Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Andrew Sullivan Climbs Aboard

Last week I claimed that while Daniel Drezner's Kerry endorsement should spell the end of the election, in all practical effect it would push Andrew Sullivan toward our side. And lo and behold, he has now announced his (very unhappy) endorsement of John Kerry. Unlike Drezner's endorsement, which was somewhat reserved, Sullivan seems to be phenomonally distressed by both candidates. He writes on Kerry:
I know few people enthused about John Kerry. His record is undistinguished, and where it stands out, mainly regrettable. He intuitively believes that if a problem exists, it is the government's job to fix it. He has far too much faith in international institutions, like the corrupt and feckless United Nations, in the tasks of global management. He got the Cold War wrong. He got the first Gulf War wrong. His campaign's constant and excruciating repositioning on the war against Saddam have been disconcerting, to say the least. I completely understand those who look at this man's record and deduce that he is simply unfit to fight a war for our survival. They have an important point--about what we know historically of his character and his judgment when this country has faced dire enemies. His scars from the Vietnam War lasted too long and have gone too deep to believe that he has clearly overcome the syndrome that fears American power rather than understands how to wield it for good.

Sullivan also sings praises of Bush, at least early in his term. So why is voting for Kerry? The title says it all: Risk Management. The risks of a Kerry presidency (inaction, indecisiveness) are far less dangerous in the world we're facing than Bush's (hubris, arrogance). He argues:
In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush administration has shown itself impatient with and untalented at nation-building. Moreover, the toll of the war has left the United States with minimal international support, one important ingredient for the successful rebuilding of nations. If Bush is reelected, even Britain will likely shift toward withdrawal in Iraq, compounding American isolation there and making it even harder for a new Iraqi government to gain legitimacy. In the essential tasks of building support for greater international help in Iraq--financially, militarily, diplomatically--Kerry is the better choice. No, other countries cannot bail us out or even contribute much in the way of an effective military presence. But within Iraq, the impact of a more international stamp on the occupation and on the elections could help us win the battle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis. That battle--as much as the one on the battlefield itself--is crucial for success. I fear Bush is too polarizing, too controversial, too loathed a figure even within his own country, to pull this off.

The president says that he alone can act militarily when the danger is there; and Kerry is too weak for our current crisis. I disagree. The chance of a third forced regime change somewhere in the world in the next four years is extremely low. We don't even have the troops. Bush's comparative advantage--the ability to pull the trigger when others might balk--will be largely irrelevant. That doesn't mean it hasn't come in handy. Without Bush, Saddam would still be in power. But just because the president was suited to fight the war for the last four years doesn't mean he is suited to succeed at the more complicated and nuanced tasks of the next four. In fact, some of the very virtues that made him suited to our past needs now make him all the more unsuited to our future ones. I am still glad he was president when we were attacked. But that doesn't mean he's the right leader for the years ahead. And one of the great benefits of being a democracy at war is that we can change leaders and tactics to advance the same goals. Dictatorships are stuck with the same guy--with all his weaknesses and all the hubris that comes from running successful wars, hubris that almost always leads to fatal errors, hubris that isn't restricted to tyrants.

Does Kerry believe in this war? Skeptics say he doesn't. They don't believe he has understood the significance of September 11. They rightly point to the antiwar and anti-Western attitudes of some in his base--the Michael Moores and Noam Chomskys who will celebrate a Kerry victory. I understand their worries. But they should listen to what Kerry has said. The convention was a remarkable event in that it pivoted the Democratic Party toward an uncomplicated embrace of the war on terror. Kerry has said again and again that he will not hesitate to defend this country and go on the offensive against Al Qaeda. I see no reason whatsoever why he shouldn't. What is there to gain from failure in this task? He knows that if he lets his guard down and if terrorists strike or succeed anywhere, he runs the risk of discrediting the Democrats as a party of national security for a generation. He has said quite clearly that he will not "cut and run" in Iraq. And the truth is: He cannot. There is no alternative to seeing the war through in Iraq. And Kerry's new mandate and fresh administration will increase the options available to us for winning. He has every incentive to be tough enough but far more leeway to be flexible than the incumbent.

Not a rousing endorsement, to be sure. But perhaps one that is very relevant to those swing voters who liked the Bush who was president on 9/12/01 but aren't comfortable with him now.

Meanwhile, Editor and Publisher conducts an informal analysis of its ongoing Newspaper Endorsement tally. Kerry has a big advantage, and they dispel the myth that most papers go to Democrats, E&P notes that the 72 largest papers split virtually evenly for Bush vs. Gore in 2000 (they're 3 to 2 for Kerry this year), and an analysis of ALL papers shows that normally they go Republican, making Kerry's immense endorsement edge even more telling. E&P does a state-by-state analysis which reflects this advantage, but what's most interesting is Florida, which many people think is tipping ever-so-slightly to Bush. They note that Kerry has gained the endorsement of the states eight largest papers (not counting the traditionally Republican Tampa Tribune, which refused to endorse anyone). When Bush's top (indeed only) supporters in the state is The Lakeland Ledger and Ocala Star-Banner, there are problems. But E&P goes further, making perhaps the ballsiest call of the election so far:
So let's give this state to Kerry. In fact, if Bush pulls this one out, E&P promises never to give any weight to editorial endorsements in the future.

Never give ANY weight to editorial endorsements? That's putting alot on the line for a state that appears to lean (albeit very slightly) Republican.

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