The Unstoppable Dan

I live in the 5th Congressional District, currently served by Republican Dan Burton. He is being opposed by Democrat Katherine Carr and Green candidate Clark Field.

Dan is a pretty typical conservative Republican, with all (good or bad) that implies. His positions are pretty much what you’d expect. Carr, on the other hand, is clearly on the liberal side of the Democratic Party.

Much of her rhetoric on the issues page is extreme, simplistic, and just unrealistic. At times, she seems to be running more against the President than against Dan Burton. But then there are the places where she descends into the depths of insanity:

The way we have removed Saddam Hussein from power is similar to buying a new car for a million dollars. Is the new car better than our old car? Certainly. Was it worth a million dollars? Probably not, because we’ve now found out that our old car’s engine isn’t blown like the salesman said, it just needed an oil change.

This analogy is disgusting. Killing hundreds of thousands of people and dumping them in mass graves isn’t anything like buying a car.

I suspect you can gather by now how I plan on voting in this race.

Hint to the Democrats: if you want to run in a more-or-less conservative district, run a moderate-to-conservative Democrat. You managed to figure this out with Senator Bayh. Is this just another example of resource allocation, or are there no non-moonbat Democrats in the 5th District?

The Invisible Candidate

Imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I learned that there is, indeed, a Senate seat up for election in Indiana.

Months have passed since any awake citizen could have been confused about the elections for President or Indiana Governor. Signs, stickers, and buttons have been everywhere, candidate news has been on the front pages and top stories lists of every news outlet, and there have been several debates each for both offices. I remember seeing “My Man Mitch” (Daniels, the Republican candidate for Governor) signs long before I saw my first Bush sign, to say nothing of Kerry signs. So, I assumed that, given the visibility of these campaigns, we must be in a lull year for the Senate, where neither candidate is up for election.

Not so! Senator Evan Bayh’s seat is in play this year, at least in theory, and there are candidates opposing him: Republican Marvin Scott (link not working for me as of this writing) and Libertarian Al Barger. Barger’s invisibility is understandable, but Scott’s? Certainly the Republicans, with such a slim Senate majority, would be sure to contest every race vigorously. Or, at least, so I thought.

I first heard of Scott through a single radio ad he played, criticizing Bayh for not being as supportive of the President as he could have been. I’ve heard Bayh’s response far more than I heard the original ad. Bayh was allowed to kill the only debate, which would have been a major opportunity for Scott to raise his poor visibility. I have yet to see a Scott sticker, poster, or sign; while Bayh paraphernalia have also been scarce, his Senate seat has given him ample free publicity over the years.

You can see the questionnaire here, while more rigorous analysis can be found at for Bayh and Scott. Based solely on these reports, I would tend to favor Scott over Bayh. Yet the reports are very simplistic, and in some cases overly so (see, for example, how links personal retirement accounts, a “pro-senior” position, and privatizing Social Security here). To what extent should such surveys be trusted?

Ultimately, my vote in this election is decided by several issues:

  • Visibility. Who is Marvin Scott? So far, I only have two surveys and a single radio ad to tell me. His Web site is down. There have been no debates. He spoke at the Republican convention, but no copies of his speech seem to be available, even at the official Republican Convention site. Even the press has noticed his inaccesibility. If he cannot recognize his disadvantages in this election and work against them, why should I believe he will not show similar ineptitude when doing the work of a Senator?
  • Balancing effects. Right now, Senator Bayh is a highly respected centrist Democrat. We need more, not fewer, centrist Democrats in political office. When I have heard of Democrats supporting the President’s overall vision in foreign policy, Bayh’s name has often been prominent. This is behavior that, in my opinion, needs to be encouraged and rewarded.
  • Support for minority Republicans. Rightly or not, the Republicans have been painted as “the racist party” for a while now. Candidates like Scott (who is black) are a welcome counter to that presumption.
  • The judiciary. This is Bayh’s main negative. His votes on judicial nominees, most notably cloture votes, have been (as far as I can tell) party-line votes. Whatever his beliefs on the candidates, he is participating (however mildly) in the continued suppression of votes on candidates solely based on his party’s recognition that they would lose such votes. That’s not how the democratic process is supposed to work; you may not like the choices the people have made in the legislature, but that doesn’t give you the right to subvert those choices.

On balance, Bayh seems to take the trophy, despite his judiciary votes. I simply cannot get past Scott’s inability to get his message out; I want to hear his message directly from him or his campaign. Even the Libertarian candidate has him beat on that score.

Perhaps Bayh was destined to win anyway. There is something to the idea that wasting resources on “sure thing” elections is a poor strategy. But Scott’s poor showing will not just be the result of Republican resource allocation, but of Scott’s own poor decisions which hamper his ability to communicate with voters.

The Opposition’s Missed Opportunity

Considering the President’s faults, he is indeed fortunate to be facing the modern Democratic Party.

Not that the Democratic Party is entirely shiftless. On the major issue of the day, several of the primary candidates and several other prominent Democrats can maintain strong and credible positions. I continue to believe that Senator Joe Lieberman, as the nominee, could have outmatched Bush on the foreign policy front: strong support for the broad outlines of the Terror War, along with credibility in criticizing the President for his mistakes. Given this Administration’s rather lackluster communication ability, this could have been fatal.

But, alas, this is not the way things turned out. For whatever reasons, Senator John Kerry was the candidate who managed to survive the primary process. Polls afterwards suggested that Kerry was seen as “the electable candidate” of the field, a position I find puzzling given Kerry’s anti-war background in the Vietnam era and his subsequent political career.

