Thinking as a Hobby
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2004-10-26 2:29 PM
Sullivan's Endorsement of Kerry
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He's not even a U.S. citizen yet, but Andrew Sullivan has written the most fair, lucid assessment of the two candiates I've read to date. And he endorses Kerry.
Any reelection starts with the incumbent. Bush has had some notable achievements. He was right to cut taxes as the economy headed toward recession; he was right to push for strong federal standards for education; he was right to respond to September 11 by deposing the Taliban; he was right to alert the world to the unknown dangers, in the age of Al Qaeda, of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. He is still right that democratization is the only ultimate security in an age of Jihadist terror.
He even agrees with Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq, but says:
If you are going to do what the Bush administration did in putting all your chips on one big gamble; if you are going to send your secretary of state to the United Nations claiming solid "proof" of Saddam's WMDs; if you are going to engage in a major war of liberation without the cover of international consensus--then you'd better well get all your ducks in a row.
Bush--amazingly--didn't. The lack of stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq remains one of the biggest blows to America's international credibility in a generation. The failure to anticipate an insurgency against the coalition remains one of the biggest military miscalculations since Vietnam. And the refusal to send more troops both at the beginning and throughout the occupation remains one of the most pig-headed acts of hubris since the McNamara era. I'm amazed that more war advocates aren't incensed by this mishandling of such critical matters.
Well, I heard Donald Rumsfeld testify before Congress about pre-war planning and talk about the planning for contingencies that didn't happen: the possible use of WMD against troops and/or civilians, civil war, a huge refugee crisis, and the destruction of oil wells akin to the first Gulf War. These things didn't happen, even though they were extensively planned for. I think Rumsfeld gets raked over the coals for saying war is fluid and unpredictable, but I think it's true, and I'm willing to cut quite a bit of slack in this area.
But on the domestic front, he's right:
Domestically, the record is horrifying for a fiscal conservative. Ronald Reagan raised taxes in his first term when he had to; and he didn't have September 11 to contend with. Ronald Reagan also cut domestic spending. Bush has been unable to muster the conservative courage to do either. He has spent like a drunken liberal Democrat. He has failed to grapple with entitlement reform, as he once promised. He has larded up the tax code with endless breaks for corporate special interests; pork has metastasized; and he has tainted the cause of tax relief by concentrating too much of it on the wealthy. He has made the future boomer fiscal crunch far more acute by adding a hugely expensive new Medicare prescription drug entitlement.
The Dems ought to fire Joe Lockhart's ass and hire Sullivan as a campaign manager. Kerry should be drumming on this theme every chance he gets. He shouldn't be talking about how horrible the economy is now, but how Bush has set us up for another recession, or worse. Why does it take an independent to point this stuff out?
Sullivan then brings up the proposed Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Yeah, it's utterly stupid, and yeah, the President supports it, but it ain't ever gonna pass. It's near and dear to Sullivan's heart, since he's gay, but as far as I'm concerned it's a non-issue because like the flag-burning amendment, it's all for show and isn't every going to be a reality.
Then he turns to Kerry:
I know few people enthused about John Kerry. His record is undistinguished, and where it stands out, mainly regrettable. He intuitively believes that if a problem exists, it is the government's job to fix it. He has far too much faith in international institutions, like the corrupt and feckless United Nations, in the tasks of global management. He got the Cold War wrong. He got the first Gulf War wrong. His campaign's constant and excruciating repositioning on the war against Saddam have been disconcerting, to say the least.
Um...he's endorsing this guy?
He basically builds the argument that Kerry is less risky, mostly because his election will mollify international (and half of the domestic) distaste of Bush.
In the essential tasks of building support for greater international help in Iraq--financially, militarily, diplomatically--Kerry is the better choice. No, other countries cannot bail us out or even contribute much in the way of an effective military presence. But within Iraq, the impact of a more international stamp on the occupation and on the elections could help us win the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. That battle--as much as the one on the battlefield itself--is crucial for success. I fear Bush is too polarizing, too controversial, too loathed a figure even within his own country, to pull this off.
Sullivan is at least honest about the fact that there will be no other troops coming to our rescue (and no money, either...unless we start cutting back-room deals for contracts). But he does have a good point about the fact that Kerry would be viewed, at least in the short term, as a far less polarizing figure, and that may be beneficial in many ways.
And he's not worried about Kerry's willingness or capacity to fight the war on terror:
The convention was a remarkable event in that it pivoted the Democratic Party toward an uncomplicated embrace of the war on terror. Kerry has said again and again that he will not hesitate to defend this country and go on the offensive against Al Qaeda. I see no reason whatsoever why he shouldn't. What is there to gain from failure in this task?
But I think that's the wrong question to ask. A better one would be: Is Kerry's approach to fighting terrorism the right one? I think the answer to that is mixed. I'm heartened to hear Kerry pressing the need for greater domestic security, especially when it comes to areas like cargo screening. He's right. But as I blogged here before, his policy does seem to be more defense-oriented, focused on hardening the homeland, rather than going on the offensive. And his focus is not on states where terrorism may fester, but in treating them more like multi-national organized crime. Is this approach right? Or is the Bush doctrine, more state-focused) the better one? I don't know, but it's the question Sullivan should be asking.
I don't think there many serious Republicans who think Kerry actually wants to take office and weaken America, make it more vulnerable to attack, or make it easier for the terrorists to operate. The question is whether his approach is the right one or not.
Does Kerry believe in the power of freedom enough to bring Iraq into a democratic future? I don't know. It's my major concern with him. At the same time, it's delusional to believe that democracy can take root overnight in Iraq; and a little more humility in the face of enormous cultural difference does not strike me as unwarranted at this juncture.
This is Sullivan's constant refrain, and his primary rationale for endorsing Kerry...that his demeanor, a more cooperative, conciliatory, less rigid, less aggressive attitude would help us accomplish worldwide what we need to. Actually, I think it's a pretty reasonable argument.
He also argues that Kerry is more fiscally responsible. I agree there as well.
Kerry has actually been much more impressive in the latter stages of this campaign than I expected. He has exuded a calm and a steadiness that reassures. He is right about our need for more allies, more prudence, and more tactical discrimination in the war we are waging. I cannot say I have perfect confidence in him, or that I support him without reservations. But not to support anyone in this dangerous time is a cop-out. So give him a chance. In picking the lesser of two risks, we can also do something less dispiriting. We can decide to pick the greater of two hopes. And even in these dour days, it is only American to hope.
Well, that sounds nice, but it isn't as easy for me to find hope in Kerry/Edwards as it apparently is for Sullivan. I've heard them say "Help is one the way", but I've also heard far more negativity from them. This is probably inevitable when a challenger is running against an incumbent, but it still doesn't fill me with anything resembling hope.
Still, Sullivan's endorsement is a good one, with lots of interesting stuff to think about.
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