David, at Oxblog
, calls attention to a "New Republic" (subscription only) endorsement of Kerry, which at the same time makes a pithy criticism of him from exactly the liberal point of view I seem to have about him:
Building "firehouses in Baghdad" -- a notion Kerry has repeatedly mocked -- is not only something we owe the Iraqi people, it stems from the fundamentally liberal premise that social development can help defeat fanaticism. Abandoning that principle under pressure from Howard Dean is the most disturbing thing Kerry has done in this campaign.
Yes. What's at risk in the war against Islamist fundamentalism is not American conservatism. That will carry on, no matter what. But global liberalism, which I had formerly assumed was something U.S. Democrats cherished, is in the crosshairs. And Kerry seems not to notice this. As David wrote a few days before:
[M]y most profound concern about Kerry is his naivete with regard to multilateral diplomacy. Rather, it is his total resistance to making about any positive statement about the importance of ensuring a democratic outcome in Iraq. Even though things are not going well on the ground, I believe that a true opportunity for democratization still exists. But that opportunity will amount to nothing in the absence of an all-out American effort to take advantage of it.
The trio at Oxblog are supporters of the cause of freedom in the Middle East and the War on Islamist Terror. They posted almost at the same time I did, endorsing the same cause (Spirit of America's Iraq Democracy Project
). Yet Josh, one of the Oxbloggers, says he's decided to vote for Kerry. Even after agreeing that his own vision of the world hews more closely to Bush's.
I find it discouraging that, in his speech accepting the nomination, Kerry did not once use the word "democracy" in the context of Iraq, Afghanistan, or the Middle East. I don't think he shares my view of the transformative power of liberty and democracy, and I worry about how that would affect his administration's policies. I worry that he would tip the scales too much towards creating order and not enough towards creating democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. I worry, in short, that he doesn't understand that illiberal despotism is both a humanitarian issue and a security issue. What's more, I think Bush does share that strategic vision. I think he is legitimately devoted to promoting democracy around the world, and I think he understands that this is intimately connected to national security.
So why Kerry? Because once he's forced to actually govern from the White House, instead of rhetorically opposing Bush and Dean, Kerry will have to confront the hard choices, and he'll undoubtedly come to see things in the world essentially the way Bush, and Josh, and I do. And he'll be better able to act on those impulses than Bush has been lately. If the terrorists attack us, he will responde with force. Kerry will stay the course in Iraq. He will realize that, having whetted the Arab/Islamic public's appetite for democracy and freedom, we will have to continue the difficulty work of actually helping them achieve it. The traditional Democratic devotion to civic institutions and grassroots empowerment could actually be a boon here that Bush lacks.
In other words, now that the Arab world is talking about democracy -- the kind of talk that will grow and feed on itself and ultimately cannot be silenced -- we can help by having a President who (a) is not reviled in the region, and (b) is a bit less incompetent at actually promoting our foreign policy objectives than the current administration has been. Yes, (a) means that some sort of "global test" is factoring into my vote. I'm not thrilled about that, but when the major issue in the campaign is foreign policy, it would, I think, be self-defeating not to take into account how the rest of the world views the candidates and whether the rest of the world will be willing to work well with the candidate. And (b), of course, is speculative. Perhaps Kerry wouldn't be better than Bush. But any election must largely be a referendum on the incumbent, and I am increasingly convinced that Bush has mismanaged too many important aspects of our foreign policy to be given my trust again.
I can see the logic of that. The difference between my position and his isn't great. Probably he sees it as 51 percent likely that Kerry will do what Bush is trying to do, and do it better; I see it as 49 percent likely he'll manage that. That's why I'm not planning to vote for him, but won't be crushed when Kerry ultimately wins (as I think he ultimately will, around Dec. 18, after the recounts in Florida, Ohio, New Jersey and New Mexico, and the Supreme Court intervention).
Neither Bush's moral clarity and unswerving certainty, nor Kerry's constraint and "path dependence" (Josh's term) are always right or always wrong in government. There's a time for each, and, as Mickey Kaus suggested in coming out for Kerry, this may be time for "rebranding" America.
I read another intriguing reason for supporting a Kerry win, by "Cicero" at Winds of Change.
If there's solace to be taken from a Kerry victory, it will be the possibility that liberalism will be truly taken to task by historical forces, like conservativism has been. This time around, a liberal president will not have the political advantages afforded by the power vacuum at the end of the Cold War, concurrent with a miracle tech economy that kept eyes planted on the NASDAQ and not the Cole disaster. This time, a liberal president has the unenviable job of showing that the French can be reformed, that the UN is not utterly dysfunctional and that Carterism has workable limits. Let the sobering begin.
