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.