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August 26, 2004

Dear Auntie Pinko,

I am a 35 year old traditional Democrat. As such, I hold the usual views that our current president is a dishonest, manipulative, unintelligent puppet for the richer powers that be in this country. So it would seem that voting for Kerry would be the obvious choice. But yet...

If Kerry gets elected, I believe he will work towards restoring our economy and world standing, and might even bring some measure of integrity back to the White House. But even so, getting everything running smoothly only means getting back to the issues and problems we already had.

Big companies will still evade billions in taxes by undercutting employees, outsourcing, or outright fraudulent oversees corporate setups. Our rights and privacy will continue to dwindle. National debt will remain and the working class will still be expected to be the work horses of the rich and powerful.

Somehow, selecting the lesser of two evils is still forcing me to admit that there are system flaws. And no, Nader (Nadir?) only WISHES he had enough followers to be considered one of the lesser evils. He doesn't count.

So, I have to admit a perverse desire to actually vote for Bush this November. The idea is, rather then electing the man who might possibly be able to bandage a severely injured system back to a partial semblance of functionality, vote instead for the man who is SO incompetent that sometime in the next 4 years he breaks the system entirely and we have to start over with something (anything!) better. After all, sometimes it really is easier and more productive to break the system than to try and fix it, and Bush seems just the guy to be able to do that.

Is there any merit to this at all, or do I need to stop reading so much nihilistic Hemingway before sending e-mails?

Thank you,

Dave
Pittsburgh, PA


Dear Dave,

There is a great deal in what you say, and Auntie Pinko empathizes, definitely. However, I think both your pessimism and your optimism are a trifle inflated. Whether by avoiding Hemingway or some other strategy, you might re-examine the whole 'sense of proportion' thing.

As something of a (strictly) amateur student of political history, I tend to agree with you that, while Mr. Kerry will likely do his best to make incremental improvements in the functioning of our Federal apparatus, the net effect of what he would be likely to achieve will not be dramatic. Unfortunately, it's always been far easier to make messes than to clean them up.

Yet there is a great deal to be said for the incremental approach, for a couple of reasons:

First, regardless of how badly off they are, a great many people fear change (any change!), preferring the status quo. The more dramatic the change, the harder they "push back," which increases the arc of the human progress pendulum.

Secondly, the government is so large and complex, it's like trying to navigate a cruise liner in a crowded harbor. If dramatic remedies and ideas are applied, they may or may not work - and if something doesn't work, it's that much harder to correct. And the potential for damage is daunting.

Auntie Pinko is moderately optimistic about this election, because I do think that in a (admittedly rather twisted) way, it is a win-win scenario for the Democratic Party. If Mr. Kerry wins, we have a chance to start cleaning up the mess (however slowly and painstakingly) that much sooner. It's easier to clean up some messes when they haven't taken hold all that firmly.

And if Mr. Bush wins, things will definitely get worse - to the point where it's unlikely that there will be another Republican president for a good many years, and Democratic power in both the legislative and judicial branches is likely to be much stronger for a while. Our opportunity to clean up will probably last longer. But it will net out, because the mess to clean up will be that much greater.

But I can't share your optimism that if we get to the point of "breaking the system entirely," whatever is done to replace it will necessarily be better than what we have now, in spite of all its flaws. Given the number of people who voted for Mr. Bush in 2000 (and their reasons for doing so), the number who are likely to vote for him again, and a quick scan of the available political and social leadership, I'd definitely be anxious about what a "replacement" might look like.

So I'll stick with the "elect Mr. Kerry" option as the one ultimately most likely to cause the least harm. It might help with that 'sense of proportion' thing, too, if you read up on what the status quo in America looked like in, say, 1870. Or even 1910. And if you look at the status quo experienced by the other six billion people in the world. Here's a helpful URL for that: http://www.prb.org/

Large parts of the world are demanding a share of resources, economic power, and social dignity. It's easy for Americans to forget how thoroughly our domestic comfort is entwined with these global issues. A sense of proportion might help us look at the possibilities of a Kerry Administration with a bit more optimism, Dave - and thanks for asking Auntie!


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