Tuesday, August 31, 2004

A Word or Two for Ideological Purists

William Watkins at Southern Appeal has a post in which he quotes from James Bovard's The Bush Betrayal. Watkins says of Bush:
No matter what his failings, so the argument goes, surely he is better than Kerry. Perhaps he is better than Kerry, but ought not we have higher standards than this? If John Kerry is the measuring stick, then I would venture that there are a large number of rascals who would be better leaders than him. But if we measure Bush by a legitimate standard, then we see much is lacking Here is a taste of Bovard's indictment....[long quotations here]...So this is the man who is about to lead what used to be the party of limited government and fiscal responsibility. What a shame.
The quotations are about the Medicare prescription plan, a farm bill with "generous" benefits, steel tariffs, foreign aid, and education spending. William characterizes some of those measures as "vote-buying"; hell, they're all vote-buying.

Now let's talk about why the glass is half-full, not half-empty. What Bush gave with prescriptions he will try to take back (and then some) through partial privatization of Social Security. Farm subsidies are a bi-partisan addiction; find a president who can resist them and you'll find a nation in which the electoral college has been abolished and most farm products are imported. Bush's overall stance on trade is good, why get upset by a blatantly political and short-lived bit of protectionism? Almost everyone's against foreign aid, but it's almost inconsequential and it might actually pay long-term dividends in the war on terror. A successful push for vouchers -- a key item on the Republican agenda -- will have a much greater positive effect on education than the feeble negative effect of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Bovard and Watkins seem to live in the perfect world of perfectly rational, non-political politicians. It doesn't exist. Kerry is the standard to which Bush should be compared -- this year. And defeating Kerry must be number two on Bush's agenda -- this year. Number one, of course, is fighting the war on terror, which Watkins doesn't mention. I hope he doesn't think that's unimportant.

Next year, if Bush has been re-elected, Bovard and Watkins can rightly complain if Bush continues to disappoint them. But before they complain they should consider Bush's entire record, including -- most importantly -- his performance in the war on terror. If that doesn't satisfy them they should do more than complain; they should actively support the nomination of a better Republican candidate in 2008.

But they should never lose sight of the fact that the real world of presidential politics -- as opposed to their ideal world of ideological perfection -- will almost always produce a choice between the greater evil and the lesser evil. The last time it produced a clear choice between evil and good was in 1964. And look what happened then: Voters mistook good for evil and evil for good, and evil ensued, both at home and abroad.

Would Bovard and Watkins prefer the unelected Goldwater or the elected Bush? I'm sorry to say that's the sort of choice the real world usually offers, my friends.