An Election for Idealists

As I watched the second debate, the thought occured to me that this really is an election made for idealists. This is an ironic observation considering the lip-service that I am hearing from many on both sides to the effect that this election is a choice between the lesser of two evils. Although this statement has merit for those in the middle, it is patently untrue for those on the political extremes. In crass, oversimplified terms, here is what I witnessed on Friday night in the debate:

(This is how those on the idealistic extremes would have viewed it.)

Bush: The Conservative Ideal

Bush personifies the very core of the ideal conservative. He is the rugged individualist American from the wide west (i.e. Texas), the land of the free and the brave and the last frontier where every man thrives or fails according to the management of the creature (i.e. their capacity for hard work and self-sufficiency). He is brash and confident in his own moral certainty. He believes that every American is entitled to the product of his or her own labor–but he sticks by that as the limits of entitlement (i.e. a meritocracy). He is deeply religious and adheres to ultra-conservative religious doctrine–doctrine that is associated with the very Pilgrims who fled to America. Responsibility is as important as rights. The federal government is evil and must be stopped and limited wherever possible.

Kerry: The Liberal Ideal

Kerry personifies the very core of the ideal liberal. He is cultured and sophisticated. His worldview is nuanced and complicated. He is the soft collectivist from the populous and civilized Northeast (i.e. the heart of it all–Boston), the land of the liberated and the smart where every person thrives or fails according to the management of the creature (i.e. their intellectual prowess and capacity to earn seven figures). But he doesn’t disparage those who can’t cut it in his world: for the millions who have failed to manage the intellectual creature, they’re okay too (except for conservatives who are stupid). He is diplomatic and confident in his own moral superiority. He believes every American is entitled to receive a certain standard of living and collection of rights in a world of entitlements and empowerments. He is culturally religious and adheres to an open-minded view of religion–none is more right than the others, and nothing guarantees that any of them are right at all. Rights trump responsibility (i.e. everyone is entitled to their growing litany of inalienable rights). The federal government is the champion of civil society and should administer to the needs of all.

Pretty broad and likely insulting to both sides, but this stark contrast really came out on Friday night. I think that it was intentional–they need to distinguish themselves and appeal to their bases. What better way to do it than to project the ideal of their respective ideal while battling it out. Or maybe it was merely a function of that battle itself.

5 Responses to An Election for Idealists

  1. Anonymous says:

    I agree, John F, although when all is said and done I still think Bush comes across as friendlier and more personable. Given the choice between going to a barbeque at Bush’s ranch or dipping fondu chez Kerry, I’d go for the barbeque every time.

    After losing with Northeastern liberals (Mondale and Dukakis) and winning with mildly conservative southerners (Carter and Clinton), it is surprising the Democrats are still trying to win with a liberal senator from New England. But I actually thought Kerry sounded better (I heard it on the radio) on Friday than Bush did, and better than he did at the first debate as well. 

    Posted by Dave

  2. Anonymous says:

    I also think that Kerry beat Bush in both debates. It is only natural–after all, Kerry is a skilled debater and ex-prosecutor. This has trained him to be skillful on his feet. Like Bush, however, he still made some embarassing mistakes! 

    Posted by john fowles

  3. Anonymous says:

    I think most people agree with the idea that Bush would be a lot more fun to hang out with than Kerry. 

    Posted by danithew

  4. Anonymous says:

    Yep, no doubt Bush would throw a better party.

    Do you really think though that Kerry stands for the proposition that “Rights trump responsibility”? 

    Posted by Steve Evans

  5. Anonymous says:

    Actually, Kerry would probably throw a better party–after all, Bush doesn’t drink. But Bush would probably be a better friend or confidant on a more personal level.

    Steve, I was deriving that characteristic in my attempt to cast Kerry as the ultimate liberal ideal at least in part from his abortion answer in the second debate. A subtext of that answer seemed to me to be that we can educate about responsibility (and hopefully that will bear positive fruits), but rights that have been uttered by the courts–even controversial ones that stem from very poorly reasoned decisions like Roe v. Wade–cannot be diminished or ratcheted down. I grasped this subtext and exaggerated it in order to create the caricature (that is all it is).

    As I re-read these caricatures I realized that I portrayed Kerry more comically or absurdly than Bush. That was my mistake (but I’m too lazy to correct it) because I wanted the caricatures to zero each other out in their extremism. It might reveal something about my biases, I’ll grant that much. But not as much as one might assume–I am very undecided still in my vote and actually lean towards Kerry on some days when I sense the disastrous effects of Bush’s foreign policy on our international relationships with traditional allies.  

    Posted by john fowles

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