Nov 2 2004 - Is this the best we can do?
I note that two of writers I admire have come out for Kerry. I'm not surpirsed that Paul Berman did so. The author of Terror and Liberalism is a long-time Democrat who supports the War Against Jihad and seems to be holding his nose when he comes out for JFK:
"I'm voting for Kerry, with no great belief that he will be a first-rate president. I cringe a little at where Kerry's line on terror and Iraq has lately ended up."
The bigger surprise is Christopher Hitchens. He is even more reluctant that Berman. I think his vote is motivated partly by a desire to put the left to the test on the War:
Kerry's "election would compel mainstream and liberal Democrats to get real about Iraq."
At this point I think that Kerry has a better than even chance of winning. I'm working in Pittsburgh these days and it looks like the state will go for Kerry.
If Kerry wins, the next four years will be contensious and ugly, filled with venom and bile. The Right will do everything it can to destroy Kerry, an effort that will make us long for the comparative calm of the early Clinton years. Unless Kerry pulls out of Iraq and opens an embassy in Tehran, part of the Left will disown him as a neocon in disguise. He will be hit from both sides. And since, as Hitchens puts it, Kerry has demonstrated an "inability to hold up on principle under any kind of pressure" he will try to please the hawkish Joe Biden-type Democrats, court the moderate McCain-style Republicans and palcate the Nancy Pelosi-Deaniac left. Best case scenario is for Kerry to have a defensive and ineffectual administration. He has made too many promises to have a chance of fulfilling even a portion of them. He can't please everybody but he can disappoint everyone.
Worst case scenario for Kerry is that there is an attack while he is in office, especially after the first 9 months or a year. The aftermath would be among the uglyist periods in US history. Forget the national unity of the post-9/11 period. People will be frightened and furious. The Republicans may begin impeachment proceedings. The press, which supports Kerry now out of anti-Bush passion but which has no love for the uncharismatic man, will turn on him. The average Joe may not follow the details of the dozens of investigations to follow but will know one thing: no attack during for more than 3 years with Bush.
If Bush wins things will be hardly any different. Part of the Left will collapse into despair and blind anger. Todd Gitlin warns that after a Bush victory, "In this overheated atmosphere, I would not be surprised to see outbursts of political violence the likes of which we haven't seen since the Weather Underground of the 1970s. The commitment to marginality in much of the antiglobalization movement would take on a tang of negative logic.
Quite a future for the next 4 years. Why are both these men so mediocre? Is this the best we can do? Perhaps we are enduring a period like the mid-1800s, when every president from 1837 to 1861 only served one term (those between Andrew Jackson and Lincoln), when the office was filled with such less-than stellar figures as Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan. Perhaps the issues of nation faces are so vast and complex and the country so divided that it will take a major conflagration (much greater than we have yet seen) and a genius like Lincoln to resolve them.
All I know is, neither of these guys is Lincoln.