Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
November 1, 2004
POLITICS: Why I Voted For George W. Bush
As I mentioned, I voted absentee already, and proudly cast my ballot for George W. Bush. If you've been reading this site the past 2+ years, you already know why, and I have neither time nor space here to go through all the reasons. So, I'll just summarize the top three. For a compare and contrast, you can look back at why I voted for McCain over Bush in 2000.
1. The War on Terror: By far the overarching issue in this election is the war. Put simply, Kerry could get me killed. Having been targeted for murder once before on September 11, and given that I still work a few blocks from Times Square, that's something I take rather seriously.
I've written too much about Bush, his leadership and his strategy to recount here, but let's just say this: from the time that he grabbed that bullhorn at Ground Zero to vow that we would be heard from, Bush has gotten it. My philosophy in the war on terror is aptly summarized by the Churchill quote I use as a tagline to the site; the full quote:
Does Bush apply a similar philosophy to the war on terror? I believe he does, and his willingness to absorb endless abuse and wavering support from the public and from some of our allies is, in a wartime leader, a sign of the kind of constancy we desperately need. Bush knows what he wants to do, and he will not be deterred until it is done.
Which brings us to the contrast with his opponent. Can you even begin to picture Kerry insisting that the war on terror does not end until our enemies feel that they are beaten, that it ends only on our terms and at a time of our choosing, that we will not and should not believe we have peace until we have victory? I can't. Not with Kerry's history, not with how he has conducted himself in this campaign. And, of course, Kerry's long history of shifting course with the winds, too well known and extensive to be worth rehashing here, does not inspire confidence in his ability to stay single-mindedly focused on a coherent strategy in the face of obstacles, setbacks and criticism. (For more on Bush's and Kerry's differences as leaders, see here and here).
Even aside from the issue of the two candidates' fundamental differences in philosophy and temperment, there is the question of strategy, which is why this election - which frankly everyone recognizes is a referendum on that strategy - is so critical. Kerry has tried, at every opportunity, to attack Bush on tactics. But even if you agree with some of Kerry's tactical criticisms (which I discussed here), the larger issue is that Kerry rejects the overall strategy of the Bush Administration in fighting the war on terror (including the place of the Iraq war in that strategy), and has not advanced a credible alternative strategy or even convinced me that he would have one other than a return to the do-not-enough policies of the Clinton era. Consider the major strategic doctrines of this administration - each of which I wholeheartedly endorse (see Steven den Beste for more on the grand strategy; the Bush Administration thus far has stuck rather closely by the detailed vision surmised by den Beste) - and how little faith Kerry has in them:
A. The United States is pursuing a "forward strategy of freedom" by which it seeks to encourage reform and/or directly undermine or overthrow undemocratic regimes and replace them with more democratic regimes. Kerry went out of his way in the debates and at the Democratic Convention to avoid saying anything complementary about democracy promotion as a key weapon against tyranny; instead, just as in his dealings with Communist regimes in the 1970s-1980s (think: Daniel Ortega) and his statements about Arafat and Aristede in more recent years, Kerry has shown a disturbing degree of deference to existing regimes that are recognized as legitimate by the international community, no matter how little their legitimacy derives from the consent of their people and no matter how hostile they are to the United States, its allies and its interests. When he does talk about democracy, Kerry says things like this:
Labor unions???? In countries with huge pools of unemployed young men and no skilled labor? And that's how you propose to topple the region's tyrants? By getting them to join the AFL-CIO? Independent media and human rights groups do have a role to play, assuming they don't get co-opted into carping mostly about the tyrant's enemies (as so many did with Saddam), but most of the region's regimes need stronger medicine than that.
B. States that sponsor, harbor, or encourage terrorists are as culpable as the terrorists and will be treated as enemies; states with past connections to terrorists must be either with us or against us. Kerry, again, seems more concerned with making sure that we are on the sides of our allies than the other way around, and is profoundly allergic to incurring the anger of allies if it is necessary to get people to do what we want. (See here on why I think Kerry is saying he would not have gone to war with Iraq).
C. The United States reserves the right to launch a pre-emptive strike against our enemies when we believe they represent a serious and developing threat to our security, whether or not we have established that the threat is imminent. (As announced, I don't think this doctrine extends to threats to our interests, but more narrowly to direct threats to our physical security). Kerry, as I have discussed, takes a narrower view of when and how we can respond to threats.
On whether Kerry can effectively rally the nation to finish the job in Iraq no matter what the obstacles, just ask yourself: you work for a big company, and a new guy gets appointed CEO after a protracted power struggle. Do you really want to get assigned to a project that the new CEO, all the way through his climb up the ladder, has savaged as a diversion, a waste of money, and precisely the opposite of the direction the company should be going in?
I didn't think so.
Finally, and of grossly underestimated significance in this election season, there's the signal a Kerry victory would send to the world. As I noted recently, when you try to strip Kerry's message down to soundbites - which is how a president's message gets translated to the rest of the world - it can't be seen as anything but a message of retreat and retrenchment and a popular repudiation of Bush's aggressive defense of American interests. Kerry would need to labor long and hard, at great cost in life and treasure, to correct that impression even if he was totally dedicated to doing so. (More on Kerry's credibility and the message a Kerry victory would send here and here).
2. The Courts: I tend to focus my concerns, on the domestic side, first and foremost on those areas where the president's polices, once in place, are most difficult to change. Nothing has a longer-lasting impact than Supreme Court nominations. One reason for the rising temperature of the last three presidential and last five Senate election cycles is that activists on each side have, on each occasion, steeled for battle over the next Supreme Court nomination on a narrowly divided Court, and each time we've gone another two/four years with nothing happening. That can't hold forever, with a couple of Justices past 80 and several suffering major health problems.
As a practicing litigator, I see the many ways in which the composition of the courts affects the progress of litigation and its effects, direct and indirect, on society. And although it's not an ironclad rule, it's true in most cases that conservative judges, even when they err, wind up leaving things in a position that can be changed by the voters; liberal judges tend, when in doubt, to constititionalize more issues in a way that gradually narrows the scope of democratic accountability and control. That's an ominous development.
3. Social Security: The biggest long-term issue in the federal budget is entitlements. Bush took a step backward on that issue when he fulfilled his campaign promise to add a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. But in his second term, Bush will be looking for a domestic legacy, and he recognizes the importance of changing the fundamental operation of Social Security as the key to his long-range view of an "ownership society" in which individuals have ownership and control over more aspects of their lives. And Bush is a guy who gets things done. (More on the larger themes at stake here). I look forward to the debate on this issue after the election (see here for a key point on the transition-cost issue); if Kerry wins, of course, nothing will change in the way the government does business.
Conclusion: There are many other issues at stake here, and many reasons I have not discussed. But on the biggest of the big things - leadership, determination and strategy at war, the role of the courts in our society, and the long-term structure of the entitlement programs that consume the largest share of the federal budget - the choice of Bush over Kerry is clear. May the right man win; I cast my vote for him already, and hope you do too.