussein’s, that is the proper course of action. Hussein’s other crimes warranted American intervention. (It has the added advantage of drawing the enemy into a single country, where they are focusing their attention.) Insofar as this election is a referendum on the Iraq war, therefore, I think the right answer is that Bush did the right thing. Most importantly, his mindset is right. If we wait for international cooperation, we will end up waiting too long. That is not something we can bank our future on.
Now, that being said, I think that there are obviously very significant problems with how Bush is running the war. First, I’m very troubled by the military detention and military tribunal situation in Guantanamo Bay. I didn’t used to be, but then I read the Cato Supreme Court Review articles on the subject, and they have me convinced that the Administration is doing the wrong thing there. We ought either to give these people access to the courts, or suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Second, I think the handling of Iraq today is being done very badly. Ed Brayton and others are right that we need more troops there. Moreover, I’m extremely bothered by the fact that the American imprimatur was put on an Interim Constitution which unites church and state and provides for a socialist economy. That betrays much of Bush’s talk about spreading freedom to other countries.
Nevertheless, on balance, Bush comes out ahead of Kerry. Kerry has given us no reason to think he would have insisted on a better Interim Constitution. And as far as handling the detainees, I’m not convinced that Kerry, with a Republican Congress, would solve that problem.
Now, unlike many people, I do not think that a Kerry Administration would be a disaster for our war effort. With a Republican Congress in place to hold his feet to the fire, a reasonable argument can be made that Kerry would actually do a better job of fighting the war. I don’t buy it, but I see the argument.
The reason I don’t buy it is because Kerry is not independent enough from his constituency. His waffling has betrayed the fact that he is largely in the service of the Michael Moore faction of the Democratic Party—a group of people who believe, fundamentally, that American capitalism is at fault for September 11th, and who believe that the proper response to September 11th is entire withdrawal of American interests in the Middle East, and even deeper, a philosophical shift away from individualism and the principles underling the greedy evil corporations and blah, blah, blah. Kerry has tried sometimes to portray himself as more moderate than this, but after all the campaigning, I am left with the impression that the Democratic Party does not believe in confronting Middle Eastern thugs (and especially not the Palestinians!) Kerry claims to have a Nixonian “plan” for ending this war but he refuses to divulge it. I think it more likely that he has sold himself to the Moore types (and, on some social issues, has sold himself to social conservatives) too much to be able to free himself once in office. Again, it’s arguable that the Republicans would force him to walk the line, but it is equally plausible that, as Tom Clancy said once, this pressure might push Kerry into proving he’s a tough guy by going too far—perhaps with a nuclear strike. Kerry’s extreme talk about Iran and North Korea, for example, seem to be motivated less by a serious concern for our policy than by his need to show that he’s just as tough as Bush. Bush doesn’t have anything to prove to the international community as far as toughness is concerned. Kerry might very well be forced to overreact to prove his toughness.
So while I cannot trust Bush to do the right thing in this war, I believe I can trust Kerry to do the wrong thing. Victor Davis Hanson puts it well:
[T]here is some reason for the Islamists’ optimism that they can break our will—given a decade of nonchalance after the first World Trade Center attack, the Khobar towers, the USS Cole, and an assortment of other unanswered murders in the 1990s. The April withdrawal from Fallujah...was a grievous blow....
John Kerry talks about timetables for departure and cessation of the present course. His supporters on the extreme left from George Soros to Michael Moore blame George Bush, not Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein, for the current televised butchery. There is a reason why candidate Kerry now painfully insists that he would not precipitously withdraw—because everyone else worldwide, from a Chirac and Schroeder to Arafat and most of the Arab world—suspect that, in fact, he will.
An American flight would shame Tony Blair and John Howard, leave eastern Europe to the bullying of Paris and Berlin, destroy the Iraq interim government, take the heat off Arab autocracies, and send a message that American policy was back to Clintonian-like law enforcement, replete with jargon such as “sensitive” and “nuisance.” It does not matter what Kerry would “really” wish to do, since the last two years of campaign rhetoric have earned him the worldwide reputation of the Bush antithesis, and thus his victory would, rightly or wrongly, be interpreted as a complete rejection of toppling Saddam and fostering a constitutional government in his place. His supporters and financial backers on the left would not tolerate anything less than a withdrawal.
Because of our astounding weaponry and superb military, the terrorists in Fallujah count on the help of such postmodern Western guilt and internecine blame to supply constraints on the American military every bit as effective as the old Soviet nuclear deterrent. Again, a Michael Moore—or so they believe—is worth an entire jihadist cell....
The second most important issue in the campaign, I believe, is the federal judiciary. We cannot expect good judges from John Kerry at all. In recent years, the Supreme Court has slightly restricted federal power under the commerce clause, holding that the clause does not give Congress absolute authority over everything. Those decisions, however, have been 5-4. A Kerry administration would turn those cases into an aberration. Now, there are pluses to a Kerry administration as far as federal courts are concerned (abortion, primarily, and privacy rights). And there are downsides to a Bush administration. Bush is likely to appoint some Borkian judges. But we might also get some good judges, like Janice Rogers Brown. We won’t get any good judges out of John Kerry.
Bush is far from a great president, and I regret much that he has done. But I, too, prefer the devil I know to the devil I don’t—and, in particular, the devil that I can predict to the devil that I cannot.