Monday, November 08, 2004

The Election: Values vs. Terrorism

In light of my previous comments on the role played by religious values in this election, it is important to point out that at least two sources have been interpreting the statistical evidence coming out of the exit polls quite differently. Paul Freedman of the liberal online magazine Slate offers the following analysis in a column entitled "The Gay Marriage Myth: Terrorism, not values, drove Bush's re-election":

More to the point, the morality gap didn't decide the election. Voters who cited moral issues as most important did give their votes overwhelmingly to Bush (80 percent to 18 percent), and states where voters saw moral issues as important were more likely to be red ones. But these differences were no greater in 2004 than in 2000. If you're trying to explain why the president's vote share in 2004 is bigger than his vote share in 2000, values don't help.

If the morality gap doesn't explain Bush's re-election, what does? A good part of the answer lies in the terrorism gap. Nationally, 49 percent of voters said they trusted Bush but not Kerry to handle terrorism; only 31 percent trusted Kerry but not Bush. This 18-point gap is particularly significant in that terrorism is strongly tied to vote choice: 99 percent of those who trusted only Kerry on the issue voted for him, and 97 percent of those who trusted only Bush voted for him. Terrorism was cited by 19 percent of voters as the most important issue, and these citizens gave their votes to the president by an even larger margin than morality voters: 86 percent for Bush, 14 percent for Kerry.

Another commentator offering a similar view is David Brooks, a NY Times columnists. In his column entitled "The Values-Vote Myth," he writes (free registration required to read the NYT article, the article may eventually not be freely available):

Much of the misinterpretation of this election derives from a poorly worded question in the exit polls. When asked about the issue that most influenced their vote, voters were given the option of saying "moral values." But that phrase can mean anything - or nothing. Who doesn't vote on moral values? If you ask an inept question, you get a misleading result.

The reality is that this was a broad victory for the president. Bush did better this year than he did in 2000 in 45 out of the 50 states. He did better in New York, Connecticut and, amazingly, Massachusetts. That's hardly the Bible Belt. Bush, on the other hand, did not gain significantly in the 11 states with gay marriage referendums.

He won because 53 percent of voters approved of his performance as president. Fifty-eight percent of them trust Bush to fight terrorism. They had roughly equal confidence in Bush and Kerry to handle the economy. Most approved of the decision to go to war in Iraq. Most see it as part of the war on terror.

Well, this is certainly good news. If these analyses are true then the majority of people who helped elect Bush did so because they thought he would be better at fighting the war, rather than as some kind of effort to impose religious values (for which there really wasn't that much evidence to begin with, at least so far).

With the present effort in Fallujah underway (Operation "Phantom Fury") I would like to remain optimistic, at least for a while, and await what the administration will do with respect to domestic and foreign policy. I suppose there really isn't a very good reason to expect drastic differences but at this point I'm inclined to give Bush the benefit of the doubt.

Friday, November 05, 2004

The Election Results: Implications & the War

I was happy to be proven right in the results of the elections, having predicted a little after the Democratic National Convention that the Kerry would lose. I admit to being a little worried by the constant media references to a "close race" but in the end I just could not believe that the majority of the American people were so dissatisfied with Bush as to elect somebody with the kind of history that Kerry had and positions that Kerry held throughout his Senate career. Actually that would have required more than dissatisfaction. It would have required the majority of this country to abandon its basic fighting spirit. And I just didn't think that would happen. While ultimately this is irrelevant, I admit to liking President Bush on a personal level much more than Senator Kerry. Despite many things that I think are wrong with President Bush, there is far more to respect about him than there ever was about Senator Kerry and that is part of the reason why I voted for Bush.

Of course, Kerry did not run his campaign as a leftist pacificist and Bush lacks much of the fighting spirit necessary to inspire a much clearer majority but nevertheless, for me at least that's what this election was about.

