October 31, 2004
So, I've made every effort to speak rationally on the subjects I find interesting, even to the extent that I may either bore you to tears or offend you by not being as outspoken as perhaps I could be. Pulling punches, I think it's called.
In an effort to help make sure that my political missives are not disregarded out of hand, I tend to address the issues and avoid the labels. I have tended not to be vocal on this site about the fact that I have actually been quite active in my political party of choice. I don't want you to filter my arguments by assuming that because I am a member of party X, that means you automatically know my arguments in favor or against Y. It's not a question of being ashamed or squeamish; but rather, a question of avoiding labels and getting straight to the *issues* at hand.
But in order to comment on this year's election, I can not come even close to conveying the depth of my feelings without mentioning that for the past several years, I have been an active member of the Republican party. I first became a "Precinct Committee Officer" of the King County Republican Party five or six years ago, and even ended up becoming a Regional and later an Area Chair.
A quick explanation of what that all means: we all live in legislative districts, which are broken down into small voting precincts. In a typical suburban area, a precinct is maybe a few square blocks, and consists of roughly 200 to 400 voters. The precincts are drawn by the state legislatures. Most political parties are organized similarly: there's the county committees, the legislative district committees, and then those districts will have a few "area chairs", who in turn have a few "regional chairs", which in turn handle a few precincts each. Each precinct itself has one PCO -- precinct committee officer.
The job of a PCO is to help mobilize his or her neighbors to vote for his or her party's candidates and/or causes. The PCOs are often involved in fund raising, as well, but their primary task is to help get the word out. They doorbell, hand out literature, and maybe post signs or ask neighbors to post signs. Not glamorous, but that's the basic job of the local political party: to get out the word.
PCOs also vote on party business, including setting guidelines for the party platform and running caucuses (at least, in some states, including mine) where candidates are considered and possibly endorsed.
And so there is both a bottom up process (the locals discuss party platform ideas and candidates, which get forwarded to the legislative district level, and from there to the county, and from there to the state, and from there to the national level) and a top-down process (the agreed upon candidates and issues have fliers and talking points that get passed along to the states, counties, districts, and on to the PCOs to distribute). State-wide, leg. district-wide, and local candidates and issues work the same way, going up to and back down from the appropriate level of the organization.
Robert A. Heinlein wrote a brilliant (if perhaps a little bit dated, at this point) political primer called Take Back Your Government in which he makes a very compelling argument that 1) local politics matters, and 2) you should participate in, and vote for, the party, not the person, when it comes time for the general election.
I'd never heard a compelling argument for voting for the party as opposed to the person until I'd read this book. Heinlein's point is simple: your party's choice of candidates represents a compromise. You and your fellow local party members agree on many things, but not everything, and it's your points of agreement that form the foundation of choosing one candidate over another. This means that you will occasionally choose candidates with whom you agree less than other candidates, but that's the nature of the game. Once you get to the general election, you are in a very real sense obligated to vote for your party's candidate, if only because he or she represents the best compromise that you and your like-minded fellows could arrive at -- even if he or she wasn't *your* first choice. To not follow through and vote for your candidate is to reneg on your agreement with your fellow party members. It weakens your party, and the very structure of the political system within which you are working.
Of course, each major party has its mobilized ideologues and its less impassioned (and more moderate) majority. The majority of Americans tend to be moderate, with their few "hotbuttons" ultimately determining which party they will tend to favor. If you are particularly concerned with abortion rights or the right to life, or the death penalty, or the right to bear arms, or whatever have you, it's pretty obvious which party you'll end up falling in line with, even if that party does not tend to share your views on other issues where you are more moderate.
There are a number of reasons that I have thrown my lot in with the Republican party. Most have to do with personal, and therefore anecdotal, history. Hardly a sound foundation for choosing a party, especially when one prides oneself on choosing *causes* for more logical reasons. But ultimately, the cause that I find most dear is what ties me closest to the party. That cause is: foreign policy.
When it comes to social policy, both of the major parties in the US are hell-bent on dismantling the Bill of Rights. They simply disagree on which of the first ten amendments they want to abolish and which sectors of the population should be denied them. This is a topic for another essay... for the time being, take my word for it that I find both parties to be generally hypocritical with their views toward the Bill of Rights and the subsequently "implied" rights (like the right to privacy) that have been inferred by our Supreme Court.
Luckily for all of us, the system of checks and balances built into our Constitution has managed to protect each side from the desired proscriptions of the other.
