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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The reign in Spain; why a "vote for Kerry" isn't a "vote for bin Laden"; and why I'm glad Dubya didn't get into Texas Law School

The title of this post should give you fair warning that I'm rambling here. If you're looking for tight, cogent analysis, look elsewhere. I'm in a musing mode, writing mostly for myself today, and what follows is half-baked but sincere.

The blogosphere — left right and center — has been abuzz with analysis and speculation about the results of the Spanish elections last weekend on the heels of the horrible terrorist attack in Madrid. I lack the energy tonight to gather even a sampling of the links, although odds are any random dart-throw into my blogroll will take to you a collection of them.

Driving home tonight, while pondering some of these pundits' pundifications, I concluded that I'm very glad that George W. Bush didn't get into Texas Law School in 1970.

The result of the Spanish election is indeed, I think, a victory for the terrorists — at least in terms of perceptions. My feelings of horror and profound sympathy for the Spaniards, as expressed last week, remain unchanged. I respect their right to make choices with which I disagree. As a matter of substance, how much less supportive Spain will become as an ally in the War on Terror remains to be seen. Certainly America has had no better ally than Tony Blair, for instance, notwithstanding his position to the left of the center aisle in UK politics. But I think it is a reasonable conclusion that either by affecting swing voters, or encouraging a larger turnout, or just encouraging a hope (which I believe to be a naive one) that a symbolic act of defiance against a government identified with Dubya will somehow help the Spaniards "lie low" and escape from the terrorists' metaphorical radar screens, the terrorists' actions changed the outcome of that election.

This disappoints me and concerns me, but it certainly does not panic me.

And I believe there is a considerable risk of panic. I believe there is a considerable risk of counterproductive rhetorical overkill. While al Qaeda and (if he's alive) Osama bin Laden no doubt wished for the results they apparently achieved in the Spanish elections, I think it's a mistake to say, even metaphorically, that "bin Laden was the winner of the Spanish elections" or anything of that sort.

I think it's fair to say that in the War on Terror, nations are either "with us" — meaning civilization — or with the terrorists. But the fact that there's been a change in the Spanish government doesn't mean Spain is suddenly "with the terrorists." The Taliban was with the terrorists; Saddam's Iraq was with the terrorists; those regimes are no more. Libya was, but probably isn't; Iran is, but may be tottering, and ditto Syria. North Korea is with the terrorists; the proto-nation represented by Arafat is with the terrorists. They need to be dealt with. But there's no need for the 82nd Airborne to storm Madrid or Berlin or Paris.

And by the same token, I think it's dangerous rhetorical overkill to say, "A vote for John Kerry will be a vote for bin Laden!" I believe John Kerry is a craven fool, a consumate and unprincipled politician, a man lacking in moral integrity, and a profoundly silly but dangerous bore. I believe if he's elected President, our nation and the civilized world will make far less progress in the War on Terror, and ultimately pay a heavier price than otherwise. But I do not think he's a traitor, and I don't doubt that somewhere in that muddle of self-promotion there's at least a speck of patriotic intent. I'd be much comforted if I thought he was even half as clever as Bill Clinton, and I fear he may turn out to be as brilliantly stupid as Jimmy Carter. But the country survived both of them, and would survive a Kerry Presidency as well. And there are certainly a great many moral, patriotic, and bright Americans who have come to the good-faith (if, I believe, erroneous) conclusion that we'd be better off with Kerry. I refuse to insult them.

"Who do the terrorists want to see lose the next American election?" Well, duh. That's a no-brainer, but by itself it's also not a very meaningful question. Even if the question is reformulated to "Who do the terrorists believe would be more effective in prosecuting the War on Terror against them?", the answer is only particularly interesting if you think that the terrorists' perceptions on that topic are somehow an indication of the correct answer. "Who will be more effective in prosecuting the War on Terror?" — that's the right question. I think the answer to all three questions is George W. Bush, but the fact that all three questions have the same answer doesn't make them equivalent to each other, and it's only the third of them, in fact, that will influence the way I vote.

I sometimes enjoy listening to Wagner's operas, and I really like German shepherds as a breed of dogs. So did Hitler. So what?

