“So here it is at last, the distinguished thing.”
Henry James was speaking of death, but were he alive today, he might also be speaking of the election: curious to see how it is going to turn out, but filled with apprehension nonetheless.
This voter is going to pull the lever for Kerry-Edwards.
I will do so with a certain hesitation, realizing that this puts me on the same side of the aisle with a bunch of people—in the media, mainly—for whom it is hard not to feel unmitigated intellectual contempt, if only because their unreasoning, shrill and narrow Bush-hatred has engendered a revulsion in a great many thoughtful middle-of-the road Americans that has made this election a good deal closer than it should have been, and permitted doubt and indecision to linger much longer than they should have. We don’t want to be seen in public with Ann Coulter, say, but we equally don’t want to be identified with the crowd at The Nation. We no longer care what the Scaife gang may have done or not done to Bill Clinton; most of us feel that Mr. Clinton put himself in a bad spot to begin with. We no longer care about the 2000 election. Al Gore isn’t running in this one—which is the only election we care about.
My own mind was made up over the weekend. I am not an America-blamer, but I cannot help feeling some personal responsibility, some deep shame at the carelessness on our part that led to the murder of 49 young Iraqi men being trained to do a job whose objective is to let us get out of a situation we should never have been in. This event, more than any other, underlines the contemptible moral indifference and the criminal lack of grasp that is the essence of Mr. Bush’s and Mr. Cheney’s administration. Nor can any reasonable person continue to accept the administration’s claim that America is safer today, when enough high-tech explosive materiel to blow up half the globe has gone missing on their watch. Some of that stuff is going to turn up in this country, mark you: on an F train, in a container on the docks of Los Angeles or New Orleans, in the cargo hold of an Airbus, in the basement of 7 Liberty Plaza.
Whatever he is, or isn’t, John Kerry is not mad, and I am no longer certain that the President isn’t. Last week I referred to Mr. Bush as “George of Arc,” and I believe the comparison with the voices-driven warrior maid of Domremy holds. As my Cambridge Biographical Dictionary puts it: “Belief in her divine mission made her flout military advice—in the end disastrously.” As the news from Iraq has steadily worsened, the President seems to be increasingly faith-driven, relying on inner voices to drown out dissent or any suggestion that Iraq is a mistake—actually, Iraq is what you get when you hire a management consulting firm, a Mc-Kinsey, say, or an Accenture, to design you a war—and to reassure him that he’s done and is doing the right thing.
In a word, I think the President may be unbalanced; he may be playing with considerably fewer than the 52 cards we expect to find when we fan out the Presidential deck. Through all three debates, I kept trying to put my finger on what it was about the President’s tics and twitches that bothered me. “Trying to put my finger on”—oh, cut the crap! I was simply rejecting what my eyes and ears were telling me: This guy is f——— nuts!
And while he gives himself over to his private angelic chorus, the clever men, sensing a last good chance, fan out from behind the arras to complete the globalized larceny that has been Mr. Cheney’s thief’s-dream since the 2001 inaugural: to steal for his corporate and K Street controllers what can be. You want an example? Here’s a good recent one. The administration passed a bill, with much fanfare, to pay for AIDS drugs for disease-ravaged African countries like Uganda. Then the K Street boys got busy. Instead of using the U.S. subventions to buy readily available drugs at generic prices—between one-third and one-sixth of list—the initiative specifies that this particular withdrawal on the Public Capital buy the drugs from the big pharmaceutical companies at full price. More whimper for the buck, you might say, but what the hell: just as long as the fat cats get fatter. It has the doctors in Africa who are trying to stem the epidemic shaking their heads in disbelief.
At the end of the day, it is impossible not to feel grave reservations about both candidates. But there’s a big difference: Reservations with respect to Mr. Kerry are grounded in uncertainty. But the reservations I feel about Mr. Bush are grounded in certainty. With the former, I worry about the nation; with the latter, I fear for it. Those to me are grounds enough.