President Bush, who ran on a near-isolationist platform in 2000, redefined conservatism in 2001 because the world changed. That's why he's got my vote. Mr. Kerry, so far, seems reluctant to redefine liberalism in the context of the modern world. His heels are firmly planted on a mountain floating on magma. As president, liberalism, as we know it, will either be redefined or it will perish.
Four more years of Bush will only prolong liberalism's promenade with fantasy; four years of Kerry will either return a functional balance within our system or consummate its disequilibrium, at the risk of chaos. It is a vote of fate.
This class of hawkish-liberal Kerry supporters are also crossing their fingers with one hand as they pull the ballot lever with the other. They're hoping for the kind of transformation Oliver Kamm
wrote about recently, in a British context:
Labour came to office in 1945 believing that it was well-placed to cultivate good relations with the Soviet Union - “Left can talk to Left,” as the new Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin put it. Bevin was wrong, and it was to his enormous credit that he realised this almost immediately. Soviet Communism was irrevocably hostile to the institutions of liberal democracy, and especially to parties of the democratic Left. Labour – which was the strongest such party in Europe at the time - gave historically-vital support to other social democratic parties and free trade unions on both sides of the Iron Curtain to resist Communist infiltration and expansionism. (It’s worth recording that the author of this policy was Bevin’s protégé Denis Healey – not yet an MP but International Secretary of the Labour Party.) It was a natural development of that policy for Labour to be instrumental in the founding of Nato in 1949 – a voluntary alliance establishing collective security and deterrence, which 40 years later, with the collapse of Communism is Eastern Europe, became the most successful liberation movement in history.
Having publicly cast his lot with Kerry, however, Josh can't seem to resist circling back to all the doubts about him. What if his notion of Kerry is wrong?
The obvious counterpoint to this argument is that John Kerry's Clinton-esque obsession with processing ever more information results in exactly the sort of paralysis that the United States cannot afford in the midst of its War on Terror.
My preferred counterpoint to this argument is that John Kerry's inconsistent approach to critical issues such as the war in Iraq reflects a lack of firm principles much more than it does an inability to make decisions. Kerry has made decisions -- he simply made them in response to the pressure generated by Howard Dean and then remade them in response to the pressure generated George W. Bush rather than focusing all along on the pressure generated by the situation on the ground in Iraq.
While this sort of inconsistency is an obvious source of concern, my wager on Kerry reflects my belief that it would be in Kerry's own self-interest as President to "finish the job" in Iraq.
And then goes on to say, "But that's not what I wanted to write about (again)." But it does raise another question (one that has been raised elsewhere on the bloggosphere). If Kerry wins, and becomes this more competent vision of Bush that people like Cicero and Josh (and Andrew Sullivan) hope for, what will that do to the Democratic Party? As it toughens under the realities of governance, the Democrats will have to lose their spare tire of Michael Moore-ism. And if you think that group (statistically something like 40 percent of Kerry supporters want instant, unconditional, total U.S. withdrawal from Iraq) will go quietly into the night, think again. How long before the rallies gather across from the White House and chant "hey, hey, J.F.K., how many Iraqis did you kill today?"
Meanwhile, to balance that, here's another liberal hawk coming out for Bush
makes an unapologetic case for Bush that resonates with me.
When Aznar lost the Spanish election, it was seen as a repudiation of his closeness with the United States and our activities in Iraq. The terrorists won. Spin it however you want, and many did. Some tried to say that had the Spanish intending to vote for the opposition changed their votes, then THAT would have been a terrorist victory. There may be some truth to that. But the simple fact is that the international press trumpeted that vote as a repudiation of the Iraq War and the American approach the War on Terror. The terrorists themselves certainly took it as a great victory. Mission Accomplished.
That is exactly what will happen should John Kerry triumph in November. Kerry and his party have excoriated the current Administration at every turn for marginalizing the UN, for "going it alone," for pursuing a strategic war on terror - including the invasion of Iraq. A Kerry victory can only be cast as granting a mandate to reverse this trend - to cozy back up to the UN, an organization that cannot even unequivocally condemn terror, to scrape for the approval of European Nations whose interests and alignments no longer mirror ours (nor should they), and to return to a time when states could harbor and support terrorists with no fear of real action by the United States. Instead, they'll be free to hide behind their friends in the UN once again, knowing that John "Multilateral" Kerry will never touch them.
I may not care for a lot of things about GWB, but I would hate to hang Tony Blair out to dry. Or John Howard. Or the Poles, Italians, Danes, Dutch, Bulgarians, and others who accepted our invitation to help in Iraq. I would have to think we had changed course and turned the wolves lose, if not on ourselves, on all the brave Iraqis who have cast their lot with us.
Not only will the terrorists have won, smirking Jacques Chirac will have won. The reporters at "The Guardian" and their Stupid Fat Racist Americans
jokes will have won. All the culturally self-loathing Hollywood dingbats will have won. My co-workers will have won. [shudder]