President Bush sank his own ship in first term

by Steve Chapman

At the age of 50, I get few chances to try something entirely new. Come Tuesday, I plan to take one of those rare opportunities. I’m going to vote for a Democrat for president.
I’ve never done it before, and I hope I never have to do it again. But George W. Bush has made an irresistible case against his own re-election. His first term has been one of the most dismal and costly failures of any presidency. His second promises to be even worse.

I know there are people for whom voting Democratic comes easily. Not me. Contemplating the prospect, I feel how I did a few years ago when I took up downhill skiing: not sure I would like it, and apprehensive of the risks involved. I cast my first presidential ballot in 1972 for Richard Nixon, and since then I have alternated between voting Republican and voting Libertarian.

John Kerry is not an inspiring candidate. He’s a believer in expensive government solutions, a defender of abortion rights, and a supporter of the congressional resolution that gave President Bush the authority to invade Iraq. I’m a small-government, pro-life libertarian who thought the war was a terrible idea from the start.

But I can’t vote Republican this year — and the stakes demand using any available instrument to remove Bush. Kerry is not the ideal instrument, just as a rubber raft is not the optimal vessel on the open sea. But when the ship is sinking, you can’t be choosy.

One of the most heartening positions Bush took in 2000 was to reject using the U.S. military for nation-building. I hoped he would reverse President Clinton’s habit of risking American lives on missions that didn’t enhance American security. Instead, Bush has embraced that approach in spades, taking possession of a country that posed no appreciable threat to us.

Now we are mired in a war that Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Richard Myers has said there is “no way to militarily win.” For that, we can thank Bush.

As for the broader terrorist threat, we can also thank him for shortchanging the program to dismantle Russian nuclear weapons — which may someday wind up with al Qaeda. More of those potentially “loose nukes” were destroyed in the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks than in the two years after.

The war in Iraq is one reason government has expanded over the past four years. But only one reason. At his worst, Kerry would be hard-pressed to fatten the bureaucracy as much as Bush has done. Under Bush, domestic discretionary outlays unrelated to homeland security have risen far faster than under Clinton.

The incumbent would have us believe that by cutting taxes, we can get more government for less. In fact, if you cut taxes while increasing outlays, you’re not cutting taxes, just postponing them. We’ll be paying for Bush’s deficits for a long time.

Anyone who is sincerely pro-life may be inclined to vote for Bush on that issue alone. But when it comes to abortion, Bush has provided mostly words, and not many of them. His policy against embryonic stem-cell research deals only with federal funding — a politically attractive “compromise” that doesn’t prevent human embryos from being destroyed for scientific research.

The right-to-life movement’s support of Bush rests mainly on the hope that he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. But a reversal of that decision is unlikely no matter whom he picks — and I doubt Bush really wants it overturned, lest Republicans pay a political price.

The only realistic way to combat abortion is to work ceaselessly over time to change attitudes about it. Bush, in his cowardly refusal to exercise leadership on the issue, has done nothing to change attitudes.

Respect for life, however, goes beyond abortion. The other big issue for “seamless garment” pro-lifers like me, who reject the taking of human life except in self-defense, is the death penalty. There, Bush is proudly in favor of killing people to teach us that killing people is wrong.

Kerry, it’s true, is worse than Bush on some issues. But he can probably pass a test that Bush has failed, namely, avoiding catastrophe.

His presidency would also restore something valuable: Divided government. Unlike Bush, Kerry would face a Congress dominated by the opposition party. As Cato Institute Executive Vice President David Boaz puts it, “Republicans wouldn’t give Kerry every bad thing he wants, and they do give Bush every bad thing he wants.”

Bad things have been the hallmark of the Bush presidency, from either a conservative or a liberal perspective. On Tuesday, we can let him expand the grave damage he has done to the national interest — or we can hold him accountable. I’ll vote for John Kerry without high hopes or enthusiasm, but vote for him I will.

Steve Chapman writes for Creators Syndicate.