Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Boston and New York

The Democratic convention in Boston underscores how deeply September 11 has changed the political landscape for diametrically opposite reasons. For many conservatives the attack represented the first shot in a war waged against America. In contrast many liberals felt it was the response to the attack that opened hostilities against America; that there was no war except that which we subsequently called down on our feckless heads. John Kerry's slogan to 'restore respect for America abroad' and to 'make it safer' are an explicit accusation that we have created, or at least amplified the danger which faces us now.

Andrew Sullivan's belief that John Kerry will be Bush -- only a better Bush -- founders on this syllogism: Kerry cannot logically continue Bush's essential strategy, however competently, because according to the premise it is that strategy which is the fundamental source of peril. The honest thing to do; and for many liberals the right thing to do, is to reverse course as decently as possible. Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero believed that the campaign in Iraq served no purpose; and in accordance with his thinking withdrew the Spanish contingent without regard for the consequences to the interim Iraqi government. Whatever else his shortcomings, the Spanish Prime Minister knew how to follow his own argument to its logical conclusion.

Although the exigencies of politics and the need to attract away the conservative fringe (by playing Amazing Grace for example) may keep John Kerry from being forthright it cannot obscure the fact that two opposing, and therefore contradictory visions, are contending for the electorate this November. The first argues that despite the shortcomings of multilateralism, diplomacy and concession, it is still the best way to settle accounts with radical Islam. It will concede that more might have been done to prevent September 11 but it will maintain steadfastly that the alternative, which was to strike at enemies the way they have struck at us is fundamentally wrong and dangerous. And by exclusion it will maintain that whatever the dangers of Clintonian policy the world was safer then than it is today. Ths second point of view will argue that eight years of wilfull blindness; supporting Bosnian Muslims; ignorning the A. Q. Khan network of nuclear proliferation, buying North Korea its own reactors and receiving Yasser Araft at the White House; the whole policy of concession, bought not a whit of safety. It will argue that our enemies are even now on the point of obtaining nuclear weapons to turn against us, and will if we return to the policies of the past. It will concede that there have been disappointments in Iraq, but that by any historical yardstick our progress to victory -- and here is the unique word -- has been steady, irresistable and therefore inevitable.

This post is not the place to argue in favor of one or the other: but to maintain that the choices are distinct. That is why many Democrats want George Bush out with an almost religious fervor and why many conservatives are fighting for his re-election as if their lives depended on it, because they think it does. Current polls show the candidates nearly level, which means that when the choice is finally made in November, the nation will decide by the slimmest of margins which point of view will grip the wheel. The final count will not so much end the series as send it into overtime. At stake are the lives our children -- whose fates will be determined by what we do or refuse to do -- after Boston and New York.