The Case for Bush
by Ari Armstrong, October 27, 2004
I recently wrote that I plan to vote for John Kerry, despite my severe misgivings about doing so. Yet a lot of good liberty-loving people I know plan to vote for George Bush. So I thought I'd make the best case I could for picking Bush this year with the intention of more fully understanding the issues at stake. Some of this discussion stems from the wise counsel of friends, whom I warmly thank for their insights (and who don't agree with all my points here, I'm sure).
I've heard three basic arguments in favor of Bush: his character is stronger, he's marginally better on economic policy, and he's significantly better on foreign policy. An additional argument is that Kerry's "religious left" is no better than Bush's "religious right," which removes a key potential reason for voting for Kerry. Let's look at each of these claims in turn.
As my father, a Vietnam veteran said, "I can never forgive Kerry for what he did after Vietnam." I certainly sympathize with that point of view. I strongly dislike Kerry, to the point that I feel physically sick at the thought of casting a vote for him. While I can imagine being friends with Bush, I can't imagine anything more than a strained and icy relationship with Kerry. I think that has a lot to do with my perception of the men's character. There seems to be a certain genuineness with Bush and a certain cynical calculation with Kerry. On a personal level, I'm sure they're both reasonably responsible men. Kerry's post-Vietnam activity, along with his consistent efforts to undermine the American military and appease the United Nations, makes me think that his vision of America isn't at all the same as mine. However, I don't think the character issue trumps, because both men offer plenty of reasons for us to distrust them politically, and even if Kerry's character is worse, voting for him as a protest against Bush might still make sense.
On economic and foreign-policy issues, I see nothing good with Kerry. I can't think of a reason to like anything whatsoever about Kerry's policies. Okay -- he's pro-choice, which means he's also pro-stem-cell research. (I don't think the federal government should fund any sort of health-related matter, but I don't want the government to do anything to stop research, either.) So that's one reason.
I think Kerry is an internationalist socialist through-and-through. I think if he thought he could get away with it he'd completely nationalize health care tomorrow and place the U.S. substantially under international rule.
Leonard Peikoff has a theory that there are three basic types of mentalities: the integrators, the disintegrators, and the misintegrators. In short, the integrators form principles in line with reality, the disintegrators are range-of-the-moment pragmatists, and the misintegrators build up cohesive systems that are fundamentally wrong. Further, there are mild disintegrators and severe ones -- the difference is between pragmatism and nihilism. Similarly, there are mild and severe misintegrators -- think of a "Sunday Christian" versus an out-and-out theocrat or militant Islamist. Anyway, from what I can tell, most people enamored with Peikoff's theory (as I am) think Kerry is a mild disintegrator -- a pragmatist -- whereas Bush is a fairly hard-core religionist. However, I tend to think Kerry started out as a hard-core misintegrator -- of the socialist kind -- but has softened a bit into a typical pandering left-centrist politician. As I think about it, I'm not sure Bush doesn't lean closer to a mild form a misintegration. At any rate, I think we face two misintegrators of some ambiguous level of severity, with the main difference being one is (mostly) a secular socialist while the other is (mostly) a religious right-winger. Which of these threats is most serious?
While Kerry clearly favors more socialism than Bush does, he would face a hostile Congress eager to beat up on the Democrat for partisan purposes. Bush advocates less socialism but has a better chance of pushing it through a Republican Congress. Harry Browne and Bill Bradford analyze national spending under various conditions over the last few decades.
Is there any reason to favor Bush for his economics? His tax cuts are more than offset by runaway spending and enormous deficits. The best that can be said is that he occassionally uses market-friendly rhetoric. But even this is tainted. By an "ownership society," as my friends remind me, Bush means a society in which the national government ("society") intervenes in the economy to increase home ownership. Bush has further nationalized health care and education, and he wants to direct tax funds to religious groups. I'm skeptical that his plans for health insurance and Social Security are good ideas, given both involve centrally regulated accounts and either social engineering through taxation or outright coercion over personal funds. Thus, I see no compelling reason to pick Bush over Kerry when it comes to economic consequences, especially when we remember that Congress finally controlls spending.
