Politics & Policy

Polling-Booth Delusions

You can't support this war and vote for Kerry.

I followed the Florida recount pretty carefully. I certainly can’t swear I read every story in every paper straight through to the end; but I would be very surprised if I missed entirely any mention of Floridian voters’ being beheaded for failing to color in the ovals on their ballots correctly. I never heard anybody say anything like “Sol Fischbein! This chad is hanging, and so will you!”

I bring this up because my favorite part of Osama bin Laden’s address to the people of the United States was where he says that Poppa Bush “installed” George and Jeb in Texas and Florida, and that they “did not forget to import expertise in election fraud from the regions presidents to Florida to be made use of in moments of difficulty.”

Since Michael Moore seems to be bin Laden’s source for this video–it’s only fair to return the favor, after all–maybe someone can point me to where it is in Moore’s oeuvre that poll workers in, say, Dade County had been trained by the Egyptian secret police. Were the Saudis, or perhaps the Syrian Baathists, the first designers of the butterfly ballot? And, if so, how did they get ward heelers from the Democratic party to adopt it? Maybe this is a new form of Radical Afrocentrism that says Egyptians were not only black and could fly, but that they also taught Tammany Hall everything it needed to know.

I bring this up not so much to mock Moore. (It is, however, worth noting that in this last annus horribilis, America’s anus horribilis really did give aid and comfort to our worst enemies in his porn-movie-without-the-nudity.) Whether it was intended to win the jihadists’ Best Foreign Film Award or not is, in fairness, debatable. But it’s not worth debating too much, since to do so would be to presuppose that Moore cared one way or another.

No, I bring this up to point to a central fact some folks are overlooking. Bin Laden really, truly doesn’t understand America. But one can hear the murmurings to the contrary: Yesterday, for example, the governor of Pennsylvania–Ed Rendell–declared, “It’s obvious to me that bin Laden is trying to help George Bush because George Bush is the best recruiter that al Qaeda has.” Walter Cronkite said something a little different, but twice as demented: that he was “inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, he probably set up bin Laden to this thing.”

Since the boys in white suits didn’t immediately come out with a squeaky doggie toy and a syringe of Haldol to facilitate escorting Cronkite off the set–and since Cronkite himself has not issued a press release apologizing abjectly for his poorly delivered joke–we must accept several things as true. First, that Cronkite was serious. By which I mean not only when he let loose that incandescently dumb comment, but also in the sense that he “was” serious. As in, he is no longer serious, and his opinion should be sought no longer by wise men. I know this is an increasingly tiresome form of argumentation, but: If a conservative had said something like that during the Clinton years, he’d be the butt of jokes for the Frank Rich & Maureen Dowd School of Mockery for decades. Second, Cronkite’s decades-long scorn for anyone who suggested he was a liberal should be entered into the Chutzpah Hall Of Fame. Third, someone needs to throw a bucket of water on Larry King so he doesn’t let comments sail past him like that anymore.

But, yes, let’s try to parse Mr. Crank-ite for a moment. One way to determine whether an argument is bogus is to present the opposite set of facts and see if a person draws exactly the same conclusion. For months now, liberals have been arguing, predicting, worrying, etc. that there would be an “October surprise”–as early as August–in which bin Laden would be captured or killed. As today is November 1, I assume this theory is no longer operative at The New Republic or with Teresa Heinz. But now that the October surprise is the news that bin Laden is un-captured and un-dead, Cronkite’s immediate reaction is that Rove is behind it, and that it’s good news for the president. Karl Rove really is a genius.

To be intellectually honest, I thought the bin Laden tape was good news for Bush, too. And, for now, that doesn’t seem to have panned out. Of course, I didn’t think that Rove set the whole thing up; nor do I think squirrels have constructed a time machine under my bed using Q-Tips and Mars bars.

