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CURMUDGEONRY
'The Issues' as Phony Campaign Issue #5
Competence stands alone, win or lose.

by Barnabas
July 28, 2004

As I write this, the Democratic convention is getting under way. After it is over the Democrats will make a pretext of "running on their platform," as the Republicans will next month.

I have just scanned a summary of the proposed Democratic platform and found it a comic document. This is not a partisan judgment, because I expect the Republican platform to be just as funny when it comes around.

The subjects addressed in the platform are serious enough.The comedy is that, when the time comes and no matter who wins, the performances of the winners will little resemble the highfalutin hopes of their platform.The real issues are too complex for simpleminded campaign speeches, so I name "the issues" as a Phony Campaign Issue."Talking about the issues" sounds like a mature exercise, but it’s an actually an escape from engaging the only real question we are qualified to address--our judgment as to the competence of the candidates.

I’m not endorsing ad hominem campaigning, arguments that address personal qualities, what you like and dislike.

I had my say about that in Jane Fonda and Bush's Dentist back in February. What we need is a campaign that focuses on performance—not only what the candidates have done and are doing but also how they are doing it Liberalism and conservativism counts for naught if your performance is a failure.

The incumbent is the one in the hot seat, because he’s the one who has performed in the office; the challenger must not fail in the campaign. Is President Bush a failure as President? After reviewing my references to him in the last two years, the accumulative effect of my comments is, "Yes, I think so." I kept looking for a turn-around that never happened, a sense that he had learned something that would correct his course—not to become a Democrat, but to do something that works on his own terms. Not much has, and on the biggest task, nothing big. Time may have already run out for him.

Here is a selection of unconnected comments from my columns, related to his performance of the last two years.

The President ... needs a lot more followers and allies than he has now, and he has to get rid of the "me" and "I" language if he is going to persuade us that war is morally right, politically necessary, and strategically winnable. –August 7, 2002

The language of history and mandate is journalistic puffery. For a mandate, you need a considered response, not an emotional reaction; a scared-stiff electorate is a fickle support base for any political purpose, much less for total war. –November 7, 2002

The government is turning us into chickens, and then justifying any means it can to gather us under its wings. –January 15, 2003

I would hate to see World War III start as the result of committee speculation. "Is this what we meant by a smoking gun? Do you think? Oh well. Bombs away." –January 22, 2003

Good guys don’t start wars; they finish them. They fight wars that bad guys start, in order to end the disaster with as little loss as possible. At the end, a lot of people may be free that were not otherwise, but that is a happy accident instead of a predictable result. A great many others will be dead. –January 29, 2003

The United States will not be humiliated if we succeed in humiliating Saddam beyond recovery. But if the conflict is very bloody, the world may perceive us as bullies and thugs. –March 19, 2003

To take your gun to town and lose is to lose everything. But winners may also lose big. –March 19, 2003

There is no moral clarity, however, in laying conflicting interests side by side and then claiming a equal devotion to both; specifically, claiming a commitment to political and economic freedom abroad, then trumping it with an assertion of goals of security and prosperity for yourselves. That is called "talking out of both sides of your mouth" — an announcement to the world that you can't be trusted. –March 26, 2003

If we insist that we didn’t underestimate anything and will prevail if we keep doing what we are doing, we’ll have history against us and our own citizens too. To set ourselves up to lose is understandable, because we never know as much we think we do; but to persist in it is the Vietnam Error. –August 22, 2003

...what else but *police state* does justice to the proposed "broad new authority" given the police to raid our homes and examine our records on the basis of no authority higher than their own? That is what a police state is and does. It prostitutes the noble profession of the police and disgraces their name. –September 17, 2003

If [the gay marriage amendment] were a presidential issue, the President’s goal would be passage of the Amendment. He would have guaranteed in advance the enthusiastic and informed backing of his congressional leaders and of his party’s state governors. But a candidate’s goal is nothing so sustained and laborious as getting an amendment through Congress and the state legislatures. Grabbing front-page headlines in the major daily papers is goal enough, and Candidate Bush achieved that. –March 3, 2004



About the Author:
Barnabas knows that the world is more than an American political campaign, and hopes to say so again soon.


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