Sunday, 31 October 2004

The Weight of Decision

Those of us for whom the upcoming decision is blazingly obvious, aren't likely to properly appreciate the burden currently felt by millions of Americans. Those who take their civic responsibility seriously realize the significance of this decision, and based on the premises and beliefs they bring with them, many are being powerfully pulled in two or more directions. And make no mistake, this burden is also being felt even by many who already know for whom they will vote, or who have voted already.

On the right, many who are committed to conservative ideals are deeply troubled by both the fiscal irresponsibility of the Bush administration and the empire building of the neocons running our foreign policy. The American Conservative, magazine founded by Pat Buchanan, had editorial endorsements of five different presidential candidates, as well as one endorsement for not voting. Scott McConnell, in his tepid endorsement of Kerry for this election only, wrote:
Bush has behaved like a caricature of what a right-wing president is supposed to be, and his continuation in office will discredit any sort of conservatism for generations. The launching of an invasion against a country that posed no threat to the U.S., the doling out of war profits and concessions to politically favored corporations, the financing of the war by ballooning the deficit to be passed on to the nation’s children, the ceaseless drive to cut taxes for those outside the middle class and working poor: it is as if Bush sought to resurrect every false 1960s-era left-wing cliché about predatory imperialism and turn it into administration policy.
Buchanan's own endorsement of Bush was equally tepid, while other editors ready to throw their votes to third parties, even to Nader, managed considerably more ardor in their editorials.

On the left, those who rail against the blind faith in corporate beneficence, and the commodification of everything, remain dismayed at the utter abandonment of the rank and file for the corporate dollars seen as necessary for the survival of the party by McAuliffe and the Democratic Leadership Council. There is an argument, essentially the same as McConnell's, but from the perspective that discrediting conservatism for generations would be a welcome long-term development, that a Bush win is actually better long term for the progressive cause. But most compassionate progressives reject such a view:
A traditional revolutionary view of the current scene is tempting: things have to get a lot worse before they can get better. There is not nearly enough pain yet to ignite a revolution, so bring it on. That is how the line of reason goes. Bring on the pain! Revolution, the sooner the better! Of course, the fallacy of this extreme Leftist/Socialist world view follows from their compassion being rooted in their heads, not in their hearts. One cannot dwell in compassion and choose pain for others. Therefore, the irony of choosing strategic suffering should not be tenable—an interesting idea perhaps, but certain to cause great harm."

In the center there is no less angst. Even those not in battleground states worry about the legacy of their vote, when they feel that so much rides on the outcome. Many of strong faith, for instance, are deeply conflicted by what they see as vital moral deficiencies on both sides of the ledger. One such Texan writes:
In my gut, I feel myself ardently hoping for a Kerry win because, among other things, I think it would save the Republican party from the grip of the irresponsible extremists now running the show. The politics of ignorance, fear, and incompetence will have been repudiated, and such would, it seems to me, be good for the whole country as well. Changing horses midstream when your horse is drowning is a perfectly reasonable choice. But in my mind, I think of the unborn lives, those out-of-sight-out-of-mind living statistics, that might be saved as a fairly direct result of a second Bush term, and I can't help thinking that would be worth it.
but three days later resolves his dilemma "I can't support a president singularly for that fact when he has proven a complete disaster everywhere else. I just won't be held hostage."

Here I have brought together three radically disparate perspectives. What they share I believe is an ardent desire to do the right thing in civic duty to their nation. The fact that these three all ultimately decided to pull the lever for Kerry perhaps has more to do with the fact that I, a Kerry supporter, was the selector. It would be possible to quote a wildly disparate group of earnest voters who have decided to support Bush. The point is that our nation benefits from the rational discourse among those willing to put principles ahead of politics. What I want deeply for our nation is an ability for our citizens to hear each other above the platitudes. For pro-choice Americans, like myself, to refrain from assuming that pro-lifers are hypocrites who care nothing about the fate of the babies they want to save. For Libertarians to understand that a desire to rein in the excesses of corporate behavior is not necessarily driven by a simplistic notion that government can solve all our problems. For pacifists, like me, to realize that some of the neocons really do have noble motives behind their willingness to use military force, in spite of our insistence that it is a morally untenable policy. For conservative Christians to realize that secular liberals can be motivated by deeply held moral principles. And so on. It is always possible to find adherents of any position who are shallow and simplistic, or who are mean and motivated primarily by selfish interests. But there are many on all sides who are genuinely trying to balance ideals with realism.

Yes, in the end it is impossible to have a policy that embodies all positions. At times compromise will prevent the best potential of an idea from ever coming to fruition. But in a pluralistic society, compromise we must. The world is a scary place, and it's easy to see the potential for disaster. But if we look hard enough we might discover that people of differing assumptions actually do have dialogs which lead to useful solutions, even in the contentious halls of Congress.

One of the ironies of this bitter election season has been the extent to which it has brought home for me, how much I really do love my country. Let's resolve to continue to take care of it to the best of our abilities regardless of the outcome next week.

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