Still, a vote for Kerry is a protest vote. Though I think it's a weak argument, one could say that, because Bush's rhetoric is occassionally, marginally better than Kerry's, a vote for Bush is an endorsement for mildly less-severe violations of economic liberty. But, for me, this hardly offsets the likelihood that Bush would have more success socializing the economy faster than Kerry.
That leaves foreign policy, where the strongest case can be made for Bush. We should take the fight to the terrorists before they attack us -- this Bush gets right. Yet there are two main arguments against Bush's foreign policy. First, because he's more concerned with spreading "democracy," he's likely to pick the wrong wars for the wrong reasons. Second, he's likely to fight wars in a way that involves lengthy occupation, regular appeasement of enemy factions, and more American casualties than necessary. Arguably, Bush's policy creates terrorists even as it kills them.
Kerry's policy would likely involve laying prostrate before the U.N. followed by inaction or superficial action. On the other hand, Kerry must realize that if terrorists land a blow on his watch, the Republicans and a significant segment of the American populace would look to beat him to a political pulp. So he might have a very strong incentive to take responsible action, though incentive does not imply capability. Kerry's prior ideological commitments may totally blind him to prudent war strategy.
The only reason to vote for Kerry is to vote against Bush. On the other side, Bush at least occassionally offers modestly good rhetoric, and few doubt his wisdom in invading Afghanistan.
I finally understand my great emotional turmoil regarding this race. There are some decent strategical reasons to vote for Kerry, but only as a protest vote against Bush. On the other hand, at least there is some glimmer of real values in a Bush vote -- a confident spirit, an occassional reference to economic liberty, and a foreign policy that, whatever its flaws, takes seriously the protection of American lives. With Kerry, the best we can hope for is that his flaws and weaknesses prevent him from doing too much damage. While I don't at all want to vote for either candidate, at least with Bush there's something positive to cling to, however slight, whereas with Kerry there are only negatives.
There are a number of empirical questions that can be pursued. First, does Kerry's record indicate he's more of a pragmatist or more of a dedicated socialist and internationalist? In other words, how much hope can we reasonably have that he'll do the right things for the wrong reasons (as opposed to the wrong things for the wrong reasons)? Second, is theocracy rapidly on the rise in America, as Peikoff fears? If so, four more years of hard-religionist Bush might be dangerous. Third, is the left essentially impotent, or is the left also on the rise? In short, is Kerry's secularist left-socialism more of a threat than Bush's religious right-socialism?
Also, how religiously motivated is Kerry's socialism? At least a socialist motivated by economic advancement and human well-being might be open to rational persuasion that free markets work. But a socialist motivated by prior "moral" committments and thoughts of the afterlife is going to take the socialist road without any regard to the consequences. In an October 25 article, Robert Tracinski points to many of Kerry's comments that indicate his socialism is motivated by religion. This is a serious problem whether Kerry really believes it or is just pandering. However, I do think Kerry is pandering and thus poses less of a threat than Tracinski believes. (Jeff Jacoby seems to agree with me about Kerry's religion.) I think Kerry is simply trying to undermine religious support for Bush, Kerry doesn't really believe his religious pronouncements, and he'll quickly drop the facade. But I may be wrong about this.
By the way, in a recent essay Harry Binswanger, who supports Bush, offers some nice points about foreign policy, religion, and the left.
Ultimately, this country could head in one of three directions. Toward left-wing socialism, toward right-wing theocracy, or toward liberty. Usually trends take a long time to develop, but sometimes things move very quickly in ways impossible to predict. Whether Bush or Kerry wins next week (or whenever the courts finalize the results), it's time for those of us who champion individual rights, properly limited government, and free markets to roll up our sleeves. What we do on election day is not nearly as important as what we do the next day, and the day after that.