But while neither party is perfect, I've tended to side with the Republicans on certain *practical* local-level issues (restricting taxation, fiscal conservatism, private property rights, small business rights). One quick local example: the Dems in Washington State recently pushed for legislation requiring car seats for children up to eight years old, even though there is no evidence that child safety seats have any statistically significant benefits for children over the age of four, and even though this imposes a harsh burden on "soccer moms" who would otherwise choose to car-pool their children and friends to various activities. The legislation was proposed by a single woman who has never had kids to solve a problem that doesn't exist. It's an example of governmenting for government's sake. On the local level, Republicans tend to refrain from this kind of government interference.
The key here, of course, is the phrase *tend to*, and I would never claim that the Republicans are averse to government intervention when their own causes are involved.
But that said, there is a larger national issue that also draws me into the Replubican party, and that is the matter of foreign affairs. This has been an area of passion for me; so much so that I endured grad school to get a Masters degree in Political Science from an Ivy League school (my concentration being in International Relations) after having majored in Russian and Soviet Studies (as well as History) during my undergrad years at another Ivy. Can you imagine how excruciating that all was? I did it because, for whatever reason, the subject is important to me.
American foreign policy is extremely important both to our nation and to the world. Our national security, let alone the balance of global power (both politically and economically) hang in the balance. Global telecommunications, the freedom to travel, negotiating "commons problems" like managing pollution and fishing rights and shipping lanes and human rights policies and so on, not to mention the very existence (let alone the conduct) of armed conflict among nations all hinge upon the competent execution of a sound foreign policy.
And when all your chips are on the table in this nuclear age, I have found that the best bet when it comes to foreign policy is to side with -- you guessed it -- the Republicans. This, too, is a subject I could write *volumes* about, but I don't want to get to far away from the point of this essay. Let me suffice it to say that when it comes to foreign policy, I'll take a Reagan or a Nixon administration over a Carter or a Johnson administration any day. Even Bush the Elder's administration stands head and shoulders above eight years under Clinton. I'll be happy to defend these statements on another occasion, if you desire an explanation.
Which takes us to the year 2000, and the opportunity for Republicans to choose a contender for the Oval office following Clinton's mandatory retirement. During the primary and caucus season of that year, I favored Senator John McCain for the job. I had seen him speak in person here in Seattle, and he struck me as an intelligent man who is truly dedicated to his country (rather than just looking out for himself) and who had the two necessary ingredients for anyone to manage foreign policy well: he was well informed, and capable of being decisive. These are necessary ingredients.
Let me repeat that. The two necessary ingredients for a successful foreign policy are being well informed (I'm talking knowledge of issues and "how things work", rather than simply knowing the names of nations' capital cities) and being decisive.
In 2000 on the Democrats side, Gore clearly was adequately informed but, alas, it seemed to me, unable to be decisive. Bradley struck me as being able to get informed and to be decisive, as need be, and I was hoping the Democrats would choose him.
But on the Republican side, McCain simply exuded the whole package. He knew what was going on with the world; knew it cold. And the guy was not afraid to make a decision. Let's be frank here. If 9/11 had happened on his watch (an extremely big if: unlike the current administration, I don't think a McCain administration would have ignored an intelligence brief entitled "Osama Bin Laden Plans to Use Airplanes in a Terrorist Attack") -- *IF* 9/11 had happened under McCain's watch, you can be damned certain that Osama Bin Laden and his entire network would have been found, thoroughly interrogated, and extremely killed by now. We would have had no foreign adventures like the kind we are currently undergoing in Iraq. Is there anyone in the world who could seriously believe that a McCain presidency would have led us into Iraq without sufficient evidence that it was necessary?
Then there was McCain's opponent, the honorable governor from Texas. Like most (but not all) previous Presidents who had previously served as a state governor, Bush lacked any coherent understanding of world affairs. I also found him to be lacking when it came to decisiveness -- his governorship of Texas was generally mediocre, and he didn't really seem to stand for much other than defending the Republican party platform (in and of itself not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly not *enough*). He didn't seem terribly ambitious; but, rather, he seemed like a good talker who could tow the line as need be. In that, he didn't strike me as good leadership material.
The caucus, unlike the primary, is not a closed vote. I ran my caucus true to the spirit of party participation, and I was honest with my vote even though it was obvious that the higher-ups in my district favored Bush. I voted for McCain, and quite possibly hurt my position in the district party organization as a result. Bush won our state handily, and he won the nomination eventually, and the rest, as Henry Ford would say, is bunk.
Taking Heinlein at his word, I supported my Republican candidates regardless of whether they were my choices during the primary/caucus season. This includes Bush's campaign.
Four years later. I remain convinced that Bush is not the right man for the job when it comes to my top issue, which is foreign policy. Here is a list of the principal issues I've noticed on his watch:
1) He announced the unilateral breaking of the ABM treaty with Russia, and has ignored Russia in pretty much every major foreign policy issue since. This has had the simultaneous result of alienating one of our principal negotiating partners in foreign affairs, while also announcing to the world that the US will not honor its treaty obligations.
2) He presided over the disintegration of our agreements with North Korea -- a process that was very preventable -- which has led to North Korea being well on the path toward acquiring / developing both nuclear weapons and the delivery systems necessary to threaten the United States.
3) In the wake of 9/11, he pursued the dismantling of Afghanistan's Taliban regime... this is clearly a desirable and necessary accomplishment. He developed an uneasy alliance with Pakistan -- also a positive accomplishment. But he has since disregarded Osama Bin Laden as a continued threat (he actually said as much) after a substantial chunk of Bin Laden's al Queda network was effectively dispersed. Osama Bin Laden is still out there, and his ability to reorganize his terrorist organization remains in tact. What the hell?
4) He precipitated the invasion and the current occupation of Iraq. One could argue whether this was a worthy or a necessary pursuit, although I found it nominally worthy and generally not necessary. Overthrowing Saddam Hussein's regime is arguably a good outcome. But doing so *in the manner we have* has made the world less safe, and we pursued our Iraq campaign with no viable exit strategy. The President has stretched our armed forces much too thin -- to the point that we could not effectively wage another campaign if one should be necessary, and we are not even effectively waging our current campaign to secure Iraq. We are currently doing more to help terrorist organizations keep the hate going than we are doing to protect our own borders.
Apologists for Bush will point out (correctly) that Clinton had allowed the US military to atrophy. But at what point does the current President take responsibility for the fact that he has done nothing to effectively beef our military back up? He has secured the money necessary to wage our current, poorly-handled campaign in Iraq, but he has not addressed the larger issue of stretching our forces far too thin for the sake of our nation's safety. At some point, you have to stop blaming the previous administration and take charge for your own watch.
5) Closer to home, the Bush administration has managed to alienate Canada in ways too numerous to mention here (although I'll be happy to do so, if you care), and this has proven to be unnecessary and may yet prove to be unwise. Snide remarks about Canada aside, this nation is actually quite an important partner for the US, both geographically, economically, and politically. While we're at it, our relations with Cuba remain stupidly stilted and yet we have inexplicably been bending over backwards to appease China in so many instances where, again, it was neither necessary nor well advised.
The current campaign for the oval office is centering on Iraq. This is a mistake. The next foreign policy crisis will not come from Iraq. It will come from elsewhere. Regardless of the source (my bet is North Korea), our resources to respond to such a crisis will be missing some key ingredients. Our military is stretched too thin, and will remain so for the foreseeable future under the current administration. We do not need to (nor should we) meet every foreign policy crisis with military force. But we are at a severe disadvantage if we don't even have this tool available as a possibility.
Okay, so I believe that the current administration has proven to be inept at foreign policy. There are still other things to consider: what about the administration's domestic policies, and what does the challenger offer instead?
As I mentioned above, I do not agree with either major political party one hundred percent. I do, however, tend to adhere to certain principals that could be considered "Republican": I favor fiscal conservatism (including the preference for a small, balanced federal budget) and reduced government intervention in our daily lives. In both cases, Bush has proven to be a bad Republican.
EVEN BEFORE 9/11, Bush's administration squandered our national budgetary surplus and turned it into a massive deficit. As a percentage of GNP, this administration's budget deficit is already as large as it was under Johnson. Grok that for a minute. While his deficit is not the largest ever run (as a percentage of GNP), it is larger than any administration since Johnson. Not even Carter or Reagan, who were famous in their day for the federal deficit, managed such an amazing feat.
And you can't blame this all on 9/11. The ball had already been set in motion by then.
As for governmental intrusion into our daily lives... well, let's just say that if much of the Patriot Act may be considered necessary or even useful to securing national security, there is also much of it that is needlessly intrusive and destructive to our constitutionally guaranteed protections without providing so much as a shred of increased security.
