Saturday, August 07, 2004

My voting rationale

I didn't expect my first vote in a presidential election to require much thought; the choice would be clear. But after Bush pushed for one big government program after another, I became ambivalent. I started to ask myself whose election was more really likely to do control the growth the state. I'm still not sure. Meanwhile, there are other considerations:
If they knew and believed that the US commitment to the new Iraqi government would remain strong no matter who won the election, that would be immensely helpful. Sadly, they have no basis right now for any such conclusion. On this issue, as on so many others, Kerry seems hell-bent on avoiding any perception of having taken a stand. Even the Boston Globe, the NYTimes, and the Wapo have noticed.

He's said he won't pull out. But he's also said that going in was a mistake. And he's talked about ways of pulling out. He's on all sides of this issue, just as he seems to be on all sides of nearly every other substantive issue. ... But on this one issue, his refusal to break character by speaking frankly, speaking to the point, has significant foreign policy ramifications. It increases doubt for Iraqis about American commitment, and therefore makes an insurgent victory seem more plausible.

And that is a victory for the insurgents. It actually does make an insurgent victory more likely.
This is one the biggest reasons why, although I find it awfully tempting to punish Bush for his expansion of non-Defense government, and try to stop the damage he's doing to the conservative movement, I don't think doing so is in the best interests of my country.

Moreover, it's not like Kerry would be better. For example, the folks at Reason are not happy with Kerry's record on civil liberties. (Among other things, Kerry authored the money-laundering provisions of the Patriot Act, threats to privacy and all.) On so many important issues, they roughly agree.

So what are the differences, and how do I weigh them? On domestic issues, I only expect the outcome to make a big difference for two things: one is Supreme Court appointments. I'm an originalist and I'm socially conservative. Advantage: Bush, with the "no more Souters" proviso. The other thing is whether we have gridlock again. Gridlock won't significantly shrink government, but it might (see Gringrich years) or might not (see Clinton's second term) significantly restrain the growth of government. Advantage: Kerry, hopefully.

Now to foreign policy. It's hard to discern what Kerry will do vis-a-vis Iraq, but as Steven den Beste argued, a Kerry victory will probably hurt Iraq, at least in the short run. Advantage: Bush. It's even more difficult to discern what Bush or Kerry plan to do about Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. My best guess is that Bush would be more stubborn and belligerent than Kerry. (I find Bush's continued refusal to concede much of anything to North Korea instructional here.) Advantage: Bush. As for Kerry's talk about allies, I strongly believe that nations' interests matter a lot more to them than kind words, and that if elected, Kerry's kind words will amount to just that - kind words; hence, they're not a major factor in my decision.

There is a third factor that doesn't obey the domestic/foreign dichotomy. It's the "throw out the bums" factor. The Bush administration has committed errors, some willful, some accidental, some more negligent than others. Medicare drug subsidies, farm subsidies, tariffs, not enough ground troops in Afghanistan or Iraq, poor planning for post-war Iraq, etc. Do I want my vote to say that these things are ok? And do I want another Republican president to repeatedly betray his base like Nixon did, and get away with it like Nixon did in '72? Advantage: not voting.

For me, the scale still tips on Bush's side. But I won't shed any tears if he loses.

If I were voting based on my emotions, it'd be no contest. Bush has always struck me as earnest and pious, while Kerry doesn't make any impression on me at all. But Jimmy Carter also strikes me as earnest and pious. Decent guys aren't necessarily the best presidents, though the best presidents were decent guys.

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