Yes, I know, this isn’t a huge surprise to anyone. But let’s just make it official, shall we. I’m John Scalzi, and I approve this message: I will vote for John Kerry on November 2, and I think you should, too.
Allow me to grant, first off, that this is most importantly a vote against George W. Bush, who I believe is the most incompetent president since Harding, and who in any event (and in order to short-circuit the aside-the-pointers who will try to drag the comments down into pointless comparisons of GWB versus Carter and/or Clinton) has done disastrous things with his own present time in power, independent of his place in the grand pantheon of terrible US presidents. I could go into the litany of the various things the Bush administration has gotten horribly, terribly, awfully wrong, both at home and abroad, but I’ve already done that so often here and so many others have done so elsewhere, so for now, I’ll simply assume you know that of which I speak.
However, I do want to address the one “strength” that Bush has, the one that has made otherwise intelligent human beings single-issue Bush voters, and that is the following shibboleth: “George Bush is the only one who understands that we are in a war against the forces of Islamic extremism.” There are two points to make here. The first is that prior to 9/11, the Bush Administration certainly didn’t understand that we were in a war against Islamic extremism; it took 3,000 dead to get them to come around. If the Bush people, who are the very model of orthodox inflexibility when it comes to thought, can be persuaded we are in a battle against terror, I suggest that we can reasonably hold out the possibility that a Kerry administration may likewise be induced to hold that such extremism is still a clear and present danger to our land (as Senator Kerry has himself agreed, in no uncertain terms).
The second is that recognizing that something is so does not mean one is competent to deal with it. The Bush administration has disastrously bungled our international relationships, the response to terror, and the ancillary (and as we’ve learned, entirely unnecessary for the reasons we were provided) War in Iraq. I remind everyone yet again that I was not opposed to going into Iraq, for my own reasons, not those offered by the Bush administration. But the aftermath of that invasion has been so horribly managed — for no reason greater than the incompetence and recalcitrance of the Bush people — that I profoundly regret my personal decision to assent. I never assumed that winning and occupying Iraq would be easy, but I never imagined that the Bush people would so stubbornly work to make it harder.
9/11 and Iraq have also shown the Bush administration’s profound lack of interest in the constitutional security of United States citizens against the predations of their own government; time and again, this administration has shown it does not want to govern, it wants to rule. How else to explain the unnecessary secrets, countless lies, bland assurances of undisclosed evidence to justify the terrible bruising this administration has administered to its constituents’ constitutional rights? But more than that, this is an administration who by its actions has shown time and again that it believes truth is fungible — and not only that, but an enemy to its power (which is, ironically, true enough).
I don’t want an administration that believes that reality is negotiable — and even less than that, that reality is predicated on the consistently incorrect “gut” of the President of the United States, and anyone who opposes the presidential intestine subject to ground-scorching attack. This administration is the closest the United States has ever come to installing a cult of personality in the White House, in which the president is right because he’s the president. George W. Bush is the end sum of the reductive argument that began when Ronald Reagan declared that “facts are stupid things.”
This is why I am fundamentally agog whenever anyone delivers the “George Bush keeps us safe” bit. He did not even attempt to keep us safe prior to 9/11 from the people who eventually attacked us. He’s assaulted the Constitution of the United States to keep us “safe” since then. He’s poured vast amounts of money into a Homeland Security bureaucracy whose most obvious contribution to our security is a color-coding system which seemingly goes into alert whenever Bush gets bad political news, and he’s expended billions of dollars and the lives of over 1000 American troops in a war that has nothing to do with the terrorists who attacked us and only increased the worldwide hostility Americans face, politically and personally. Yes, I believe George Bush knows Americans need to be safe. But George Bush is just about the very last person I trust to do that job. He’s done a far better job attacking the Americans who criticize him than he’s done attacking the people who killed so many of us.
An utter failure in domestic policy, an antagonizer of nations abroad, and a man whose presidential actions show very little but contempt for the wide majority of Americans whom he was selected to lead. George W. Bush should never have been president at all. So not only is he not worth voting for, he is very much actively worth voting against.
Which brings us, at last, to John Kerry. John Kerry was not my first choice for President (Wesley Clarke was), but reading after his positions and reading interviews of the man and learning more about him, I think he’s a good choice, both for me personally, and for the nation. His political opponents have been attempting to tar him with the “liberal” brush, but it seems like that brush is down to its very last camel hair. And even if he were a liberal, so what? Given Bush’s track record as a “compassionate conservative,” being “liberal” is hardly the worst thing one can be.
