This should more-properly be titled “Why I should vote for Bush,” it being my good-faith effort to convince myself that I should do just that.
Why am I doing such a thing? I guess because I want to make sure I’m considering the question as objectively as I can, divorced as much as possible from my preconceptions. Also, I’m interested in how the arguments I would make to myself differ from the arguments that are made to those actually likely to vote for him.
Anyway, in thinking about this, I’ve come up with two broad, and in some ways mutually exclusive, arguments. Here’s the first one:
Argument the First: Personal Integrity
Character matters. As a person, Bush is lame, but so is Kerry. In fact, Kerry’s personal lameness actually exceeds Bush’s. Therefore, I should vote for Bush.
I apologize to those in the audience who share my hatred of Bush for having just said that. But in fact, having tried really, really hard to be objective, I think I actually believe the foregoing statement to be true, at least from a certain point of view.
I’ve talked a lot (I mean, a lot) here about how much I dislike Bush’s character. But I have to give him credit for internal consistency. On some level, he’s his own man, not pretending to be something other than he is. He’s direct, decisive, and, within the limits of his personal world view, honest. In that sense he’s a real person, not just an empty shell designed to appeal to voters. If Bush were my neighbor (and I didn’t already despise him), I think I’d actually enjoy hanging out with the guy.
Kerry, on the other hand, appears to be very much a politician, crafting his position based on how it will be received rather than standing for anything. For example, he (and his running mate) voted for the Iraq war resolution, and have never offered an adequate explanation for why they did so. In Edwards’ case, I get the impression he actually still thinks in his heart of hearts that the war was a good idea. In Kerry’s case, I think it’s clear that he was just taking the politically expedient choice, rather than risking public disapproval for opposing what was clearly a trumped-up case for war. But if he’s willing to compromise his principles in the name of political expediency in that case, it pretty much proves that there’s no evil he’d be willing to oppose if it was going to cost him politically.
I mean, Kerry’s formative political experience was as a leader in the anti-Vietnam-war movement. For someone who did that to be willing to vote in favor of reproducing the exact conditions that led to Vietnam is pretty mind-boggling. It could be argued that all politicians are unprincipled opportunists in the same way I’ve described Kerry, but Kerry does seem a particularly striking example of it.
Bush’s character is different. His internal sense of who he is shows through in the form of personal charisma, which is an important factor in being an effective leader. I may not always agree with the direction he chooses to go, but he possesses a demonstrated ability to communicate in a way that effectively speaks to large masses of people, and, potentially, to lead them.
In the months after 9/11, Bush’s response to that event struck a chord with Americans, helping to take a shocked and grieving people and infuse them with a sense of strength, courage, and shared purpose. It seems possible that in a similar situation, Kerry, with his appreciation of nuance and his balanced approach and his desire for global cooperation (and his hollow political opportunism), would have lacked the ability to adopt and communicate a strong response. He might have been paralyzed in a Jimmy Carter-esque paroxysm of national hand-wringing, leaving the country adrift when what it needed was for him to pick a direction and start moving resolutely forward. Which, in all honesty, is what Bush did.
In a memorable scene from Full Metal Jacket, Gunnery Sergeant Hartman (played by Lee Ermey) says, “Private Joker is silly and ignorant, but he’s got guts. And guts is enough.”
Bush is sillly and ignorant, but he’s got guts.
I know; I know. Thirty-five years ago Kerry was earning a Silver Star by being a hero in the Mekong River delta, while Bush was coasting through an entitled life avoiding any serious responsibility. But we’re not choosing between the Bush and Kerry of 35 years ago. We’re choosing between the Bush and Kerry of today. And today, for all his failings, Bush has many personal qualities that are important in a leader, and that Kerry, at least based on the evidence I’ve seen so far, seems to lack.
As long as we’re talking about their 1960s selves, there’s also this issue: Kerry chose to go to Vietnam, while Bush (sensibly) avoided the conflict. What does that say about Kerry’s intelligence and personality? I’m grateful to him for being willing to risk his life in service to his country, but that war was wrong. In that sense, his evolving views on Iraq seem eerily reminiscent of his evolving views on Vietnam. I’m not sure that a track-record of being repeatedly wrong on that particular question, only to realize his error after the fact, is a particularly strong qualification for the presidency.
Having such strong feelings (as I do) on Bush and Kerry’s personal integrity, I felt like I really needed to look at that side of the equation, and do my best to neutralize my anti-Bush bias. But the fact is, having done that, I don’t think it’s really the issue I should be focusing on. Hence my second argument:
Argument the Second: Outcomes
While character may matter somewhat as a predictor of how a president will behave in unforseen circumstances, character per se doesn’t actually matter much at all. All that matters is what results the candidate would bring about if elected. Who he is and how he thinks and whether he’s a hypocrite or not are all irrelevant issues in and of themselves. What matters are the outcomes that a given president’s being elected would lead to. Bush (or Kerry) could be the world’s biggest asshole, and still be the right choice for president if I believed his election would produce better results than electing the other guy.
