How is a hawkish classical liberal to vote Nov. 2? For swing voters who largely fall into this category, this vote seems to be about whom to vote against rather than a vote in favor of someone. But let me attempt to lay out the pros and cons of each candidate.
On domestic issues, drunken-sailor spending mated with irresponsible tax cuts, corporate-run policies, Orwellian-termed environmental policies like “Clear Skies, Healthy Forests,” gun delimitation and the spectre of a stacked Supreme Court militate for a change of helm. One wonders whether the current administration realizes it is driving national finances into a ditch or consciously trusts faith-based economics.
But this election will come down to Iraq and terrorism. Here the decision is most anguished. On one hand, President George W. Bush is guilty of, at the least, grave incompetence—not planning and not listening to others enough to guard ammunition dumps and minimize border infiltration and not cultivating public opinion in key countries around the world (and conservatives, I don’t mean France, but rather the republics of Turkey, India, Australia, Japan, Russia, etc., societies whose long-term support will be crucial to our success). At his worst, Bush continues to coddle the real axis of evil—Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the financial, logistic and ideological nests of radical Islamic fundamentalism—and has let Iran and North Korea fester by concentrating our resources to Iraq. Shirking of accountability, utter distortions of the truth, plain stupidity and a lack of grace and magnanimity characterize this presidency. Bush’s obtuseness of mind is matched only by his hamness of hand.
Still, Bush has presented a vision and is relatively predictable. Bush seeks to reform the entire Middle East with a democratic domino theory; even if you disagree with it (which I do not), he has a goal that is optimistic and a credible alternative to continued “stability” whose only wage will be immense pain all around. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., seems bereft of vision and unmoored from objectives. Certainly, Kerry’s emphasis on doing more to protect the homeland is welcome and necessary, yet grossly insufficient. Having a less polarizing figure than Bush may be salutary for building strategic alliances, yet one wonders whether Kerry’s signals would be interpreted by the terrorists as a strategic retreat, emboldening them. Kerry seems stuck on Sept. 10, treating al Qaeda as a law enforcement issue. Honor does not accrue to the ostrich. It is unacceptable to set a goal of reducing terrorism to the level of prostitution or gambling, each of which are legal and thriving in various states and countries. To acknowledge that every terrorist and radical Islamic fundamentalist cannot be eradicated does not mean the attempt should be avoided; while the world still has Nazis and Communists, they know their ideology and outlook is bankrupt and discredited largely at America’s hand, which must be the goal now.
Although Bush’s team has done poorly domestically, credit is due to Donald Rumsfeld and John Ashcroft for the fact that there has not been a significant attack in the United States since Sept. 11. It would be helpful to know Kerry’s picks for key cabinet positions, his thoughts on the roots of terrorism are (Does he recognize the threat of radical Islamic fundamentalism, or does he whitewash it with the laundry of foreign policy mistakes?) and his vision for American victory is or if he has any.
My gut says if the trigger needs to be pulled, Bush will pull the trigger, whereas with Kerry it’s not sure. My head says Bush is driving the long-term solvency of the country into a ditch, and that this is a more serious issue than generally realized. My heart wishes we could dump both of these candidates in favor of someone with both brain and backbone. It is a dark time for classical liberals—the proud mantle of FDR, Truman, Kennedy, Scoop Jackson and Pat Moynihan lies forlorn in the attic of a storied history, waiting to be unfurled as the banner of a new horizon.
Dr. Bala Ambati is the Director of the Cornea Service at the Medical College of Georgia and a former Chronicle columnist.