If You Think Kerry Is the Answer, You’re Asking the Wrong Question
A reader writes:
I know you are saving money for your retirement.
I think that this is a good idea, not only because it lowers your taxes, but also because you are now at a time of your life when you can earn.
It gets a lot harder the older one gets.
Even at 45, I find myself fading in my capacity or will to do things such as work hard or even at all.
However, the value of money is a bit unstable.
It can be nullified or reduced by inflation and social disorder.
Also, the price of energy is likely to go up dramatically over the next decade, and that can change things quite a bit too.
It is good to have a place that one owns.
I hear that buying such a place can also have positive consequences for one’s taxes.
Of course, ownership of a place is just a convention too.
If the people around you and the society at large does not recognize that ownership, a more powerful or person or group can come in and take it from you.
However, if one is on good terms with one’s neighbors, that level of social disorder is not likely.
I’ve been meaning to do a Picket Line entry about something like this.
A friend asked me once what I thought would be good investments, expecting a stocks / bonds / real estate / gold sort of answer.
I’m apocalyptic enough in my outlook, and long-term enough in my investment thinking that my answers were things like: foreign language skills, the best dental work you can find, etc.
If all you’ve saved up for retirement is money or a promise of money (social security, a pension plan, etc.), then I’ve got a bunch of elderly Russians I’d like to tell you about.
When your company and your government goes under and your currency becomes a laughing stock… so much for your portfolio.
But if I learn Spanish… how’s the song go: “They can’t take that away from me.”
Your quotes support something I heard Noam Chomsky say on the radio the other day.
He said that Kerry would make no significant changes in foreign policy, but that he would be quite different on domestic policy…
He got quite testy in response to there being no difference between Bush and Kerry.
Bush is at war abroad, and at home, with people who work.
Chomsky said that saying there was no difference was to say to tell working people that one did not care about them.
As to people forgetting that they have chosen a lesser evil, I doubt it.
Another reader makes the case for the importance of choosing the lesser evil (edited slightly for clarity):
Kerry commented on authorization of the force resolution, not on war.
The former is (in Kerry’s framework) about forcing inspections.
Kerry dodged Bush’s counterfactual question about whether he thinks Bush was right to go to war given what we know now, but he should have addressed it head on, because in the actual case, when Kerry believed Bush about WMD, he opposed Bush going to war (at the time and in the unilateral fashion he did).
If Kerry had been President instead of Bush, would he have waited to put together an international coalition and then gone to war?
Well, not only is there no reason to think he could have gotten international backing after extensive inspections revealed no WMD, but he wouldn’t have had Cheney, Wolfowitz and the rest of the neo-cons clamoring to implement the PNAC invasion of Iraq just hours after the towers fell, so the whole question is moot.
If you have the choice between letting 1 million people die or ½ million people die, choosing to save ½ million is not choosing evil, whereas gazing into your Nader… I mean, navel… is.
The “lesser of two evils” complaint is intellectually bankrupt; one takes the most rational path one can.
Will I celebrate victory if Kerry wins?
Yes, of course, as I would with saving ½ million people.
Will I say “good enough, then?” No, of course not; what a silly question.
One continues to take the most rational path one can.
It’s such a simple matter, I have trouble fathoming what cognitive defect leads people to think that not choosing is somehow superior to choosing the best course.
In the case of the upcoming election it may, for some, be a megalomaniacal belief that voting for someone is equivalent to electing them, so voting for, say, Nader, is better than voting for Kerry if they think Nader would make a better president than Kerry.
But of course one isn’t choosing a president, one is choosing which box to fill in, which results in a very small relative shift among the probabilities of the various candidates winning.
Given the poll margins, a vote for Kerry actually has a significant chance of affecting the outcome, whereas a vote for Nader has virtually no chance of affecting the outcome.
Just as there is no principle that validates letting 1 million people die when you could have saved half because ½ million people dying is “evil,” there is no principle that validates throwing your vote away by marking the Nader box when you could have had some impact on whether there will be 2 more Scalia clones on the SCOTUS, whether the environment will be sacked, whether people will be able to find work and earn a living wage, etc., even though some elements of Kerry’s foreign policy are “evil.”
