Wednesday, August 04, 2004

Dueling Opinions: My Fourth Response To Jobim

On subject-changing: the only reason that Kerry's alleged leftism is an
issue is because it would in some sense place Kerry "out of the
political mainstream," and thus be a political liability. But Bush's
position to the right of the average voter offsets that liability, and
is therefore perfectly relevant to the discussion. In terms of the
outcome of the election, a lot will be decided by which campaign can
more successfully portray its opponent as somehow out of touch with the

On Kerry's opposition to the DOMA: Kerry's actual reasons for opposing
the legislation were that he thought it was unconstitutional (a matter
on which he might be vindicated by the Supreme Court); and that he
thought it was unnecessary, in the sense that no state would be forced to
recognize another state's marriages by virtue of the Full Faith and
Credit provision, a position that, despite Stanley Kurtz's worries,
seems to be a consensus among Constitutional scholars. Not only
is that different from opposing state's rights on the issue, but it is
in fact an affirmation of federalism.

Let's suppose, however, just for the sake of argument, that AJ's
interpretation of Kerry's vote against the DOMA is correct. That vote
took place eight years ago. He's willing to give George W. Bush credit,
as am I, for having evolved his position on nation-building during the
last four years. Why can't Kerry's position have evolved in twice that
time? Why must we assume that he's either being cynical or engaging in

On the FMA, there is no version that is concordant with Kerry's
position. He is for the right of a state to legalize gay marriage if its
citizens choose to do so, whereas every iteration of the FMA would
permanently disallow that. Again, the majority position is not in favor
of a slight compromise version of the FMA; it is against meddling with
the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage, period. Bush never offered
support, as far as I know, for specific alternate versions of the FMA.
He first supported it in principle, and then endorsed the only version
that the Republican leadership was willing to vote on, namely the
version that banned any and all legal recognition and protection of
same-sex couples. Mr. Bush's position on this, and on all other social
issues, differs from that of Messrs. Dobson, Weyrich, et al. only in
terms of rhetorical tone; and his position is well to the right of the
majority and the mainstream.

On abortion, it seems to me that Jobim is muddying the issue a bit.
A majority of Americans are indeed be opposed to partial-birth
abortions, which at most only ever made up, what, .02% of all abortions
performed; and small majorities might be opposed to very late term
abortions (I'd like to see the data on that), but as a principle, the
American people are pro-choice. Mr. Bush is not. Nor is he completely,
or even slightly powerless in radically changing abortion policy. The
next president is likely to preside over several Supreme Court
retirements. Roe v. Wade is currently maintained by a single vote
majority. Replace John Paul Stevens or Sandra Day O'Connor with any of
the sort of judges Bush is inclined to appoint, and Roe will be
overturned upon its next review. The American people have a very clear
choice to make, and in terms of abortion policy alone, they would prefer
John Kerry's appointments to George Bush's.

In my last post, I neglected to mention anything about health care.
Here's an issue where I think a majority of Americans can be convinced
of virtually any position that is marketed correctly. The failure of
Hillarycare was due at least to a large degree to an absolutely
horrendous public relations effort, very smart counteradvertising by the
Republicans, Mrs. Clinton's own high unpopularity, and by the fact that
it turned out to be a sort of worst-of-all-worlds compromise that even
Paul Wellstone had trouble accepting. Kerry supported it 11 years ago;
the same argument applies as with the DOMA. There's nothing wrong with
his position changing in such a span of time, and I would think AJ would be glad that the Democrats have at least some recogntion of
what Nathan Glazer called "the limits of social policy" (as in, e.g.,
Kerry's support for welfare reform). The Kerry health-care proposal in
2004 involves very gradual, piece-meal steps towards universal coverage.
It has a good chance of gaining popular support, especially marketed as
giving private American citizens the same coverage as "politicians in
Washington" (the Reaganites proved how powerful that phrase could be
when pronounced a certain way). I'm not surprised, in other words, that
Kerry enjoys substantial leads on health care in every survey.

AJ and I (unsurprisingly) agree on the various issues on which he
is "on the left." I further agree that for strict libertarians, this
election offers a pretty bitter choice. My question to him is whether he
thinks that the Democrats aren't at least slightly better on these
issues. Does he think, for example, that a Kerry Justice Department
would waste its resources on fighting democratically-approved medical
marijuana initiatives, or silly lawsuits against pornographers? (And
I'm also interested in his reasons for opposing the Gulf War.)

AJ's last statement raises, perhaps inadvertently, a point that
I'd been thinking about a lot. The standard line may indeed be that
Kerry is a flip-flopper whereas Bush is obstinate to the point of
ostrich-ism. How I wish that this sort of Conventional Wisdom were
judged by the records of these men, and not the other way around.
Whatever we may want to say about liberal or conservative bias in the
press, I don't think there's any denying that the most significant media
bias is towards laziness. It's a lot easier just to run with a
prefabricated narrative than to expend the mental energy necessary for
critical analysis. The truth is that Kerry, like any politician, has
taken expedient positions from time to time. It's also true that there
are issues over which he won't compromise. The important question for a
voter is just what his priorities are, and that question gets lost amid
the echo of "flip-flop, flip-flop." Bush certainly hasn't done anything
to fight the perception of inflexible stubbornness, in that he
absolutely refuses to admit a mistake or fire anyone at all (except
whistleblowers in the FBI---read this* and try not to cringe). Nevertheless, Bush
has taken calculated positions and changed positions too. He was
originally opposed to the creation of a Homeland Security Department,
then opposed it as a cabinet level position, then finally endorsed it.
He opposed the creation of a 9/11 Commission, tried to appoint Henry
Kissinger as its chairman (mercifully that didn't work out), opposed,
then finally relented on Condoleeza Rice testifying before the
commission, and stalled and then finally testified himself with the
stipulation that Dick Cheney would be there to support him in
I'm-not-exactly-clear-which way. When the commission released its
report, Mr. Bush first ignored its recommendations, and then, feeling
pressure from the Kerry campaign, endorsed some of its bullet points
while undercutting many of the substantive recommendations. I could
provide further examples.

In other words, Bush also caves into political pressure. I'm not sure if
"flip-flopping" is a valuable addition to our political lexicon, but if
so, it applies to Mr. Bush as surely as it does to Mr. Kerry.

*[More on that article tomorrow--ed.]


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