My crystal ball capabilities are limited, but there is a definite possibility that a second Bush presidency, in the long run, would turn out to be better for me, my family, my country, and/or my world than a Kerry presidency. If I think that that is likely to be the case, I should vote for Bush, regardless of how I feel about him as a person. So, do I think the outcomes of a second Bush term are likely to be better than those for Kerry? Well, let me try to think of some scenarios in which that might be the case.
Greedy personal reasons:
Here’s one reason: Bush’s tax policies are probably better for me personally, and that will certainly be the case should my level of income rise by much. I operate my own business, and have plans to try to grow that business. A pretty strong case can be made that Bush’s business-friendly policies would be more favorable for those activities than Kerry’s. My chances of getting a tax break based on the private-school tuition payments I make for my daughter, and will probably at some point be making for my son, are better under Bush than under Kerry.
Here’s another reason: Bush might withdraw from Iraq sooner than Kerry would. Bush’s short attention-span and emotional inclination to walk away from and deny the existence of failures might bring about a quicker resolution than Kerry’s plodding, minimize-political-risks decision-making. That earlier withdrawal could help avoid a Vietnam-style quagmire, with beneficial effects for my country. Note that in five years I will have a child of draft age. (But note also that Bush’s greater militarism probably increases, rather than decreases, the chances that one of my kids will end up being drafted.)
Idealistic large-scale reasons
In bringing about large-scale social change, things sometimes must get worse before they can get better. Through his evident dangerousness to the world, Bush could give impetus to a global movement aimed at making war obsolete. The dangers represented by Bush are symptoms of a broken geopolitical system that persists in acting as if international conflicts can be resolved by war, when in fact scientific progress as applied to killing large numbers of people means that we must either develop an alternative to war or exterminate each other. Bush’s ill-considered belligerance makes those risks more clear to the people of the world. This might result in a backlash that helps pave the way for a new, more peaceful order. Kerry’s more thoughtful, engaged approach to the world could actually, paradoxically, serve to mask those symptoms, allowing the old, broken system to continue in place, rather than being recognized as a failure and replaced with something better.
Pragmatic large-scale reasons
Wisdom requires balance. It is unwise to grow cynical and believe that things can never change. It is similarly unwise to be so idealistic as to believe that an oncoming train 50 feet away going 50 mph can be stopped or diverted. One has to know when to act based on an idealistic faith that by doing the morally right thing, even when it seems risky in the here and now, one can build a better future, versus when to act based on a pragmatic recognition that one must sometimes compromise in order to address an immediate danger. Bush’s blunt, direct response to the terrorist threat this country faces is not so hot from a long-term, idealistic perspective, but it may in fact be appropriate given a realistic evaluation of the threat.
It’s not very much in keeping with Sun Tzu, but the fact is that Bush is probably going to be more willing than Kerry to use US military power as a tool to oppose global terrorism. In an era when it is a demonstrated fact that radical Islamic terrorists would like to do things like detonate nuclear weapons in US cities, the willingness of Bush to use force could make the difference in preventing a major domestic tragedy. (Note, though, that Bush’s go-it-alone reliance on the military is harmful to the international cooperation that could also make a difference in that area.)
Also, as Jenny pointed out in the comments to my earlier item on this topic, by pursuing military hegemony in the middle east, Bush could position the US to better withstand the shock of the world running out of oil. With US military control of Iraqi oil reserves, the social and economic disruptions that will be the inevitable result of the oil crash will be lessened, at least for me and my family. As morally reprehensible as it may be to contemplate, if the world in 2050 is going to be like a post-iceberg Titanic, I want my children to have a place in the lifeboats. (Note, though, that Bush’s pro-big-oil policies, including his hostility toward conservation, seem likely to undercut the benefits of our controlling mideast oil with our military.)
So that’s it. Those are all the reasons I’ve been able to think of that seem like good reasons to me to vote for George Bush. I’ve done my best to present them fairly and honestly. They’re not strawmen (though Bush opponents are welcome to knock them down, should they wish to). After considering all those reasons as objectively as I can, am I willing to vote for Bush?
I don’t know. Probably not. But I’m going to do my best to keep an open mind going foward. I probably won’t make my final decision until election day.
In the meantime, if anyone else would like to play this game, I encourage you to do so. I would be particularly interested in seeing a similarly constructed case-for-Kerry from one or more of the Bush supporters around here. Thanks.