Indeed, if the 2004 election does anything beneficial to the national political discourse, it will be election which reminds lower-income white people (and particularly the men) that just because people like George Bush say they’re Christian and like country music and prattle on about “traditional values,” it doesn’t actually mean they’re on your side. In any event, speaking as someone who lives in a town that has almost as many flags with car numbers on them as American flags, and also a surprisingly large number of Kerry/Edwards signs in front lawns, there’s only so long you can bark-strip a NASCAR fan before he simply doesn’t care that you love Jesus and don’t want the queers to jointly file their taxes, and actually votes in his economic self-interest. And there will be much rejoicing on that day, hallelujah, amen.
The other reason Kerry’s supposed “liberal” taint won’t matter is that the Congress will remain in Republican hands. The Senate is on the bubble for a razor-thin Democratic majority, but it will likely remain with a razor-thin Republican majority, and all the huffing and puffing in the world won’t make the House go Democratic. We’ll have a divided government, and for the average American, that’s the best sort of government there is, since it means that very few laws will pass that don’t have bipartisan support (i.e., they’re not nutbag tax cuts or tax increases). It also means that the next judge seated on the Supreme Court likely won’t be either a right-wing or left-wing whack-job, but rather someone whose views are acceptable most of the way around. I like divided governments; it’s that whole “checks and balances” thing. You know, that which the Founding Fathers raved so much about.
I’m happy with a divided government because fact of the matter is, by and large, I am a moderate, which is to say, I’m politically all over the board. I’m generally socially liberal, since I think people should generally be left alone to do what they want to do as long as they’re not actively hurting and/or bothering me or anyone else, and I’m generally militarily and fiscally conservative, because I believe in paying now instead of paying later, and that the parent who foists his debts on his children is simply a bad parent, and I believe that speaking softly and carrying a big stick is actually an excellent military position.
I am not going to get what I want politically out of George Bush: He’s too far into the pocket of business and the sort of people who believe, contrary to evidence in the Bible, that Jesus wants his followers to hate people who are not like them. Also, a Republican-led Congress isn’t going to stop Bush from doing what he wants, because why would it want to do that? They’re all on the same team. But I am likely to get what I want out of Kerry. His policies are thoughtful and generally in line with my own, and those that aren’t are likely to be tempered by the Republicans in Congress.
With the exception of the subject of same-sex marriage (about which I am admittedly playing wide left), I tend to think most people are like me: Socially mellow, fiscally concerned and militarily inclined to be able to righteously kick ass, but only if absolutely necessary. These people are best represented by a Kerry presidency. Strictly as a matter of realpolitik, voting for Kerry is a smart and sane vote. And as a bonus, all those international folk who our administration swaggeringly disdains at the moment will be more inclined to help us dig ourselves out of the charnel pit we’ve excavated in Iraq, and I’m all for that. I want our boys and girls back home and/or working on the terrorists, not asking themselves what the hell they’re doing in Iraq and why the people there increasingly want them dead.
Here’s the other thing about Kerry that appeals to me: He seems reasonable — which is to say grounded in reality. I think Kerry is capable of listening to his gut, but I also suspect he knows that it’s the brain that is the actual seat of judgment. I think he will understand that whatever slim majority that carries him into office means that he will have to work with people who do not share his views, not contemptuously ignore them and pursue an agenda that walls off the benefits America provides to a select few who already have so much. I don’t expect he intends to rule. I expect he intends to lead. The difference is not subtle; to rule you need to keep down those who oppose you. To lead, you have to convince them to follow where you go. We’ve lived four years under would-be rulers. Four years is enough.
I don’t expect Kerry to be perfect. I don’t expect to agree with his policies or proposals all the time. I don’t imagine the Clausewitz-like, “nuke the opposition ’til they glow” tenor of American politics will suddenly change overnight. On the other hand, I do expect I will agree with Kerry some of the time, I would be happy if the American politics actually became more pragmatic and focused on the needs of the constituents, and I expect Kerry knows neither he nor his gut are infallible. All of these would be vastly preferable to what we’ll get over the next four years if Bush stays in office.
That’s how I’m voting, November 2.