If You Think Kerry Is the Answer, You’re Asking the Wrong Question

I gave in to temptation and brought up the U.S. presidential election campaign here at The Picket Line. My position, in a nutshell: If you think Kerry’s the answer, you’re asking the wrong question.

A friend emailed me, saying he’d probably be voting for Kerry even though he isn’t too excited about it, and asking who I’d be voting for.

So I tried to give it a little more thought. My working theory is that paying attention to political campaigns helps the pests to thrive and lowers the general quality of discussion and debate as well as having a bad influence on public intelligence and behavior. But I suppose that I have no evidence that occasional indulgence is terribly harmful, so long as I take care not to make a habit of it.

I think I understand people who will be voting for Kerry and I can sympathize with them. Bush is a dangerous lunatic and people will have good reason to sleep better at night with him and his crew out of (as much) power. But I’m hoping to discourage people from thinking of this crisis we’re in as being something that might be over come , or that voting for or working for Kerry is the solution.

Only part of this is because Kerry is campaigning so hawkishly. He’s backing away from his most courageous stands during the Vietnam Era, running to Bush’s right on Israel, promising to send more troops to Iraq, and hoping to strengthen the Patriot Act. So be it. Still, there’s little I can imagine Kerry doing that I can’t imagine Bush doing worse.

Bush is a dangerous lunatic, but it’s not like this is a hidden secret that’s being suppressed or censored — it’s right out in the open. The liberal blog world keeps hoping that they’ll finally get The Big Scoop: the evidence on the scandal that proves for once and for all what they already know is going on. The big problem is that a majority of Americans don’t seem to mind the awful truth, or in fact to be willing to entertain its possibility — even if they had the evidence in black-and-white, they’d figure out some way to work around it (like the majority of Americans who continue to believe that the WMD-in-Iraq or Saddam-helping-bomb-the-WTC stories are either true or about as likely as not).

A case in point is the frequent assertion that “we do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties.” It’s a Fact with a capital F. Hawks can assert it confidently as the lead-in to something else, with the same tone they’d use to recite one of the laws of thermodynamics or a cliche about life (“there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” “nothing is certain but death and taxes,” “Rome wasn’t built in a day”). Nobody ever says of this assertion “are we really?” or “how exactly have we changed our policies to enforce this new standard?” or “how do we know how well we’re doing?”

The facts don’t agree well with this Official Motto, but the facts aren’t at issue! “We do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties” sounds like an assertion of fact but it doesn’t seem to ever be interpreted that way — it’s more like a creed or an assertion of pride or something.

I sometimes imagine that when these people are talking about America they’re really referring to a mythical place like Camelot that by definition does what is good and right. If U.S. troops recklessly bombed a civilian area and took out some children, that wasn’t really America but some faulty mortal incarnation of the Platonic ideal of America — of course we regret the loss of life but, let’s be reasonable, we’re America and America does everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, even if actual American troops don’t and actual American policy doesn’t bother to enforce or even monitor this.

Some people agree with what Dubya does (or they like his bad boy pose), some are more skeptical (or think his bad boy pose is too much like the bully who beat ’em up in school), but almost none have the appropriate sense of panic that our government with all of its power and its brutality (both potential and actual, since in Iraq we’re just cracking our knuckles compared to the real beating we could give out if we’re in the mood) is in the hands of a bunch of psychopaths.

The Dubya Squad seem to be particularly nutty in this regard, but Clinton and Gore and Kerry are just quantitatively less severely messed up, not qualitatively different. The problem is that we don’t choose honest and honorable people to run our state (which would be dangerous enough) but instead we choose them through these election spectacles which as far as I can see have evolved to select some of the worst examples of humanity we’ve got. Madness. I’m convinced that if we selected our congress like we select our juries we’d be better off than with the way we do it now.

The fact that people put up with this, and even celebrate it, means that the problem is bigger than who’s in the oval office. I don’t see any sense in wishing for a coup d’êtat by some handful of enlightened people who think like I do (fat chance anyway). My instincts are more democratic than that. I want to see the U.S. government dissolved or fundamentally reformed because we the people demand it — and not so much because of the change in government this would bring about, but because of the change in we the people this would signal.

The only happy ending I can see will be if suddenly, like a crack spreading across the ice, people snap and say to themselves “this is a buch of crap — why are we putting up with this?” No more mufflers in the form of ironic detachment, penetrating media analyses, above-the-fray commentary, or political expediency blinders. No illusions about term limits or campaign finance reform solving anything. Just a big “no more.”

Some people think real revolutionaries should vote for Bush because under the Dubya Squad things are most likely to get so dreadfully awful that folks will revolt. Myself, I’m less prepared to grit my teeth and hope things finally get so intolerable that people snap, and more eager to see people raise their standards so they realize that it’s already intolerable. After all, what are we likely to end up with after a revolution made by people with such low standards?

But this is also a reason why I’m not likely to get enthusiastic about Kerry, since he’s clearly an Anyone-But-Bush, a compromise, allegedly “electable,” a “moderate.” In other words this is more practice in lowering our standards and putting up with things we should practice not putting up with any more.

And now for something completely different:

Dick Cheney recently accused John Kerry of voting against weapons programs and trying to cut the Pentagon’s budget. The Kerry campaign quickly refuted this accusation, saying, essentially, “I know you are, but what am I?”:

FACT: Here’s a quick rundown of programs Cheney tried to cut that Kerry has backed:

  • APACHE HELICOPTER: Kerry has supported $13 billion in defense authorizations for the Apache
  • AEGIS SHIPS: Kerry has supported at least $53 billion defense authorizations for the Aegis program.
  • BRADLEY: Kerry backed at least $8.5 billion in defense authorizations for Bradley Fighting Vehicle
  • BLACKHAWK: Kerry backed at least $13 billion in defense authorizations on versions of the Blackhawk
  • B-2 BOMBER: Kerry has supported over $16.7 billion in defense authorizations for the B-2 program
  • C-17 CARGO JETS: Kerry supported at least $34.5 billion in defense authorizations for the C-17
  • F/A-18 FIGHTER JETS : Kerry supported at least $60 billion in defense authorizations for F/A-18 & F-18
  • F-16 FIGHTER JETS: Kerry supported at least $25 billion in defense authorizations for the F-16.
  • TOMAHAWK MISSILES: Kerry supported at least $6 billion in defense authorizations for the Tomahawk.
  • C-130 CARGO JETS: Kerry supported at least at least $12 billion in defense authorizations for the C-130.