Just to be clear — Kerry’s militarism, his chauvinism, his claim of “no casualties” — these disgust me.
As does the aspects of American culture that bred these views, and the massive destructive force that backs that up.
But when I go into the polling booth, there is no lever I can pull that will flush these evils down the drain.
They are givens that I have no control over — at least, not in the voting booth.
We should all be working every day to change these things, but this is a completely separate, orthogonal matter from what lever to pull on .
A presidential election is a mighty fulcrum.
In one day of voting, the face of the executive branch of the U.S. government may change, and with it four years of presidential decrees, regulations, appointments, and saber-rattling.
The presidential election of looks like it will be a close one, so it’s reasonable to feel that although the lever in a voting booth is a small one, its fulcrum is situated as well as any for a single citizen who wants to make a difference.
A little effort on your part now to encourage people to vote for Kerry — by telling them how important voting is, by playing up Kerry’s comparative positives and staying quiet about what makes him distasteful — could conceivably make a big difference in how this country gets run for .
And even if Kerry isn’t much to get excited about — a lesser of two evils at best — even such a small difference, when seen in a person occupying such a powerful office, can make a big difference indeed.
We don’t know for sure what a President Kerry would be like, but even if you ignore his hopeful campaign promises and just rely on the law of averages, he’s unlikely to be any worse than what we’ve got now.
So okay, let’s hope Kerry wins in , and let’s be glad if he does.
And now let me try to convince you why you shouldn’t vote for him, support him, or encourage people to vote for him.
What does supporting Kerry’s election campaign mean?
It means more than just attempting to dethrone Bush.
A pretzel almost did that without any votes at all.
Kerry’s campaign is a big package, being sold with a multi-million-dollar budget, and win or lose it is going to define the opposition to Bush and his war and his policies.
And you won’t need to wonder why when you start to hear things like “hardly anybody questions that the American mission in Vietnam was essentially an honorable one” and “everybody agrees that we need a large, global military presence” the same way that this cowardly herd behavior from Democrats led to things like “nobody doubts that Saddam threatens the United States with weapons of mass destruction.”
It’s easy to give yourself over to wishful thinking.
A politician’s campaign speeches are as vague as they think they can get away with — promising positive-sounding things in general, and not much in specific.
The intent is that the audience will think “maybe he’s talking about me and my hopes.”
Some take this to ridiculous extremes and try to believe that Kerry secretly stands for what they stand for, and not for the things Kerry has been voting for, has spoken up for, and has centered his campaign around.
Kerry’s the last person a “lesser of two evils” voter has to vote for, so that voter is looking at Kerry like a horny drunk boy looks at the last girl left in the bar — her bad breath and missing teeth are vanishing from attention and thoughts like “I bet she’s got a pretty voice” are starting to pop up.
Don’t fall into this wishful thinking trap.
If you’re going to vote for the lesser of two evils, at least look that lesser evil in the face first.
Look at what Kerry has actually done and is actually doing.
Case in point: Kerry didn’t just “believe Bush” about these mythical weapons of mass destruction — he was part of the choir singing the WMD chorus.
I think you’re fooling yourself if you think that Kerry “opposed Bush going to war.”
He voted to enable and authorize it, and even now insists that this was the right thing to do.
Another thing a vote for Kerry will be is a vote for someone who helped lead the war parade.
His spin, now and then, is that by voting to give Dubya the power to go to war in Iraq, he wasn’t actually voting for war in Iraq but simply to give Dubya a bigger stick to wave when trying to enforce weapons inspections and such.
But millions of us knew that the Dubya Squad was hungry for war and we begged Congress not to let them have it.
We knew that this resolution was like the Tonkin Gulf resolution — what passes for a declaration of war in today’s Congresses.
Kerry’s aw-shucks position reminds me of someone who admits that sure, he gave the loaded pistol to the chimpanzee, but he first admonished the chimp never to touch the trigger.
Now you may say that while all of what I’ve said is true, or true enough anyway, this still doesn’t change the brutal but necessary “lesser of two evils” calculus.