The media is presently reporting that according to exit polls "moral values, such as abortion" was the most important issue for the largest fraction (22%) of the electorate, with terrorism at 19%. This is a depressing statistic and is another piece of evidence confirming the increasing religious trend in this country that Dr. Peikoff detailed in his DIM Hypothesis Lectures. In fact, if Kerry had won I would have considered that evidence against Peikoff's view that the religious trend is increasing. However, before we get too alarmist I think this hopeful explicit statement on the issue from President Bush himself during his recent press conference needs to be taken into account:

Q Mr. President, your victory at the polls came about in part because of strong support from people of faith, in particular, Christian evangelicals and Pentecostals and others. And Senator Kerry drew some of his strongest support from those who do not attend religious services. What do you make of this religious divide, it seems, becoming a political divide in this country? And what do you say to those who are concerned about the role of a faith they do not share in public life and in your policies?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, my answer to people is, I will be your President regardless of your faith, and I don't expect you to agree with me necessarily on religion. As a matter of fact, no President should ever try to impose religion on our society.

A great -- the great tradition of America is one where people can worship the way they want to worship. And if they choose not to worship, they're just as patriotic as your neighbor. That is an essential part of why we are a great nation. And I am glad people of faith voted in this election. I'm glad -- I appreciate all people who voted. I don't think you ought to read anything into the politics, the moment, about whether or not this nation will become a divided nation over religion. I think the great thing that unites is the fact you can worship freely if you choose, and if you -- you don't have to worship. And if you're a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim, you're equally American. That is -- that is such a wonderful aspect of our society; and it is strong today and it will be strong tomorrow.

The above is a far better statement on this issue than that given by President Bush's father who did not seem to think that atheists really have a place in this country. Particularly as an Objectivist who believes that objective moral values, far from relying on religion, in fact come from recognizing the nature of man and his relation to this world, it is reassuring to hear the President proclaim that we can be "just as patriotic." I hope that this will not turn out to be idle rhetoric.

Now for the war. Here I think it is Bush's weaknesses that have been the primary reason why the race was so close. I came across a transcript of a fascinating lecture by Victor Davis Hanson called "What Would Patton Say About the Present War?" For me the money passage is the following:

But Patton would insist that it is only by military defeat and subsequent humiliation first that the supporters of terrorism against the West will understand the wages of their support for Islamic fascism. Once people in the Middle East, like the Germans, see that the Islamic fascists are defeated - and that all who support and condone that ideology are synonymous with it and thus must pay for their complicity through some measure of sacrifice and suffering - radical bellicose Islamicism really will end. Patton was quite clear about defeating, humiliating and then helping Germans - the proper order of such a progression in attitude being absolutely critical.
[Emphasis added]

I am heartened by the fact that a Conservative like Hanson understands the lesson that Patton taught. This is the kind of point that Dr. Peikoff and ARI Director Dr. Yaron Brook have been making in their recent speeches and lectures. Unfortunately the Bush administration seems to be operating under a different principle as illustrated by the following quote from the recent press conference:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. On foreign policy, more broadly, do you believe that America has an image problem in the world right now, because of your efforts and response to the 9/11 attacks? And, as you talked down the stretch about building alliances, talk about what you'll do to build on those alliances and to deal with these image problems, particularly in the Islamic world.

THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate that. Listen, I've made some very hard decisions: decisions to protect ourselves, decisions to spread peace and freedom. And I understand in certain capitals and certain countries, those decisions were not popular.
You know, you said -- you asked me to put that in the context of the response on September the 11th. The first response, of course, was chasing down the terror networks, which we will continue to do. And we've got great response around the world in order to do that. There's over 90 nations involved with sharing information, finding terrorists and bringing them to justice. That is a broad coalition, and we'll continue to strengthen it.

I laid out a doctrine, David, that said if you harbor terrorists, you're equally as guilty as the terrorists, and that doctrine was ignored by the Taliban, and we removed the Taliban. And I fully understand some people didn't agree with that decision. But I believe that when the American President speaks, he'd better mean what he says in order to keep the world peaceful. And I believe we have a solemn duty, whether or not people agree with it or not, to protect the American people. And the Taliban and their harboring of al Qaeda represented a direct threat to the American people.

And, of course, then the Iraq issue is one that people disagreed with. And there's no need to rehash my case, but I did so, I made the decision I made, in order to protect our country, first and foremost. I will continue to do that as the President. But as I do so, I will reach out to others and explain why I make the decisions I make.

There is a certain attitude in the world, by some, that says that it's a waste of time to try to promote free societies in parts of the world. I've heard that criticism. Remember, I went to London to talk about our vision of spreading freedom throughout the greater Middle East. And I fully understand that that might rankle some, and be viewed by some as folly. I just strongly disagree with those who do not see the wisdom of trying to promote free societies around the world.

