Reposted from November 1, 2004
This was posted four years ago, but I want to make sure people today keep it in mind.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt the pressure to get off the fence and declare for one candidate or the other. Commenters here, and people in my personal life, have pushed me to ‘fess up that I’m a Bush supporter, or admit that I’m too much of a Democrat to cross the line.
Thinking about this feels kind of like having a chipped tooth. Every time your tongue curls over and touches it, you get a flash of pain, and yet you keep going back and doing it again.
And then, as I wrestled with it – with Kerry’s opportunistic failure to be honest about where we stand in foreign policy; with Bush’s stream of failures in post-invasion Iraq and domestic security – I realized that there’s a much bigger issue afoot.
I remember the bumper stickers disclaiming responsibility for the Nixon/Humphrey election – “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for McCarthy” which in today’s discourse have been replaced by bumper stickers saying “He’s Not My President” and trying to disclaim responsibility for a whole Administration.
Well, you can’t. And yes he is. And yes he will be, whoever he is.
And I think that the attitude that denies legitimacy to an opponent – which is not nearly the same thing as rolling over for that opponent on policy issues – is far more dangerous, and will do far more damage to my country than either candidate can possibly do if their opponents most feverish claims prove to be true.
Michael Totten has a good column over at TechCentralStation about why hawks like me shouldn’t hyperventilate over the prospect of a Kerry victory.
Former Lee Atwater staffer Pitney has a great column on partisanship up at SFGate.
OK, here goes: I doubt that all wisdom lies on my side of the political spectrum. I do not think that all the people who disagree with me are crazy, stupid or evil. Though I’m voting for President Bush, I hardly believe that the election of Sen. John Kerry would bring on the end-times.
Behind all this invective lies a sense of certainty that I don’t share. Political issues are largely about the future, and nobody can be sure what the future holds. Will Social Security go bust? Would a privatized system work better? We free-market conservatives answer yes to both questions. We make a strong case, but some smart people reach different conclusions. Until the future arrives, each side should ponder the possibility that the other side may have a point.
There are two powerful issues here.
The first is that, like it or not, we are all citizens of the same polity. As much as TG is committed to the issue of gay marriage, she shares the political space with Cathy Seipp, who opposes it with equal fervor. They can choose to define themselves by their differences or by what they share – which is actually a lot.
That sense of shared citizenship ought to be the root of our patriotism, which manifests itself in any number of small and unheroic ways – the taxes we willingly pay to keep open schools when we have no children, the traffic lights we don’t run because it would be wrong. Instead we narrow our focus on the small circle of people whose beliefs reinforce ours, and whose shared sense of powerlessness and entitlement – after all, in this system none of us entirely get our way – lead us down a path to rage and frustration.
And it leads us off a cliff as well.
The incredible strength of the West lies in the fact that Western culture, uniquely as far as I know, facilitates open clash of certainties.
Reality is far more complex than any of us know, than any of our ideologies can express, and than any of our policies can deliberately shape. Politics is the realm of the “wicked” problem.
In my daily life, much of what I do is deal with organizational failure.
The primary cause of organizational failure is the unwillingness of those in charge to listen, to look, at adapt to new facts or changing circumstance. We try many ideas, and some of them prove out – or prove out for a period of time. We have to be open to abandoning them if we are going to succeed.
Those who criticize the conduct of the war in Iraq have valuable things to say, as do those like me who support it. The tension and arguments between us are not a bad thing, they’re a good thing, because out of that kind of process we arrive at better policy and better answers.
But that implies an openness to argument, as opposed to a struggle to simply upend the other, which is where we are today.
That implies that you think that we’re all part of one team.
I think we are. I think I’m not only on the same team as Totten and Simon, but as Atrios, Blackfive, Kevin Drum, Captain Ed, and even “Screw Them” Kos.
Whoever is elected in November will be President of all of us. I don’t know who it will be – and I’m not making this appeal because I secretly think it will be one or the other and I want to ‘bind the wounds’ – but I’ll have no problem saying “President Kerry” as I have no problem today saying “President Bush”.
Either man will be my President – and yours as well.