It's the third question that brings me around, finally, to why I'm glad Texas Law School rejected Dubya's application. It's not that I think lawyers are necessarily unqualified to be President — although I think pretty decent arguments can be made that it was Bill Clinton's legal training that led to some of the evasive hair-splitting that turned into lies that brought him to a well-deserved vote of impeachment. But when I look at John Kerry's career path after his failed first run for Congress, it started with law school and then transitioned into a public prosecutor's job, and ever after that he's hit all the conventional milestones on the path to the Presidency. Dear lord, he's been running for President since even before that famous "Sixty Minutes" interview in 1971.

Law school is a traditional haven for those who either are planning a career in politics or else can't figure out what they want to do with themselves. Sometimes the latter get converted to the former. I'm guessing that young George W. didn't have a burning passion to practice law when he applied to Texas Law School, and I fear that if his Yale grades had been a little better or Texas Law School's admissions program had been a little less meritocratic, he'd have gotten the same bug that bit John Kerry. Instead of learning some management skills at Harvard Business School and then getting some real-world hard-knocks experience in the west Texas oil patch, he'd have started "molding himself" for a political career in the 1970s. Instead of soaking up the insider's view he had during his father's Presidency, he'd have been shilling for votes of his own. If he'd been under the full political spotlight for all of the last thirty years, he probably wouldn't have had the personal transformation that gave him a strong moral compass, and his moral deficiencies would have remained latent and hidden rather than being corrected. And the most important thing to him in the world would have become his own political success.

Like Bill Clinton, John Kerry wants to be President more than anything. George W. Bush, by contrast, only wants to be President because of what he can do for America and the free world from that office. I'm glad, therefore, that he stumbled from the early political path, including law school, that John Kerry has followed so assiduously, so ruthlessly.

Posted by Beldar at 07:21 PM in Current Affairs, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

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Comments

(1) Skip Perry made the following comment | Mar 18, 2004 1:09:11 AM | Permalink

Hard-knocks?

(2) Beldar made the following comment | Mar 18, 2004 1:43:09 AM | Permalink

Skip wins the BeldarBlog award for shortest skeptical comment. But Bush did suffer hard knocks in the oil patch. Dry holes and a falling market price for what you're pumping don't care who your daddy is:

Spectrum 7, his exploration and development company, had reported a net loss of $1.6 million in 1985, due to the fast-deteriorating value of its holdings. As the price of oil fell from $25 to $9 a barrel, the firm was on its way to losing another $402,000 by mid-1986. Bush's company owed more than $3 million in bank loans and other debts with no hope of paying them off in time. His investors had disappeared.

On the cusp of his 40th birthday, Bush had two choices: Cut his staff to the bone, hunker down and pray for oil prices to climb before the banks foreclosed; or find a bigger company that was willing to scoop him up, debts and all. "I'm all name and no money," the son of the then-vice president used to say.

He found the bigger company (Harken) that had the resources he lacked to ride out the crunch, as this WaPo story goes on to note, and Dubya's critics of course focus exclusively on that part of the story.

I'm not suggesting that Dubya had to worry about missing meals or sleeping under a bridge. I don't deny — and neither does he — that his family name and contacts helped him stave off a catastrophe.

But anyone who was associated with the energy industry in Texas in the mid-1980s will tell you that ugly lessons were learned, and that only the very creative or the very deep-pocketed survived. I can point you to quite a few Texans who were better connected than Dubya was at the time who nevertheless ended up in the bankruptcy courts (John Connally and Ben Barnes jump to mind). Dubya didn't go into the oil business trying to fail; the hard times weren't because of his incompetence or mismanagement by anyone's account; and worrying whether you're going to be able to make your next payroll or face foreclosure, with the consequence that you'll have to fire everyone who works for you, gives a person some valuable insights even if, as things turned out, you never did quite hit rock bottom.

So yeah, I'll stand by the "hard knocks" language.

By contrast, how many payrolls has Sen. Kerry had to worry about meeting? How has he ever demonstrated that he knows how to start or build or sell a business in a way that made money for himself or anyone else? What risks has he ever taken? Kerry's history certainly shows a ready willingness to take financial advantage of his contacts and position to scrape by a little more comfortably than the average public servant, but of course his big score was when he married into big money.

