The man or the party?

If you like Bush’s policies, maybe you ought to vote for him. Just don’t pretend you prefer his character to Kerry’s.

While I hate to think that any friend of mine would vote against the interests of the reality-based community in the crucial upcoming election, Eugene Volokh offers a coherent reason for doing so. He prefers, he says, Republican to Democratic approaches on a wide variety of issues, and thinks that a Republican administration will be more prone to act in ways he approves of than would a Democratic administration. That difference, he says, ought usually to trump judgments about the personal qualities of those running for office in deciding how to vote.

Eugene is, I think, almost entirely right on this point. In particular, I don’t find it very plausible that one can accurately judge, from mass-media accounts, the parts of the character of a Presidential candidate relevant to his or her performance in office. (Consider Harry Truman — and, I would add more controversially, Lyndon Johnson — as examples of big upside surprises, and Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush as examples of big downside surprises.)

Having an unusually high level both of tolerance for cognitive dissonance and of intellectual integrity, Eugene does not need to pretend, to himself or others, that he finds Mr. Bush to be an admirable figure, or Mr. Kerry to be a fool or a knave. He’s going to vote for the party which, if it controls the government, will take the nation in the direction in which he wants it to go.

Having voted for Jimmy Carter twice — the first time worrying, and the second time being sure, that he signally lacked the qualities requisite to the Presidency — I can fully sympathize with Eugene’s viewpoint. I might try to argue with him, were he in Los Angeles rather than Palo Alto this fall, that Mr. Bush’s deficiencies, and those of the people with whom he surrounds himself, are so appallingly grave that they ought to trump partisan preference. I might even try to argue that, from a Republican perspective, the bad results likely to flow from those deficiencies over the next four years might prove politically damaging; think how much better off the Republicans would have been had Richard Nixon been defeated in 1972, or how much better off the Democrats would have been had Jimmy Carter lost in 1976. I would also poing out that at least one of Eugene’s co-Conspirators has found Bushism too much to swallow.

Given Eugene’s opinions and commitments, I wouldn’t expect those arguments to prevail with him, even if offered by someone more persuasive than I am. The issues matter, and on most of the issues that matter most to him Eugene finds himself in closer alignment with the Republicans than with the Democrats. That’s a good argument for voting Republican.

By contrast, the proposition central to the actual Republican campaign, and to the arguments of most of the pro-Bush bloggers — that the actual human being George W. Bush is more suited to the Presidency than the actual human being John F. Kerry — doesn’t really pass the giggle test.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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