Monday, November 01, 2004

Don't Throw the Bums out

Entirely too many pundits, keyboard philosophers, et al., rely on a certain type of logic: this [pick your political officeholder] has not done the job, so throw the bum out. That concept has been commonly re-hashed in this election season as a corollary to the conventional wisdom (a phrase that's always 50% accurate!) that this election is a referendum on President Bush.

This simplistic mindset leads such otherwise seemingly intelligent people as Andrew Sullivan, Josh Chafetz, Jon Rauch, Dan Drezner, Walter Olson and even the PaMonk himself (who is ACTUALLY intelligent, not "seemingly"), among similar moderates and "principled" conservative/libertarians, who decry President Bush for what they see as failures in Iraq, problems with the economy, out of control spending (Sullivan is a notable deficit-hawk even though he'll never be able to prove that deficits hurt the economy) and certain policies that may be near and dear to their hearts for which the President has taken an opposite stand (Rauch and Sullivan on the Federal Marriage Amendment, for example, PaMonk's general displeasure with government spending, etc.) to consider not voting (or endorsing) the President for a second term even though those people KNOW ABSOLUTELY that Kerry's policies are prescriptions for failure. (Note to PaMonk: don't cut me out, I'm not implying you'd actually vote for Longface, after all I did say you are intelligent).

The notion is nonsense. The "throw the bums out" ethos does not apply to the President of the United States.

Now I'm not going to write a long defense of Bush's term or discuss how much better Iraq is in comparison to the mainstream media reports. You can check out Blogs for Bush for the former, and here and here, and the previous 11 installments in that series for the latter.

Instead, certain facts make the "throw them out" concept a facile and witless concept when applied to the presidency.

First, there is no "them," there is only a him. That is, although the executive departments of the US government contain a huge (and entirely excessive) bureaucracy, the presidency and the executive power of the United States is embodied in one man (don't decry the "man" concept, 43 of 43 US presidents were men; even Carter). That one man wields more power than any other person in the government despite having few powers delineated in the Constitution (Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, appointments, treaty-making -- the latter two with advice and consent of the Senate). Thus, despite the press' dumbed down conceptualization of Clintonites, Bushies, Reaganites, etc., the real power is in the office of the presidency itself. So in voting against an incumbent, the voter is not making a protest vote against a group of politicians setting bad policies for the country; instead, it is more personal.

Second, the notion of throwing out the old public servants to get new blood is a parliamentary concept. That is, it stems from governments designed to have a leader who is first among equals, who must build parliamentary majorities and who is both a legislator and executor. Those governments can rise and fall on parliamentary whim and at the popular will -- public pressure in Britain, Israel or Canada can essentially force a parliamentary election because those elections are not pre-scheduled. But in the US, barring tragedy or impeachment, every Congressman will have to obtain his constituents' approval every two years, in November of even-numbered years; every Senator will serve no less than six years; every President will serve four years absent covering up hotel break-ins. From V-J Day ending World War II until the Fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US had nine presidents; Italy had more than one government per year.

Third, the primacy of the presidency necessarily should counsel against reducing the question of whether to vote for the incumbent merely to a question of whether that incumbent deserves to be re-elected. Do not delude yourself, each of the commentators I listed above primarily bases his pick on whether Bush deserves a second term, not whether Kerry is a viable alternative. This is especially true for Dan Drezner and Walter Olson.

Which brings me to my fourth and final point: this is NOT a retention election. Bush is not running in a vacuum against his own record with a second vote on who to replace him if he loses a yes/no recall vote (think California's recall of Gray Davis). Instead, Bush has a direct competitor and no matter how you analyze Bush, you must examine Kerry. Olson fails to do this. Drezner, Sullivan and the Washington Post twist themselves into pretzels with contorted justifications for Kerry by claiming that he and the Democrats "get it" with regard to the war against the terrorists -- as if Carl Levin, Fortney Stark, Nancy Pelosi, Baghdad Jim McDermott and that ilk has learned anything.

And ultimately, on every level a justification of Kerry falls flat: (1) he will not prosecute the war against the terrorists, his record proves this conclusively; (2) he will not limit government spending, his proposals will cost FAR more than Bush's (and don't trust the Republicans in Congress to constrain him, having majorities in both houses hasn't stopped their sprees yet); (3) his domestic policies will merely pit rich against poor and divide the country ethnically. Only by ignoring what Kerry says, how Kerry acts, and what Kerry proposes (to the extent his proposals remain constant) can the keyboard philosophers I'm criticising justify a vote for him. To get to that conclusion, they MUST justify their vote by resorting to the claim that "Bush doesn't deserve a second term." Given the importance of the office, the precariousness of the time and the state of the nation, that's no way to cast a vote.

Instead, I'm voting for Bush. The alternative is unthinkable.

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