John Scalzi is arguing that there’s no possible way even a conservative would want to vote for Bush this year. Now, I hate Bush as much as the next guy, but I do think Scalzi is missing a couple of points. The crux of the argument is the following rhetorical question:
Why on earth would you vote for a guy who wants to expand the size of the federal government, increase deficit government spending, curtail personal liberties, bring the government into your homes and churches and then stick your children with the bill?
He makes a great point: in many cases Bush seems to be going against core Republican values. Unfortunately, I think such an analysis neglects the real source of the groundswell for Bush:
- Bush supporters believe Bush will appoint Supreme court justices opposed to abortion rights and will veto laws expanding abortion rights
- Bush supporters believe Bush will not raise taxes
- Bush supporters like his “compassionate conservative” image and so believe he will not cut programs that benefit them
- Bush supporters believe that Bush places the proper emphasis on security over individual liberties
- Bush supporters appreciate Bush’s expansion of “freedom” of religion — the “faith-based” initiatives and efforts to bring prayer back into schools. They love having an evangelical Christian in the White House.
Now, as Scalzi points out, cutting taxes while simultaneously increasing spending is not exactly a conservative government policy, but by looking over the list above, we can see that other than cutting taxes, none of the reasons Bush has strong support have anything to do with conservative values. The divide in America is not, in fact, a conservative/liberal divide, it is a divide between moral absolutism and moral relativism. It’s Plato versus the sophists.
Plato tells us that all truth comes from God, and there’s no disputing an absolute truth. The sophists counter with “how can you be so sure there is a God, and even if there was one, how would you know that he was infallible?” God-fearing Athenians didn’t like the message they were hearing from the sophists, so Plato and Aristotle won out.
Given a choice between an inept absolutist and a competent relativist, a huge chunk — let’s say 40 percent — of Americans will vote for absolutism every time. That means Bush only needs to get another 10 percent of the vote to win. Unfortunately, most of the time, at least 10 percent will say “you had me at ‘tax cut,'” regardless of whether this is a wise fiscal policy.
Kerry really has two choices: he can try to eat into the 40 percent who support Bush because of his moral absolutism, or he can try to knock some sense into the 10-percent-plus who’d like to continue running our country on credit. His biggest problem is that he’s always trying to do both things, which only makes him look worse to the absolutists. He’d do better with the absolutists if he came up with a single plan and stuck with it, whether or not the plan actually makes any sense. He’d do better with the tax-hounds if he argued consistently for a fairer tax code, one that doesn’t privilege the wealthy, whether or not it was really possible to achieve such a thing. There’s no need for Kerry to dwell on Bush’s ineptitude. Bush can handle that one on his own.