Kerry is a mass of contradictions. A decorated war hero, he turned unconfirmed rumors concerning Vietnam atrocities into Senate testimony, which was later used against our prisoners of war. Having campaigned against and voted against strengthening our military time and again, he now proclaims that he will “restore” American strength. The supposed diplomat has uses his campaign stops to ridicule our current allies, all the while pinning his hopes on countries with long histories of opposing us who reject his overtures in advance. He proclaims his ability to bring more international help into the Iraq situation, even as he denigrates the effort generally, thus alienating any world leaders from participating. While he has said before that the Iraq elections will not be able to be conducted on time, he brushed off and insulted the current UN-approved government when its leader visited, despite the fact that he would have to work with this leader as President if the elections are postponed or if the current Iraqi leadership were to win.

(For a recent example of John Kerry’s diplomacy in real life, read this account. In sum, Kerry’s proclaimed support for Haiti’s former leader, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, has encouraged pro-Aristide guerillas, causing an upswing of violence in Haiti that the Brazilian peacekeepers are now complaining about.)

In non-war issues, he isn’t much better. He would reverse the “tax cut for the rich” while preserving it for everyone else; charges that this would hit small businesses as well, possibly costing jobs, go unanswered in favor of class warfare rhetoric. And the money gained by repealing that tax cut is spent many times over: on defense, education, veteran’s benefits, health care, Social Security, and so on. This “chicken in every pot” mentality has caused him to overpromise: his domestic policies now contradict each other, and as President he will be unable to fulfill them all. Which promises will remain unfulfilled by President Kerry? It’s hard to say.

If Bush’s signature weakness is communication, Kerry’s is confusion. Bush seems to know what he wants to do, but can’t seem to get his message across; Kerry, on the other hand, seems to have no message besides “Bush screwed up” and “I have a plan”. Given all that’s at stake, I’d rather have a poor communicator than a poor decision-maker.

All the President’s Problems

I, and many other supporters of the President, am reluctant in my support. Why? If there is a one-word response, that word is communication.

Much has been made of the President’s hesitant command of the English language–too much, if you ask me. The President’s personal speeches are not the sum total of the Executive Branch’s responsibility to the people, and focusing on a personal weakness ignores the other areas where the Administration falls short.

In general, it’s hard to judge what the Administration’s position really is on some issues. The war? Yes, that’s clear. But fiscal responsibility? Well, we do have a lot of spending to do in the wake of September 11, but Medicare drug benefits isn’t part of that. How does Medicare fit in the picture of promising fiscal responsibility, proper war priorities, and so on? The President’s rhetoric on tax cuts suffers here, but not because of a clumsy tongue; rather, the Adminstration has not done an adequate job of explaining the place for Medicare spending in the context of all the other new ways we’re spending tax money these days, and it’s not hard to wonder if “the rich” couldn’t spare a little more change to get over the hump. The same could be said for increased spending on the AIDS crisis in Africa and No Child Left Behind, both worthy causes that might not be the best idea with the pressures the country faces.

(Note: I am not saying anything about the policies themselves here. The point is not that the policies themselves are objectively wrong, but that the Adminstration has not made the case for them.)

Even on issues such as the war, the Administration has at times seemed at odds with itself, and has not made the case as well as it could be made. In particular, French and UN perfidy was not emphasized enough, and the consequences of inaction were not hammered on early. Instead, they have left themselves open to nitpickers, who can point to the mess in Iraq and talk about how much better things would have been had they been in charge. Never mind that most of the nitpicking is fantasy; no one will notice if you don’t tell them.

To a degree, this isn’t the Administration’s fault. The CBS forged memo incident shows just how little objectivity remains in the press these days; even the press themselves are admitting their pro-Kerry bias in public. So there’s an extent to which the Bush message has been actively obfuscated by the press: magnified when mistaken, buried when not. But this has been a problem for other Administrations. Reagan certainly was able to overcome it, at least, and even Bush the Elder seemed to get his message out better than his son has.

Many of the people opposed to Bush are well aware of his policies, and better communication would not change their position. But nearly everyone, even Bush supporters, lean away from Bush to some degree, and in many cases this can be traced to a fundamental uncertainty that they have the whole story about his policies. Too many times, there’s a good story to tell; how many votes would be won by simply telling those stories? We may know in hindsight, years from now, but that won’t help the President in November.

Vietnam Syndrome

It seems to me that most of the underhanded tactics being employed in this election center around the Vietnam War, and how each candidate served his country during that war. Most of that is wasted effort (or should be, and at least is for me).

To see why, let’s assume the worst for each candidate. Let’s say Bush pulled family connections to get into the Air National Guard, was lazy and/or incompetent and/or insubordinate for his entire time in the Guard, and again pulled strings both to whitewash his record and get himself out early. So? Isn’t Bush’s ill-spent youth, and his subsequent turnaround, a part of his story? Certainly one would think a proven DUI conviction would be a lot more damaging than controversial and ill-sourced allegations over his diligence in military service.

Similarly, what if Kerry tried to avoid military service, used a little (unsuccessful) savvy to dodge dangerous duty, and embellished his war record to take advantage of a loophole and get out after only four months? It’s a part of his story, and speaks to his credibility to a degree (if all this is true, why hasn’t he been honest with us?), but it’s also water under the bridge. Kerry may not be making the case for his own ill-spent youth, but he certainly deserves as much consideration as Bush does on that score. More importantly, it seems clear to me that Kerry did deserve at least some of the honors bestowed on him during that time, which makes the endless nitpicking at his record all the more distasteful.

Both candidates have thirty years of activity separating them from their Vietnam duties, which should be plenty of time for either candidate to make up for any blemishes on his military record. If the indiscretions of three decades ago are all the negatives we have to judge each candidate, then we have two very fine candidates indeed. In the real world, the more relevant negatives that do exist (and they do, for both candidates) should be consuming the bulk of the time currently being spent on Vietnam.