Sunday, October 31, 2004

Why Not Kerry

Saint Augustine speaks in his Confessions of his eagerness to meet and hear the Manichean hero Faustus who had a great reputation for eloquence. Upon finally hearing him explain the Manichean philosophy, however, Augustine was disappointed, not in Faustus' agility with the language, but rather in his ideas. He writes:

"[Faustus' ideas] seemed to me no better merely because [they] were expressed better, nor true because eloquent....[People] thought him wise simply because they liked his speaking....[Yet] a thing was not bound to be true because uttered eloquently, nor false because the utterance of the lips is ill-arranged....plain or beautiful language may clothe wisdom or folly indifferently."

These words come to mind as we reflect upon the political campaign which is heading for its denouement this Tuesday. John Kerry has said much these last twelve months and much of it he has delivered with great oratorical flourish and skill. President Bush, on the other hand, will never be considered to be the second coming of Demosthenes. Even so, eloquence has nothing to do with either truth or wisdom, and we shouldn't be blinded to the import and truth of one's words by the raiment in which they are attired.

To assess whether Senator Kerry has the "Right Stuff" to be president one needs to attend not merely to what he says or how seductively he says it, but rather to what he has accomplished in his public life.

In the early seventies the young John Kerry played a significant role in getting the United States to abandon the South Vietnamese to the armies of Ho Chi Minh resulting in the slaughter or imprisonment of tens of thousands of people who had placed their hope and trust in the U.S. to defend them. John Kerry's efforts to end our involvement in the war included defaming the American military and indirectly making life worse for the P.O.W.s being held in North Vietnam. For his contribution to an eventual N.V.A. victory he has had his photograph placed on a wall of honor in a North Vietnamese war museum.

We may argue about the quality of his judgment, or whether his behavior was actually treasonous or not. But what seems to be beyond dispute is that the North Vietnamese saw him as an ally, or, in Lenin's terms, at the least a "useful idiot", in their struggle against the United States.

Moreover, Mr. Kerry saw that war as a colossal mistake, a tragic blunder, and his prescription was to pull out immediately. Today we're engaged in another war which Senator Kerry regards as a colossal mistake and a tragic blunder. He says that as president he will nevertheless prosecute it until we win, but what in his record gives us reason to believe he's being truthful? If he was right about Vietnam he has no reason to treat Iraq any differently, and if he now thinks he was wrong about Vietnam he has never said so. If personal history is a reliable guide, a President Kerry will pull our troops out of Iraq as soon as he can, and the Iraqi people will be at the mercy of the brutal thugs who circle like hyenas waiting for the opportunity to destroy the Iraqi experiment in freedom and all who have put their trust in America to see that experiment through.

In the eighties Mr. Kerry was elected to the Senate where he compiled a record noteworthy only for it's un-noteworthiness. After twenty years of service he has no significant legislation to his credit, he has served in no real leadership capacity, he amassed a voting record that has placed him among the most left-wing members of the Senate, and his attendance at committee meetings has been abysmal. He voted consistently to raise taxes, diminish the military, and weaken our intelligence gathering capabilities. There is nothing in his tenure in Congress which exhibits the grain of presidential timber, which is doubtless why his acceptance speech at the convention last July doted so lovingly on his Vietnam service and hardly at all on his Senate career.

Since the convention he has spent the campaign blaming George Bush for everything from vaccine shortages to alleged missing explosives in Iraq, as if Bush worked in the lab that produced the vaccine and was himself standing guard at al Qaqaa. His campaign has been marked by charges and allegations which have either a very tenuous hold on, or are completely divorced from, reality. He has faulted "this president" for a terrible economy despite the fact that unemployment is lower now than it was during the Clinton years. He has faulted "this president" for invading Iraq without the blessing of the French, even though the French had been bought by Saddam and nobody could have persuaded them to join the coalition that was about to derail their oil-for-food gravy train. He faulted this president for botching the post-war in Iraq even though the Iraqi economy is strengthening almost daily, Iraqis are on track to hold the first democratic elections in their history in a few months, and 25 million of them are free of state terror for the first time in generations. Moreover, the insurgency in Iraq is in its death throes as the Iraqi military and police gain in competence and numbers and assume the delicate task of killing the Islamo-terrorists without antagonizing the Muslim citizenry.

Mr. Kerry's attempts during the campaign to appear pious and "manly" seem contrived and spurious. He has made it a point to attend church services every Sunday the last few months, but this is in stark contrast to the pattern he has established throughout his adult life. His goose-hunting foray was made risible by his purchase of the required license when he asked a clerk if he could "get me a hunting license here."

He repeatedly gives the impression of being willing to say or do anything in order to squeeze an extra vote or two out of his audience. His eagerness to castigate the President over the al Qaqaa story without knowing whether the reports were true or not is but the latest example of a reckless opportunism that goes back at least to his military days.

The Senator has manufactured crises where no crisis exists. He has accused this administration of blocking stem cell research, of planning to suppress the minority vote, of planning to deprive the elderly of social security, of planning to reinstate the draft, but none of these allegations is even remotely true, or even plausible. Similarly untrue are claims he has made for himself such as the claim to have met with the members of the Security Council for in-depth discussions prior to the invasion of Iraq, a claim flatly denied by the relevant U.N. representatives.

John Kerry himself promises us that he has a "plan" for every ill besetting our polity, but either his plan looks very similar to what the President is already doing, as in his plan for Iraq, or the numbers in his plan don't add up, as in his plan to rollback the Bush tax cut and to use that revenue to pay for all the programs he has promised. Or, most often, the plan goes unarticulated and remains a mystery.

Mr. Kerry can lay claim to only a single qualification for the presidency, if it even be a qualification: He is an eloquent and persuasive speaker. But as Augustine pointed out over 1600 years ago, eloquence has nothing to do with truth. Nor does it have anything much to do with leadership. Like pumice stone which gives the appearance of possessing weight, but which, upon hefting, one is surprised to find so airy, John Kerry's rhetorical graces mask an inner lightness that is totally inadequate for the stresses and tests which lie ahead of our nation.

In these times we need a president who has demonstrated both leadership and character. George Bush is not perfect, but he possesses those two particular virtues in abundance. John Kerry, by contrast, is a "hollow man" who has never evinced either. He offers no compelling reason to elect him and numerous reasons to blanch at the thought of a Kerry presidency. Viewpoint urges its readers not to base their votes on Tuesday upon superficial eloquence but rather upon each man's character and the capacity each has demonstrated to lead us in the continuing war against Islamo-fascist terrorism.