Why I'm Voting for John Kerry

by Jonathan Wallace jw@bway.net

In November 2000, I published a piece called Why I'm Voting for Ralph Nader. I said that the Democratic party no longer represented me, and the only chance I saw that it might ever do so again was if I cast my vote for a third party. I reasoned that if the Democrats lost enough elections because people like me were voting for third party candidates, they might swing back in our direction.

Also, I saw the growth of a viable third party (which has not happened) as a vital step towards the restoration of democratic choice in America. Both Democrats and Republicans, I said, are captives of the money and as a result, their views have narrowed so as to become almost indistinguishable on key issues. I would be much happier living under a parliamentary system, where there are more parties representing more points of view, which must form a coalition to get a government in place. A two party system excludes too many people, and I am one of them.

I had voted for Nader in 1996 as well. So it has been a long time since I voted for a Democrat in a Presidential election. I am doing so now reluctantly, aware I am betraying an important principle, giving in, and reassuring a party that has abandoned any pretense of including me that it calls the shots and can bully me into submission. I plan to return to voting for third party candidates as soon as things are stabilized in this country (if they ever are). This year, I am reluctantly deferring what I see (given the outcome in 2000) as my highly successful participation in a campaign to chastise the Democrats, only because there are more important preemptive goals.

I cannot put it more bluntly than to say that we are all passengers in a plane which is in danger of being crashed by an idiot pilot. We are living through a multigeneration experiment of the Republican money men that you don't really need a president (Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, both George Bush's) as long as you have intelligent handlers. In other words, any photogenic placeholder with a madcap smile will do, while what the Village Voice used to call the "permanent government" gets on with business.

What we are seeing today is however, the dregs of the experiment, where the latest generation of handlers are on the cusp where ideology merges into psychosis. Many of the government's initiatives-- such as huge tax cuts while financing an endless and extremely expensive war in Iraq--are so incredible that it is easy to imagine readers of future histories stopping for a moment to ask incredulously, "They did what? They argued what?" Bill Clinton, who couldn't keep his dick in his pocket, did absolutely nothing else but get in personal trouble for eight years. By contrast, the Bush administration has been a tragicomic opera of slapdash initatives and grotesque failures. Everything Bush has attempted--the capture of bin Laden, homeland security, the reinvigoration of the economy, the war in Iraq--has failed spectacularly.

That the majority in this country doesn't seem to be overly worried about this is not heartening and of course makes me worried that (despite what Lincoln said) you can fool all of the people all of the time. Opposed to the man with the empty eyes and the madcap smile is an intelligent candidate, far more presidential. Because there are no sexual or real estate scandals with which to tar him, the criticisms that are effectively being leveled at him seem vanishingly small, compared to the Bush administration's gross defaults. Kerry may be a waffler, but every candidate in American politics today is afraid to stake out a position on anything important, at least without leaving himself an exit. This is an artifact of the process, not the man. Bush is hardly exempt from waffling; verbally endorsing the assault weapons ban, while quietly allowing Congress to kill it, is an entirely new kind of waffle (for what is a waffle but trying to have an issue both ways?)

I wouldn't even trust George Bush to baby-sit children (for fear he'd lose them in the woods, with the best intentions). I would trust John Kerry, not absolutely, but with a lot more than that; he is intelligent, careful, everything his adversary isn't. The fact that he hasn't captured the American imagination, that he seems to be fading away in the run-up to the election, may be an effect of the right-wing grip on what they amusingly call the liberal media, the extremely successful bloviation of figures like Rush Limbaugh, the manipulations of Karl Rove, and its hard to say what else. An American distrust of intelligence? One thing Bush and Clinton have in common is they both present as loveable fuck-ups from the South. (Gore was also from the South, but not loveable or a fuck-up.) If the Democrats can't elect men of clear pressidential skills like Gore or Kerry, its hard to see who else there is in the line-up who has a chance in future elections, until the Republicans scorch enough earth that the highly tolerant majority gets sick and decides to throw them out.

This election ought to be about: Are you better off than you were four years ago? Do you feel safer? I certainly am not, and I don't. Do you? If Bush couldn't put you on a better footing in four years, what will he do in the next four that will be better? Do we feel, perhaps, that he hasn't yet definitively failed, and needs to be given a chance? Until we hear the final "crump" of the structures collapsing which we have relied on to protect us, we seem highly reluctant to believe anything is wrong. Especially when we have Rush Limbaugh and the president (with madcap smile) telling us everything is fine. (After all, denial is the first stage of dying.)

More than anything else, I am voting against the unbearable body count in Iraq. I was talking yesterday with an Israeli acquaintance who was nostalgic for the days of Saddam Hussein, when Israel was safer, because "Saddam held down the radical Islamic faction. Now America has let the genie out of the bottle." Certainly there must be people in the Defense Department, with the scales of ideological psychosis falling from their eyes, who are beginning to feel the same way. In the administration's slapdash, catastrophic style, we are not certain why we are there (we found no WMD) or how to get out. We don't hold large stretches of the country (including Baghdad, really) and a minimum of two or three Americans are dying every day. For what? Has Bush elucidated a convincingly updated theory? Does the complacent majority believe him? Or has it become a matter of cojones: it may be a mistake to be there, but it will look weak to fix it.

This may be what's hurting Kerry more than anything. Imagine if that is President Bush's hole card: "He will look weak fixing the melodramatic, kinetic mess I've created!"

Of course (and this is why I don't vote for Democrats) Kerry has failed to distinguish himself from Bush on a raft of issues, most notably his lack of a game plan or timeframe for getting out of Iraq. His argument with Bush, as the New York Times for September 30 points out, is largely retrospective. The complacent majority may not care who would have done what at any point in the past. Kerry's pallid antiwar reputation hinges very much on the fact that he was an activist against the last great pointless war. In the end, I will vote for Kerry because he is more intelligent than the president, and also not the one who made the mess. Some people are just better at making messes, others at cleaning up.

I haven't been this worried since Nixon that a president could actually crash the country. We're raised to think of American democracy as sui generis, something bullet-proof and immortal, but its just a frail human system like any other. It requires care and feeding, and intelligent consideration, and choice. We don't have these things, not merely because this administration is negligent (though that may exist too) but because it is trying to crush vital features of the system, like the Bill of Rights (Americans are sitting in prison indefinitely without any procedural rights). I am also voting for John Kerry because I believe he will refrain from further crushing the system.

These are meager and negative reasons to vote, but they will do.