So which kind of "entrepreneur" would you rather have as President? You'd rather have the socialite playboy who ditched his first wife when she got depressed so that he could date Morgan Fairchild, but then decided even she wasn't nearly rich enough to bankroll his political ambitions? You prefer the Cabana Boy?

Personally, I'd rather have the guy who wore jeans in his pickup truck as he drove from drilling rig to impatient banker in hardscrabble Midland, Texas, during the worst oil bust in history, and who had to look his wife and his employees and his investors in the eye while he tried to hold things together.

(3) Zarate made the following comment | Mar 18, 2004 12:34:57 PM | Permalink

Personally, I'd take a step back and look at how your politics are coloring your perception. Is Kerry a lazy playboy opportunist? Of course not. Is Bush a Ivy league failure with no business sense? Of course not. If you say either, you're making wild assumptions and you're missing the substance of the discussion.

Next time you want to imply that Kerry's marriage is a loveless business arragement, take a step back and remember that he's a HUMAN BEING. Otherwise you run the risk of looking like all those Bush-haters, who, when asked to name why they don't like him, cite the fact that "he dumb" or "he only won because his daddy was president."

I don't buy into the idea that all political ambition is for personal gain, so I'm at least willing to give Kerry the benefit of the doubt, especially since all the "evidence" we've seen is pure personal speculation by journalists and other, mostly partisan, politicians.

If you think Bush's business experience is a postive, fine. But at least try to be rational about the opposition and focus on actual political issues. Otherwise your opinion quickly becomes irrelevant.

(4) Beldar made the following comment | Mar 19, 2004 7:48:27 PM | Permalink

Well argued, Zarate!

I didn't mean to imply, if I did, that Kerry's marriage to the catsup heiress is loveless. From what I've read and heard of her, they seem to be a nicely matched pair, if not one I would enjoy having dinner with. I also regret my comment about Kerry ditching his first wife.

I also didn't mean to imply, and don't believe, that a desire for financial personal gain has motivated Kerry's political career. In fact, I think if there's an issue here, it's the other way around. I believe Kerry lusts for power and position, not money.

Nor did I accuse him of being lazy. To the contrary, he's highly motivated and energetic. My point, rather, was that in trying to assess what life experiences have formed his character, there's nothing in his history comparable to Dubya's experiences in the business world (in Dubya's case, the oil patch and baseball subsets thereof). Kerry's experiences are only those of a lawyer and a politician, which, while not useless, I nonetheless believe can skew one's perspectives in unfortunate ways if unrelieved by broader experience.

As for Kerry being an "opportunist":   I'll also grant you that with respect to his marriages, although that charge would be consistent with his history, the evidence falls short of conclusive proof. There aren't enough data points to draw a confident inference. With respect to his politics, however, there are ample data points — to use the apt cliche, a veritable plethora of data points! — to support that conclusion.

There are people who dislike George W. Bush's personality and distrust his character. And there are also Bush-haters whose personal reaction to Dubya is so very strong that they become incapable of exercising any independent judgment regarding what he's said or done as President. I agree with you, Zarate, that someone who's that far off into the deep end of the pool — either deep end of the pool — loses credibility in political discussions.

I dislike Kerry's personality and distrust his character, but I believe that I'm still well short of having become blind to any of his qualities, or reflexively and unthinkingly opposed to everything he says or does. This week, for instance, Kerry finally spoke out on the Spain bombings and change in government, and very commendably urged Spain not to withdraw its troops from Iraq; I approve not only what he said, but even his timing in saying it.

Likewise, I not infrequently have fault to find with Dubya and his administration.

But I don't strive to be nonpartisan in my blogging. While I try to be fair, I don't expect to be balanced. And I'm therefore far more likely to blog about what I perceive as Bush's strengths and Kerry's flaws than I am the converse. (Or would that be the obverse? Whatever.)

(5) Zarate made the following comment | Mar 20, 2004 12:15:50 AM | Permalink

Fair enough for me; nice reply.

(6) Zarate made the following comment | Mar 20, 2004 1:34:22 AM | Permalink

And more importantly, I didn't give you credit for some VERY rational thoughts about the situation in Spain and its repercussions for the U.S. Your "three questions" point was a refreshing position to hear from a conservative. While I obviously disagree with your answer to the third question, your logic was eloquent and eminently fair.

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