If we are interested in protecting our country for the long-term, the best way to do so is to promote freedom and democracy. And I -- I simply do not agree with those who either say overtly or believe that certain societies cannot be free. It's just not a part of my thinking. And that's why during the course of the campaign, I was -- I believe I was able to connect, at least with those who were there, in explaining my policy, when I talked about the free election in Afghanistan.

There were -- there was doubt about whether or not those elections would go forward. I'm not suggesting any of you here expressed skepticism. But there was. There was deep skepticism, and -- because there is a attitude among some that certain people may never be free -- they just don't long to be free or incapable of running an election. And I disagree with that. And the Afghan people, by going to the polls in the millions, proved -- proved that this administration's faith in freedom to change peoples' habits is worthy. And that will be a central part of my foreign policy. And I've got work to do to explain to people about why that is a central part of our foreign policy. I've been doing that for four years.

But if you do not believe people can be free and can self-govern, then all of a sudden the two-state solution in the Middle East becomes a moot point, invalid. If you're willing to condemn a group of people to a system of government that hasn't worked, then you'll never be able to achieve the peace. You cannot lead this world and our country to a better tomorrow unless you see a better -- if you have a vision of a better tomorrow. And I've got one, based upon a great faith that people do want to be free and live in democracy.

The best part of the president's strategy is his statement "if you harbor terrorists, you're equally as guilty as the terrorists." The worst part derives from his continued insistence on referrring to the enemy as "terrorism." As Victor Hanson has stated:

Applying Patton's thinking to today's situation, we can first recognize the so-called "war on terror" as a misnomer. There has never really been a war against a method other than something like Pompey's crusade against the pirates or the British effort to stifle the slave trade. In fact, we're no more in a war against terror than Patton was fighting against Tiger and Panzer tanks. Patton, who understood the hold of a radically triumphalist Nazism on a previously demoralized German people, would have the intellectual honesty to realize that we are at war with Islamic fascists, mostly from the Middle East, who have played on the frustrations of mostly male, unemployed young people, whose autocratic governments can't provide the conditions for decent employment and family life. A small group of Islamists appeals to the angst of the disaffected through a nostalgic and reactionary turn to a mythical Caliphate, in which religious purity trumps the material advantages of a decadent West and protects Islamic youth from the contamination of foreign gadgetry and pernicious ideas. In some ways, Hitler had created the same pathology in Germany in the 1930s.

The refusal by Bush to name the enemy severely constrains his actions. It implies that if only the few terrrorists and their immediate supporters go away, the enemy will be defeated. However, a recognition that the enemy is ideologically driven would imply that while the present violent representatives of the ideology must be killed or captured, the basis for any belief in the ideological goals must be completely destroyed. This is the "humiliation" that Hanson argued Patton thought necessary. And unfortunately it seems to be largely missing from our strategy.

Next I would criticise Bush's "faith in freedom." The issue is not that I believe that there's some inherent biological reason why people in the Middle East cannot be free. The issue is again, ideological. If freedom, as we understand the term, is not a value to people due to their own beliefs then they will neither seek nor accept it. This is the Libertarian mistake -- to assume that everybody would really support liberty and that no specific moral ideas are necessary to ground it. But liberty as we understand it is a completely different idea from freedom as an Islamic Fundamentalist would hold, or a Nazi or a Communist. It is not a self-evident idea. It is an intellectual achievement that the West took centuries to reach. To assume that the culture of the Middle East is such as to be presently conducive to freedom as we understand the term, is to admit one's ignorance of that culture. The fact that man needs freedom (properly understood) in order to live and live well, does not mean that any given man understands that. And in the Middle East in particular, with its numerous irrational and barbarous religious and tribal traditions, and conspiracy mentality the problem of introducing rule of law, individual rights and representative governments is a daunting one indeed. It would be helped if the existing ideas had at least been discredited and if we properly understood, were confident about, and propagated our own ideas and political system, something which has not been the case so far.

It is hoped that the Bush administration will be more agressive in its war strategy in its second term, though in some ways this is doubtful. If as Dr. Brook has argued, the administration is guided by Just War theory (for details, see here and here), then it is likely that the war will continue to be pursued by less than fully effective means. It is also hoped that we will target Iran next, an action, which as Scott Holleran has pointed out, is 25 years overdue. It remains to be seen what the administration will do. Perhaps it will surprise us.
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