Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 The Real Issue 

September 9, 2004 
Back when he was an impenitent sinner, George W. Bush may have used family influence to avoid serving in Vietnam, then failed to show up for a physical and suffered suspension as a pilot in the Texas Air National Guard. Read 
Joe's columns the day he writes them.What’s more, if Kitty Kelley’s latest scholarly work is to be believed, Bush later snorted coke at Camp David, though Miss Kelley’s alleged source for this datum denies having said any such thing.

But what does any of this matter? Nothing Bush did in those prehistoric years counts against him, for he has been born again, his sins washed white as snow.

No such luck for John Kerry, whose young years are being raked through without mercy. Of course Kerry brought it on himself, because, in contrast to Bush, he has boasted about his record in the war Bush missed out on. The slightest contradiction between his account and what the records show or what his fellow Vietnam vets recall, or say they recall, means a serious embarrassment. The issue is not so much what Kerry did as whether he’s lying about it now.

Of course Bush also faces a question of consistency: not so much about what he did then, as whether he too is lying now when he says he completed his National Guard service honorably.

Kerry is still losing this tangled argument. He might cut his losses by just admitting he was a war criminal but adding that he has been born again. Of course that would be called another flip-flop, so it probably wouldn’t help. Everything Kerry tries seems to backfire.

Desperately seeking a winning issue, Kerry has called the attention of the electorate to the fact that Bush’s middle initial — W — stands for wrong. (As in Bush is leading America in the “wrong direction.”) But this seems a risky ploy for a candidate whose middle initial is F. The Republicans can really go to town with that one, while Karl Rove demurely denies having anything to do with it.

Meanwhile, Florida is being battered with hurricanes (one of whose names, be it noted, also begins with F), and Bush has ordered $2 billion in Federal aid as well as mental health counselors sent to the state. Mental health counselors for hurricane victims! The Federal Government certainly thinks of everything.

[Breaker quote: Where Bush and Kerry agree]But Kerry isn’t making an issue of this, because he and Bush agree on one great principle: There should be no limits on the functions (or powers) of government.

Oh, here and there you’ll find some perfunctory dissent on this principle, but only in odd and ineffectual places, such as the U.S. Constitution and the Republican platform. Nobody reads them anyway. Hurricanes are a great opportunity for politicians to make compassionate gestures, and Bush, taking time out from the War on Terrorism, has personally visited Florida to pass out bottled water. A less concerned president might have delegated this task to his secretary of the interior.

Someone who’s out of touch with American politics — Thomas Jefferson, say — might think this campaign should revolve around the question of whether government should keep expanding. But Bush and Kerry are like a pair of obese men quarreling about which candy bar tastes best. Their minds are elsewhere. The questions that obsessed the Republic’s Founders don’t interest them at all.

Bush’s more conservative supporters argue, with some plausibility, that despite his staggering budgets, he’s still the lesser evil. Why? Because he will appoint somewhat less liberal Federal judges than Kerry will, and the Federal courts, in the long run, decide how much power the Federal Government shall have. U.S. Supreme Court justices long outlast the presidents who appoint them.

In the short run, of course, Bush has already managed to expand Federal power far more than Kerry would be likely to do. His court appointments might be bad enough, but Kerry’s, the argument goes, would be even worse. And in politics, the argument continues, you usually have to settle for the lesser evil.

That’s what conservatives do: They not only settle for him, they greet their anointed lesser evil with cheers, and balloons, and confetti, and high hopes, and all manner of excuses for the awful things he does when in power. All this enthusiasm springs from their conviction that the other guy would be even worse.

And that’s the real issue in every campaign: Which guy would be even worse? Given that question, you’d think the undecided vote this year would be 100 percent.

Joseph Sobran

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