Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Character matters more than ever

Returning again to Prof. Jay Rosen of PressThink:
Howard Fineman and Michael Isikoff, also of Newsweek, also of the Gang, try to explain why it's "slime time" again in 2004.
Bush primarily sells himself, rather than his policies (after attacking Kerry in $60 million worth of ads); Kerry defends in kind, turning the Democratic convention into the Biography Channel. Though voters face profound questions, the war on terror has engendered not a high-minded discussion of geopolitics but an obsession--even by American standards--with our would-be commander's character.

Yes, it would be nice to carry on a high-minded discussion of geopolitics. In fact, anyone who's been listening to Bush's speeches over the past three years has been getting a discussion of geopolitics. He believes that the people of the Middle East are capable of democracy, that free people are more likely to be contented and less likely to make war, that the United States may have to exercise its role as world hyperpower without waiting for our erstwhile allies to catch up with the program. Agree or disagree; support or criticize (or both) the execution, but there's the philosophy for all to see.

Kerry, however, instead of answering these philosophical points, can only say, "Anything George Bush has done is wrong," and "I can't tell you what I plan, because that would be tipping my hand."

Rosen writes:
John Kerry, a candidate who is behind, who has never come clearly into focus for most pundits let alone voters, who has been unable to explain his position on the war in Iraq, or define an approach to fighting terror, and who is still sketchily known to the American people... finds that no purpose is served by participating in the most elementary ritual there is in political journalism: answering reporters' questions.

If one candidate has a philosophy about the nature of human governments and where we are in history and the other candidate can only say, "Trust me," then character matters. To Bush, we say, "That's an inspiring vision. Do you believe it yourself? Does it hold water? Does it describe the world as we find it?" To Kerry, we say, "Whom are we trusting? And to do what?" Further, any time you are dealing with unknown future circumstances, more than a plan you need to know a philosphy. More than tactics, we need to know strategy. We're looking at a rough road over the next few years; how do the candidates define themselves and their fellow human beings? With those answers established, by whatever measure we can find, we'll know more about what to expect from their leadership.

If the candidate won't talk about philosophy, we'll have to discern it through the prism of history--which may ultimately be more reliable anyway.

No comments: