2004 Vote

I just returned from casting my vote at the local elementary school. Remarkably, the line was already quite long at 7:50 when I arrived, though not nearly as gargantuan as it was each of the three times I tried to vote early on campus. It’s heartening to see the enthusiasm for the election this year, even in the midst of (because of?) the vitriol that’s taken root in political discussion. Many of my evangelical Christian friends clearly think that anyone who would consider voting for Kerry is not only mentally unbalanced, but also in danger of the fires of hell. Quite a number of my other friends believe Bush to be ignorant and/or malign in various degrees, and certainly not competent to hold the most powerful elected office in the free world.

All questions of past military service aside, I decided for the first time in my life to vote for a Democratic presidential candidate. (And, incidentally, for the first time in this weblog to delve into politics.) I wasn’t wildly enthusiastic about Kerry, but have grown increasingly unhappy with, and eventually rather alarmed about, Bush over the past four years. The pillars of my discontent are these:

  • Foreign Policy: I was initially very pleased at Bush’s restraint after 9/11. I fully expected the government to go in guns blazing days after the attacks, as a knee-jerk reaction to an incredibly hard blow. In the heat of the moment, I couldn’t really have faulted him, nor could much of the rest of the world. But he and his cabinet exercised restraint, did their homework, and eventually went into Afghanistan to root out the terrorist influences there. Good job, W — thank you for your considered leadership during that hard time.

    However, things started to break down when Iraq came into the picture. The first time I heard Bush speaking of Iraq, there was already a strong “we’re going to invade” subtext. He offered various reasons for this, none of which seemed sufficient to justify a preemptive invasion of another country. The WMD issue was plagued by bad intelligence. One can’t, of course, lay the blame for bad intelligence entirely at the feet of the president, but I would argue that in undertaking such a significant step, one should demand much more comprehensive information than one normally relies on.

    Many people assumed that we were invading Iraq because it was tied to 9/11 in some way. I don’t believe that Bush made that claim, and have never seen it fleshed out beyond the idea that the country is terrorist-friendly.

    The last justification is the humanitarian one: aren’t the people of Iraq better off without a despotic dictator than with one? It’s a good question, though not one I remember Bush invoking very much before the war. It is, however, one I can’t answer as well as I’d like. Certainly the mass graves are an indication that life under Saddam was often horrible beyond belief. However, one can’t discount the people who have died as a result of the war either. We most often hear about the 1,000+ Americans, but estimates of Iraqi civilian deaths as a result of the war range from 15,000 to a staggering 100,000. (I think the latter figure is wildly inflated, but of course have no way of knowing directly.)

    One can recite endless anecdotes of people who are much better off than before the war started, and of those whose lives have been ruined (even without Michael Moore’s facile editing). The daily accounts of bombings, hostage-taking, and various other atrocities, however, seem to indicate that the people of that country have yet to be freed of the threat of violence. Once the rule of law is established there, the humanitarian case will be easier to make — in the meantime, it’s difficult to say conclusively that Iraqis are better off than they were. Certainly, if humanitarian motives are our prime movers, there are other places our army could go and help more people with less resistance.

    A final note on foreign policy: one of the reasons America is viewed with disfavor in many parts of the world in our perceived national arrogance. Make no mistake — it is possible to be strong, and yet avoid bluster. Roosevelt is famously quoted as saying “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Bush’s invitation to terrorists who feel they can attack us here — “Bring ‘em on!” — made me cringe, for it doesn’t speak of a nation seeking safety and peace for its people, but of a blustering bully of a nation itching for a fight.

  • Fiscal Policy: In the last four years, we’ve moved from a national budget surplus to a massive deficit. Obviously, dealing with the aftermath of 9/11 has put strains on our budget that wouldn’t have been there otherwise; one can’t place the blame for increased spending entirely on the President. However, the tax cuts were something he drove through of his own initiative. When one is spending more, but taking in less, a deficit is bound to ensue.

    I’m generally in favor of keeping us much of our money as possible in the hands of the people who earn it, and therefore love tax cuts in principle. However, I’m also an adult, and recognize that if we as a nation determine that something is worth spending money on, we have to pony up the cash. When Bush leads us to war, and at the same time reduces the government’s income and charges the war on the national VISA, it strikes me as tremendously irresponsible, an attempt to both have his cake and eat it. He is not, of course, the only President to do this, but I expect more care with money from the party that derides its opposition as “tax and spend.” It’s far better for the nation’s health to tax and spend than to not tax, and spend anyway!

Enough of that for the moment. As I mentioned, I’m not wild about Kerry, and I have little doubt that, in Texas’ electoral college, my vote will make no difference. I hope that the next four years will bring us a diplomatic, thoughtful, responsible presidency, regardless of who occupies that seat.

And if you’re an American, get out there and vote!