In the few days I’ve been blogging, I’ve already fulfilled one of bloggers’ main obligations – to slag off the Groan. But I’m reluctant to fulfill another – to blog about the US election.
One reason for this is that no-one can foresee the full consequences of a Bush or Kerry victory. It’s a cliché that no-one knows what Kerry really believes. And in 2000 no-one foresaw that a Bush victory would lead to a war on terror, humungous Budget deficits or rising tariff barriers. Very few presidencies are defined by a President enacting policies he had promised beforehand. Instead, they are dominated by image and how the President tackles unforeseeable contingencies. So we’ve had Carter’s well-meaning impotence in the face of the Iranian hostage crisis; Reagan making America feel good about itself, Clinton and Lewinsky. And so on.
This means elections are dominated by question of character, rather than policy substance. And this degenerates into tribalism. Are we members of the Bush tribe or the Kerry tribe?
Equally, though, I don’t like the clichéd de haut en bas approach of the newspapers. “Most unimpressive candidates in recent history”, lesser of two evils”, “fine judgment”, “on balance,” “grave misgivings.” Build your own leader column.
Also, like most people, I don’t like to confront dissonant facts. I prefer to think of the US as the last great hope of mankind, the home of Dar Williams and John Roemer, not as the country in which Bush or Kerry are popular.
Which raises the question. Could it be that the poor quality of the US’s politicians and its leadership in culture, business and academia are two sides of the same coin? One reason why the US has succeeded whilst Communist and many African states have failed is that in the US talented and creative people go into jobs where they can do good for others – this includes business as well as academia – whereas in failed states such people go into politics where corruption and rent-seeking can make them fortunes.
It’s a cliché of the Groan-reading class to bemoan the fact that the election is a contest between two rich men. But isn’t it so much better that politicians are rich before taking office than that they become rich whilst in office?
Perhaps a contest between rich mediocrities is just the price we must pay for the US being the great nation it is.