Friday, July 09, 2004

Open Minds

My timeline here might not be perfect, but I think this is essentially correct. It all started (as far as I can tell) with Peggy Noonan of the Wall Street Journal fretting over Bush's prospects in November and, like Alexander Fleming in the penicillin story, accidently discovering a useful fungus -- useful, in this case, for the Kerry-Edwards ticket:

History has been too dramatic the past 3 1/2 years. It has been too exciting. Economic recession, 9/11, war, Afghanistan, Iraq, fighting with Europe. fighting with the U.N., boys going off to fight, Pat Tillman, beheadings. It has been so exciting. And my general sense of Americans is that we like things to be boring. Or rather we like history to be boring; we like our lives to be exciting. We like history to be like something Calvin Coolidge dreamed: dull, dull. dull. And then we complain about the dullness, and invent excitements that are the kind we really like: moon shots, spaceships, curing diseases. Big tax cuts that encourage big growth that creates lots of jobs for young people just out of school.

No, I am not suggesting all our recent excitement is Mr. Bush's fault. History handed him what it handed him. And no, I am not saying the decisions he took were wrong or right or some degree of either. I'm saying it's all for whatever reasons been more dramatic than Americans in general like history to be.

Here is my fear: that the American people, liking and respecting President Bush, and knowing he's a straight shooter with guts, will still feel a great temptation to turn to the boring and disingenuous John Kerry. He'll never do anything exciting. He doesn't have the guts to be exciting. And as he doesn't stand for anything, he won't have to take hard stands. He'll do things like go to France and talk French and they'll love it. He'll say he's the man who accompanied Teresa Heinz to Paris, only this time he'll say it in French and perfectly accented and they'll all go "ooh la la!"

The American people may come to feel that George W. Bush did the job history sent him to do. He handled 9/11, turned the economy around, went into Afghanistan, captured and removed Saddam Hussein. And now let's hire someone who'll just by his presence function as an emollient. A big greasy one but an emollient nonetheless.

I just have a feeling this sort of thing may have some impact this year. "A return to normalcy," with Mr. Kerry as the normal guy.

This is why blogs are better than big media. Noonan's tranchant observation meant nothing to other newspapers or to TV networks (who tend to studiedly ignore one another). But this piece led to Mickey Kaus, of Slate, who has said some of the shrewdest things about Kerry, coming out and admitting he's decided to vote for him.

I plan to vote for him because I think a) we need a break* from Bush's strident public global terror war in order to prevent it from becoming a damaging, lifelong West vs. Islam clash--in order to "rebrand" America and digest the hard-won gains we've made in Iraq and Afghanistan (if they even remain gains by next January). Plus, b) it would be nice to make some progress on national health care, even if it's only dialectical "try a solution and find out it doesn't work" progress. I could change my mind--if, for example, I thought Kerry would actually sell out an incipient Iraqi democracy in a fit of "realistic" Scowcroftian stability-seeking ....

Along the way, he also coined the perfect Kerry slogan: "We survived Carter and we'd survive Kerry."

So Mark Steyn comes back with a piece that rallies people to the big picture:

So we're living through a period of extraordinarily rapid demographic and cultural change that broadly favors the Islamists' stated objectives, a period of rapid technological advance that greatly facilitates the Islamists' objectives, and a period of rapid nuclear dissemination that will add serious heft to the realization of their objectives. If the West – and I use the term in the widest sense to mean not just swaggering Texas cowboys but sensitive left-wing feminists in favor of gay marriage – is to survive, it will only be after a long struggle lasting many decades.

Now go back to watching Fahrenheit 9/11 and kid yourself that this will all go away if Bush, Cheney, and Rummy are thrown out this November.

But Jacob at The Volkh Conspiracy also makes his case for voting for Kerry without at all rejecting what Bush has accomplished in the world.

It takes a different set of skills and virtues to break something than to build something. The war-on-terror argument for the war in Iraq was that the status quo in the Middle East needed to be broken. The Afghan state that was hopelessly entangled with al Qaeda had earlier needed to be broken. It might be that a Democratic President 2000-04 would not have done either. But reconstruction of both Iraq and Afghanistan is also crucial-- crucial for, as Paul Wolfowitz and others always said, beginning any kind of political-cultural shift that weakens Islamism and moves the Muslim and Arab worlds toward civil society and democracy. And the Bush Administration has not shown any ability to manage those reconstructions successfully. This is not a call to hide from the war on terror for four years and hope it goes away. It's a call to understand that overthrowing states is not the crucial skill oif the current phase of the war on terror; and that that's the only skill the Bush Administration has convincingly shown that it has.

To which Glenn Reynolds notes:

I don't agree that the reconstruction of Iraq has been a failure -- but even if you buy this argument, the missing part of Levy's position, and Kaus's, is an affirmative demonstration that a Kerry administration would do the job better.Where's the evidence for that?

While Sullivan weighs in with:

This is my defense, I guess. I am passionately in favor of an aggressive war against the Islamo-fascists, but I'm open to debate about tactics and strategy. I certainly don't believe that a pro-war position means some kind of blind fealty to Bush-Cheney. And, of course, as a small government, balanced-budget, libertarian homo, Bush Republicanism is anathema in so many ways. But every time I listen to Kerry, I cannot help but feel that he is hopelessly out of touch with the threats we face and might make our budget problems worse with his healthcare proposal. So I am stuck between a president whose party now officially wants to purge itself of gays and a senator I cannot trust to fight the war we need. These are painful times indeed.

Participatory democracy in action. Watching real people think it through and make their choices in a tough election year. While, come October, our newspaper will run one editorial, saying, in effect, "vote for Kerry because we say so," and the other one will run one editorial saying "vote for Bush because we say so."