November 23, 2003

Thinking About the Next Presidential Election

I'm somewhat of a political junkie (no! it's true!), so I take the position that it's never too early to be thinking about the next presidential election. Frankly, I'm depressed and annoyed.

I will state flat out: there is at this point not a single Democratic candidate that I could reasonably vote for. There's usually one at this point, but he always gets taken out during the primaries. (David Boren or Zell Miller should run, so that I could have a Democrat to think about voting for.) While the Democrat economic policies are usually disastrous or irrelevant, and their environmental policies are usually frivolous at best, these can be forgiven as long as they don't have the power to push their agenda through Congress. (The President is powerful in the short term, but aside from Supreme Court nominations, only the Congress can make long-term directional changes for the country.) What cannot be ignored is the default Democrat position that we should disarm, disengage and pray for peace. There are Democrat candidates who don't think this way (Gephardt I believe falls into this category, as apparently does Lieberman), but they don't do anything for me otherwise, and I don't believe that any of them would be able to appoint an administration that would be able to push through an aggressive foreign policy, because the majority of the Democrat party (from which every significant officeholder would come if any of the current candidates were elected) does not agree with that kind of policy.

Since 9/11, I cannot vote for the Libertarian candidate. The Libertarians have made opposition to war abroad a central position of their party. This is their right, but I cannot vote for them for Federal office as long as this is their stance. (If their candidate repudiates this stance, I'll reconsider.) While I'm normally sympathetic to this position, it's simply not a reasonable alternative in the post-9/11 world. I'd like not to find out one day that Baltimore or Seattle or Dallas no longer exists.

I am not sure about George Bush any more. I thought he was mostly harmless, and in some ways useful, prior to 9/11. I think that his handling of the aftermath to 9/11, including the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, were well planned, well run and the right places to be. But in other ways, the President has been a disappointment to me.

First, he has made no attempt to involve Americans in their own defense. We need to form local militias, organize civil defense and disaster preparedness training and so forth. We need to tell Americans not to rely on government for local defense, because the government simply cannot be everywhere (and we don't want them everywhere). While the President cannot directly control this, he has the bully pulpit, and his leadership would go a long way.

Second, the President has done nothing apparent to provide for the long-term war. We will need to be in Iraq, Syria and probably Saudi Arabia before this is over. While occupation of Iraq may well eventually bring freedom there, we cannot expect to get away without significant intervention from neighboring countries who are threatened by the prospect of a peaceful Iraq with a representative government. Right now, we have no way to really threaten, say, Iran, because we don't have the forces to undertake an offensive, while still holding down unrest in Iraq.

But the President has made no move to stand up more divisions. It takes a few years to do this, and instead we've been relying on Reserves and National Guard. Well, the regular Army is going to have a real problem with reenlistment, because they are spending all of their time deployed without any real recovery time, but this is nothing compared to the Reserves and Guard. We have maybe two to three years before we have a hollow force, unless we reduce our overseas commitments (European interventions and Korea would have to be the first to go, probably) or raise new units. We need at least three more divisions available, to ensure that we can continue our current levels in Afghanistan and Iraq for more than another two or three years. We need more than this if we are going to continue those commitments and maintain a force to threaten Iran or Syria or KSA.

Reimposition of the draft would solve the manpower retention problem, but at a huge cost in American values.

But as it is we appear to be doing nothing about this. And this is foursquare the responsibility of the President. I cannot vote for President Bush unless he can show me that he understands this problem and is working to resolve it. As it is, he seems focused on Medicare and similar issues which, while they need attention, could use less governmental involvement, rather than more. Spending $400 billion over 10 years would be fine if it didn't preclude appropriately sizing and aligning the force structure, but I cannot see the tax cuts, the massive new spending proposals and the war effort all getting done. Right now, the war effort seems to be taking third place, and that's a real problem. In fact, it's enough of a problem that right now I cannot see voting for George Bush next year.

So where does that leave me? I guess it leaves me hoping President Bush will start to show some sense about the long-term problem, and trust the American people enough to make it an election issue. At the same time, I'll be looking into the small parties (smaller even than the Libertarians) to see if there's anyone I can support.

UPDATE (11/25): See also Intel Dump. If these numbers are sustained, the two-year timeframe for personnel shortages will be optimistic; we could see the shortage inside of 18 months.

Posted by Jeff at November 23, 2003 02:47 PM | Link Cosmos

I've cast my last Libertarian vote too.

And I'm damn frustrated with Bush. He's saying the right words but he's not backing them up with enough action. We definitely need more occupation troops and there's no attempt to raise them. I don't think we'd need a draft. What we need is for Bush and Congress to go to high school graduations all over and *ASK* the boys to enlist. They will if they think they're needed, but they won't sign up to shuffle papers.

My problem with voting for a third party is that a vote for Bush may be the only way I have to reject the "let's surrender" attitude of Dean (assuming he's the nominee).

Posted by: Karl Gallagher on November 24, 2003 05:44 PM

That's pretty much the position I'm in. there's no one I want to vote for, but I'll probably vote for Bush because I'm more afraid of the Democrats.

The Bush administration missed a great opportunity to increase the number of troops. After Sept. 11 there were thousands of people who wanted to join the military who were just a few years too old. That would have been the perfect time to raise the cutoff age for new enlistees to 30. They could still do it but now it would seem like a desperate measure.

Posted by: Lynn S on November 25, 2003 08:47 AM

You're getting disgusted for military reasons, I'm getting disgusted for economic. The $400 million Medicare expansion just when we are recovering from recession and while we are still in a war stance seems like a sure-fire recipe for disaster. More government takeover of the private sector - and this is coming from the Republicans! Even Newt Gingrich got behind it at the last minute, which really surprised me.

I know reform of the system is necessary, but the way the bill kicks in, all the drug benefits come first, and all the private sector stuff comes later.

I'm becoming more convinced the GWB is going the same route as his father.

Posted by: Mark L on November 26, 2003 09:16 AM

Actually, I'm also frustrated with President Bush over programs like the prescription drugs "benefit." (Scare quotes on purpose.) There are two differences:

1. We could tack on $10 trillion in additional governmental costs over a decade, and do horrible things to our economy in the process, without materially affecting the long-term viability of the United States. While such a binge - even the relatively more benign binge we're already on - would cause all kinds of problems, and make the eventual solution of existing problems more difficult, it would not destroy the US or the idea of the US.

2. The Democrats would be worse, not better, on domestic spending and handing out my money to other people in general than are the Republicans.

What the Republicans need is another Ronald Reagan, and they aren't going to get one. Dick Armey would make a good candidate in some ways, and Newt Gingrich would as well. However, both have been so vilified by the Left that their essential thoughtfulness and moderation would not be visible; it would be thought of as a sham or a put-on.

Powell would likely be as bad on the spending binge side, as would McCain. I can't think of a moderate Republican who would and could put a stop to the spending binge, though I could think of several who would fix the military problem (including, probably, McCain). Even were there such a candidate, the Republicans cannot field him (or her - I'd put a bet on Condi Rice) until 2008.

Posted by: Jeff on November 26, 2003 09:42 AM
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