But you have to answer, realistically and not just hopefully, whether the likely reduction in “evil” from a Kerry victory over Bush is worth the cost of further degrading the political opposition and further legitimizing jingoistic bullshit, worth the cost of moving the country, the Democratic party, and the media more in favor of this grotesque dream of ruthless American empire.
Remember that it was cynical political calculation of a very similar kind that caused so many journalists and legislators and such to get swept along by the war frenzy in the first place.
We need to start saying “no” and no more of this “well I really’d rather not but just this once more if you promise you’ll be better about it next time” whining.
And there’s no reason why we shouldn’t include a big “no” to John Kerry, and a lot of reasons why we should.
It might even be helpful.2
Is there a good reason to believe that Kerry couldn’t take sensible, half-way decent, good positions on the war in Iraq or the Abu Ghraib scandal and still win?3
Are we that pessimistic?
Is his insistence on decking himself out in a set of New Clothes just as transparent as the Emperor’s really such a great campaign tactic?
I mean, hell, even Republican congressmen from Nebraska are coming out against the war these days.
Maybe it’s time to start wondering whether Kerry is doing this hawk act not from reluctant political expediency but because he’s deeply mistaken and a Dubya-like jerk.
A losing candidate who ran a campaign dedicated to making the U.S. a better, more honest, more respectable and self-respecting country, and who conducted a campaign that reflected this, would leave us in a better place than a candidate like John Kerry will leave us, even if he defeats the awful Dubya.
In fact, such a person wouldn’t even have to be a candidate — such a campaign doesn’t have to wait for election season to come around.
The “lesser of two evils” argument says that we’re at a point where we can make two choices, one will add a certain amount of evil to the world, the other will add more.
We’ve got to choose one, so choosing the lesser evil is the right thing to do, even though it means choosing evil.
The answer to this argument is that in the real world we have a wide and ever-changing array of choices, each of which may move us and the world in more or less good or evil directions.
If Bush or Kerry were our only choices, Kerry would be the lesser evil (by all appearances), and the right choice.
In the real world though, we can do better by rejecting them both and choosing something good instead.
When the U.S. Senate passed the Tonkin Gulf resolution, which gave the president power to engage in war on North Vietnam without having to consult with the constitutional war-making body, President Johnson said that the resolution was like granny’s nightshirt — it covered just about everything.
Congress gave Dubya similar powers “to rid the world of evildoers,” as he put it.
For this, I nominate the metaphorical attire of the burqua, which covers even more, and allows for only obscured tunnel vision.
“[I]t’s not so hard to imagine what would cause Mr. Kerry to recant: political expedience.
The Massachusetts senator firmly believes something he firmly believed when he voted for the war resolution, which is that he should take the politically safe course no matter what.
So he’s happy to straddle the fence by criticizing Mr. Bush for taking us down the wrong road in Iraq while refusing to say Congress should have stopped him.
And he figures he can stand by his vote because opponents of the war have nowhere else to turn.
But they can always turn to Ralph Nader, or just stay home.
When it comes to Iraq, after all, Mr. Kerry sounds an awful lot like the guy who got us into this mess.” — An Echo, Not a Choice, Steve Chapman
The second of my footnotes is rendering strangely in Mozilla 1.4.1. Starting with the link to An Echo, Not a Choice, the font switches over from my standard footnote font to the larger main-text-sized font, and there’s an extra line-break where this switch occurs.
I’ve double-checked my XHTML and CSS and run the page through a validator and nothing seems amiss there.
The third footnote also has a hyperlink in it, but doesn’t show this problem.
Any idea what’s going wrong here?
Am I making some subtle error or have I found a Mozilla bug?
it’s a bug of sorts.
Has to do with my XHTML being served to some browsers (by necessity) as “text/html” rather than as “application/xml” which is technically correct.
This causes the browser to misinterpret empty a elements (e.g. <a name="foo" />).
Since I can’t avoid sending pages as “text/html” to browsers that tell me they don’t know how to handle “application/xml”, I guess I have to give up on using empty a elements.
My subsequent move to HTML5 makes all this discussion obsolete…