Beyond what is and isn't useful in securing our safety, the Patriot Act makes it clear that as a *first* resort, and *not* as a last resort, this administration seeks to curtail civil liberties in an effort to pursue its stated goals. That troubles me more than anything else. Even Abraham Lincoln, in the direst of times during the civil war, was reticent to so much as put on hold our constitutional rights. And when he did so, it was with great deliberation and the stated necessity that our civil liberties be fully restored as quickly as possible. The current administration has never expressed any such qualms nor intentions.
(And lest 9/11 be blamed for everything the current administration has done to hinder our personal liberties, don't overlook the fact that EVEN BEFORE 9/11, this administration did more to restrict the right to bear arms than any previous President, Republican or Democrat. This is often overlooked by Republicans, who should be screaming the loudest about it.)
Okay, so George W. Bush does not, in my opinion, have the necessary skills in foreign policy nor does he represent what I consider to be true Republican ideals. What, then, of his challenger?
Would he be competent in foreign policy? I'm inclined to believe that he is more qualified than the previous Democratic candidate, Al Gore, in both knowledge and decisiveness. He not only has adequate knowledge of what's at work on the world scene, but he also has first hand experience regarding the use of military force as an extension of American foreign policy.
Does he have that other necessary quality, decisiveness? Both Kerry's and Bush's political campaigns have had to deal with this issue, and the Bush camp has convinced me that Kerry is unambitious -- albeit, not a flip-flopper. There is a big difference between unambitious and indecisive, just as there is no necessary correlation between hawkish and decisive. Kerry appreciates the subtlety of situations (what his camp called "nuanced"), and takes mitigating factors into account when casting his vote. Nothing sexy about that, but as long as it doesn't paralyze you (the way it did President Carter), nothing wrong with it, either.
From what we've seen of his political career, I'd expect Kerry to have the same kind of decisiveness as a George H. W. Bush: slow to act, generally non-aggressive and unambitious, but resolute when it becomes obvious that American action is necessary. (Note that I was not a fan of George Bush the Elder's foreign policy, but it was a far cry better than, say, Carter's or Clinton's.)
Ah, but what about those other concerns: Republican core values of fiscal conservatism and a less intrusive government. Well, Kerry is not a Republican, so we can't expect him to adhere to those values any moreso than Bush.
Or can we?
Clinton wasn't a Republican, yet he worked with the Republican Congress near the end of his tenure and accomplished what no President (Democrat *or* Republican) had managed in the modern era: a balanced budget. With a Republican Congress to keep him in check -- perhaps in some future essay, I'll go into why this wasn't possible with a Republican Congress during Bush the Younger's administration -- Kerry may well find himself moving back toward a balanced federal budget. And if not, how much worse than the current President could he be?
As for government intrusion into our daily lives, that's a bit harder. Kerry is a Democrat, and his voting record indicates that he's as inclined to have Government As Parent as any. But it's hard to imagine that his intrusions into our daily lives could be anywhere near as sweeping as the current President has already accomplished with the Patriot Act. I'd expect a net gain of personal liberties under Kerry (insofar as I expect the Patriot Act to finally die under a Kerry administration), even though I doubt we'll end up at pre-Patriot Act levels once everything is added up in a Kerry presidency. For that, look to McCain in 2008.
Not much of an endorsement for Bush's challenger, I know. And truth be told, there's a lot not to like about Kerry. What I am left with, ultimately, is that there is even less to like about Bush. So much less that I risk being a Bad Republican myself by crossing the party line for this one office, for this one election.
The stakes, however, are much too high for me to stay silent. The global balance of power, let alone the American Way of Life, are all at risk. A friend of mine has posted on his blog that he is not going to vote for Kerry. Truth be told, I don't want to vote for Kerry.
But I can not, in good conscience, vote for Bush. And while Heinlein made a strong case for voting the party line, he has also offered this advice:
"If you are able to vote, then do so. There may be no candidates or issues you want to vote for... but there will certainly be someone or something to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong." -- Robert A. Heinlein
I am active in the Republican party, and therefore have some obligation to stand by my party's nominee. But the Republican candidate for President has acted too much against true Republican values; has in fact blamed the Republican Congress for his own transgressions against those ideals. And he has clearly demonstrated through his mishandling of foreign policy these past four years that he does not share the strengths that his Republican predecessors have possessed. He is a bad Republican. He is a bad President. Both the party and the nation deserve and are capable of doing better.Posted by on October 31, 2004 11:37 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III