Thursday, September 30, 2004
There's a lot to go over this morning. Normally I try to pick and choose, but today there is just too much I find needs consideration, so this will be a long post. First, the NYT and Washington Post have debate primers. Both are typically slipshod. The Post lays out a series of purportedly misleading assertions by Bush and Kerry, in effect making them morally equivalent and creating a he-said/she-said, pox on both your houses atmosphere. The problem is that while Bush's are egregious lies, Kerry's statements are just ones the Post happens to disagree with.
Taking a similar tack, the Times suggests that the foreign policy debate has failed to focus on major issues, has been too retrospective, and there is an implication that there's no difference between Bush and Kerry. I really don't think this characterization is accurate. One the first point, Iraq is the most important foreign policy issue we face, since we are now stuck in a Vietnam-style quagmire (again). Second, the retrospective evaluations are important, because they go directly to the competence of the Bush administration to govern. Lastly, the similarities between Bush and Kerry are more apparent than real: Bush has attempted to blur the differences between the two, but an honest examination of the evidence indicates that Bush is either unwilling or unable to pursue a new policy in Iraq.
I'm not even going to get into the distortions of George Will, who trots out the canard that Kerry has had multiple positions on Iraq. I'm only going to say it one more time: Kerry was for giving the President the authority to go to war in order to give him the capacity to go the UN. And he expected that the war, if it occurred, would be competently managed. Bush lied on the first, and botched the second. The End.
To climb back onto my anti-3rd party hobbyhorse, I am going to criticize David Broder's suggestion that the debate be opened up to 3rd party candidates. This would only encourage the development of 3rd parties, which would be a disaster for our political stability in general and progressive politics in particular. And I look with deep concern at the gathering impetus behind the instant-runoff system. Now while such a system might make sense in political primaries (which are inherently multi-candidate) and local elections (which are frequently in one-party communities), any widespread adoption of PR would be foolhardy. Remember, one of the chief problems facing the left is its comparative disorganization- it means we have little ability to organize or craft a coherent strategy or message. To create structural barriers and even rivalry among groups on the left by creating formally separate parties would only help conservatives. So just stop it! The Democratic Party is an umbrella organization for the left, where we can meet and negotiate. So why don't we start strengthening the party we have rather than trying to create new ones?
On another matter entirely, Matt Miller has a modest proposal to make everyone who votes on election day eligible for a cash award by way of a lottery. I truly hope this a joke. The very idea is disgusting. Must we debase the democratic process even further?
We have even more evidence that there is something very wrong with our republic, since it turns out a lot of Bush voters have not idea what he is for (by way of Daily Kos). Now some of the confusion might be because of Bush deliberately misleading people, and part because of weak media coverage. And part of the problem may be projection: people who have decided to like Bush may be projecting their own issue positions onto him. But it is disconcerting to say the least that we are dealing with one-half of the electorate which appears completely befuddled. While it is gratifying that it is not our side, this is no cause for celebration. These are our fellow citizens we are talking about. We need to rescue them, hopefully by emphasizing those issues on which Bush's own voters disagree with him.
There is a very interesting article this morning in the Washington Monthly by Benjamin Wallace-Wells. In it Wells compares the Republicans today to the Democrats of the 1970's, and predicts a similar electoral disaster for them. I certainly hope he's right, and I hope that political collapse starts now. But the crucial differences between then and now is that a)Democrats weren't stealing elections, and b)the institutional apparatus of the Democrats was in advanced decay whereas the Republicans now have the greatest propaganda machine in U.S. history. If substance is what is at issue, the Republican coalition should have disintegrated years ago. But we'll see.
Finally, Mike Davis is suggesting in Mother Jones that the Democrats have abandoned Black America. I find this suggestion outrageous. While it is true that Kerry and the Dems have not made many explicit appeals to black voters, I think this is because African-Americans's political concerns are now virtually identical to that of the population at large. Health Care, the Economy, Education, Progressive Taxation- the list goes on and on. These are problems that effect middle-class, working-class, and poor Americans alike. We really are all in the same boat, with the exception of those at the top. The one issue that does effect Black Americans specifically is voting rights, which the Democrats have been obsessed with this year both for the morality of the thing and because it effects the outcome of elections. I can understand Davis's dislike of the DLC (although I think he is being a little unfair), but let's not do the Republicans' dirty work for them, shall we? Blacks remain an integral part of the Democratic coalition, and should we win will receive due consideration. Because what helps them helps all Americans.
Okay, now I'm going to pretend to do work while I obsess about the debate tonight. I suggest you do the same.