Friday, October 08, 2004
I really don't have much to say about the 2nd Presidential Debate tonight. I don't think Bush will perform as badly as last time, so the press will likely spin it as a Bush win. I'm not too concerned, though, barring major Kerry gaffes. Kerry needs to demonstrate he is a human being and continue to hammer Bush on the competence/trustworthiness theme. This debate isn't nearly as crucial, however, because the 1st debate had the highest viewer audience and was focused on the crucial question of whether Kerry is a credible commander in chief. Which he did.
So instead of belaboring these points, I am going to take issue with George Will. Yesterday in the Washington Post he wrote an article describing the source of the Democrats' hostility to the Bush presidency. Will argues that the Bush domestic policy agenda is striking at the heart of the Democrats' party apparatus: labor unions, the bureaucracy, trial lawyers, etc. He also echoes Grover Norquist in that the WWII generation, the Democratic Party's most reliable supporters, are dying off. Furthermore, the tax cuts limit the ability of the Democrats to deliver government spending, while the privatization will inculcate "individualistic" values that will turn voters irresistably to the GOP.
This article is typical of Will. Like David Brooks, he is a partisan shill who uses a comforting demeanor while he accuses his enemies of the most vile things. He is a master of ad hominems, and he never saw a logical fallacy he didn't like. He reminds me very much of a line from the old John Lennon song "Working Class Hero": "there's room at the top, they are telling you still/ but first you must learn how to smile as you kill." He is also a gigantic poseur, pretending to be a great intellectual when he is just a journalist with a bow tie.
But let's get to specifics. Will accurately portrays the Republican political strategy, which is really quite old: to de-fund the left and attack its institutional basis of support, thereby crippling the Democratic party's political effectiveness. What he fails to note is that this is an inappropriately ruthless strategy for a democratic people. The Republicans are implementing policies not based on their merits, and are not fighting their opponents on the plane of idea. No, what they are after is simply power. Their aim is not to defeat their enemies but destroy them. Will simply takes a pass on the legitimacy of this kind of behavior. So much for his admiration for Edmund Burke.
What is really insidious about the piece is that Will attributes to the Democrats what the Republicans are guilty of. Will implies that the only reason the Democrats are opposed to the Bush domestic agenda is that it undermines the superstructure of their party. First of all, this neglects the aforementioned point: why are the Bushies trying to destroy the Democratic Party? Do they not believe in a 2-party system? Are they for a one-party state?
Second, Will insinuates that the Democrats have no substantive reason for opposing the Republicans. So of course they are only out for power. Of course, Will also ignores whether there is any substantive content in the Bush plan. Is it even possible that the Democrats are motivated by any higher motives? Might they think that the Bush agenda is irresponsible, cruel, and simply ineffective? Any examination of the Bush record, by the way, will indicate that there is not a single Bush policy that has delivered on its promised results. Not one. Look it up.
Will's politics is ultimately contentless. The parties fight for power, with no higher issues at stake. It should be no surprise that he believes this, since he is a "conservative," and they have abandoned any adherence to principle (or reality, for that matter). But the Democrats are not like the Republicans- there are real differences between the 2 parties. Democrats, as liberals, believe that government is about governing, that there is such a thing as the public good. And they are motivated by a simple belief that all people are equal, that they must be treated with equal concern and respect, and that every citizen should have an equal chance to fulfill their notion of the good life.
Conservatism used to stand for something too: tradition, order, restraint, and a healthy awareness of human frailty. It was a proud tradition, and a worthy political rival and partner to liberalism. But that was a long time ago.
One final note: I am going to be out of town for the weekend, so I will not be able to post again until Monday. So have fun watching the debate, and tell me how it went! I'm going to try and watch it on tape, but who knows whether I can get the bloody VCR to work.......