Besides, it’s Rendell’s version you’re more likely to hear from the mouth breathers on the web. And again, in the abstract, I kept an open mind to the possibility that bin Laden was trying to influence the election in favor of Bush. After all, the dumbest way in the world to get Americans to do something is for a terrorist to threaten them to do something. We’re the millions-for-defense-not-one-cent-for-tribute folks, after all. And I for one don’t think it’s an absurd proposition that bin Laden prefers Bush to Kerry. I don’t think it’s true, but it’s not outlandish. Bin Laden is, at his core, a Leninist strategically. “The worse the better” has been his de facto motto for quite some time. It’s entirely possible that he thinks his purposes are being served by having an all-out war president at the American helm. He’s wrong, of course–in no small part because he’s a madman who thinks he won’t get his 72 virgins when he takes his dirt nap if a woman is involved in folding his funereal man-panties. But that’s a subject for another day.

The reason Rendell is being a buffoon on this point is that he hasn’t read bin Laden’s statement. While I think it’s plausible that bin Laden could want Bush to win in the abstract, it’s impossible to think that after you read what Bin Laden says. He honestly thinks–or claims to–that, because Bush is the son of a president, America is no different from the fetid dictatorships of the Middle East, and that the Patriot Act is no different from the security laws of Middle Eastern countries. I know there are some American independent-bookstore types who believe this sort of thing, but these are the sorts of people who think cars should be able to run on chai tea fuel and love.

No, it does seem far more plausible that Bin Laden would want Kerry to win. I’m largely persuaded by the Belmont Club’s analysis. Bin Laden is offering a truce. A time out. The sort of “Wait, wait, wait!” you used to plead to your big brother right at the moment the pummeling was to begin. He seems to be saying that if America rejects Bush and accepts Kerry–if we reject the American way and accept, literally, the Swedish way (read the transcript)–then maybe we can all just get along. That, I think, is the plain meaning of the text.

Now, a few points about the subtext and the context. First, he’s lying. It is an accepted part of Islamic theologies–among radical militant Islamists, at least–to call for peace treaties until you are in an advantageous position for war. That is, after all, precisely what Mohammed did when he agreed to a peace treaty–the “Truce of Hudaybiyah”–with the infidels of Mecca in 628. Two years after he signed it, he amassed his restored army and slew every male in the tribe of his partners-in-peace. It established a tradition in Islam for peace treaties with infidels: They could be temporary, but never permanent. Saladin–Osama’s hero–had a similar policy toward the crusaders. So, as a matter of historical fact, did Adolf Hitler–who fashioned a reputation as a “peace-lover” in the early ’30s.

Now, personally, I kind of doubt that bin Laden thinks this sort of thing would work. I suspect he’s merely trying a bit of pre-spin on the election. If Kerry wins, Osama can claim to have defeated Bush with his “peace offer.” If the warmonger crusader wins, then he can claim he offered America the olive branch. Either way, he’s in better shape for recruiting in the future and for claiming the mantle of “statesman.”

But whoever is elected, we’ll have plenty of time to discuss Osama later.

Tomorrow is Election Day, so let’s talk about America. The other day I wrote that Kerry is the anti-war candidate even though he won’t admit it. In a sense, this is very unfair to Kerry and many of his supporters, because he probably doesn’t consider himself the antiwar candidate and neither do some of his supporters. As unpersuasive as I find the arguments of Andrew Sullivan and The Economist–as well as those of non-British pro-war supporters of Kerry (whose names escape me at the moment)–it’s certainly true that those guys don’t think they’re being antiwar when they say they’re not voting for Bush. When it is said that Kerry’s the antiwar candidate, and that they are backing an antiwar candidate, their response is, in effect, “That’s absurd! I’m pro-war and I’m voting for Kerry!” To which the only reply is, Yes, that is absurd.

Yes, yes, yes–Bush has made mistakes, Iraq may indeed be a mess, fine: Insert all the clichés here. But a vote for Kerry–despite what Kerry says, and despite what some of his supporters claim–is not a vote for “the better, more effective war on terror” he promises. It is a vote for the candidate who says he will provide a “better, more effective war on terror” because that is what he needs to say to win. If Bush is turned-out, for every Andrew Sullivan there will be a hundred Helen Thomases to tell us the election was a rejection of the entire Bush project. That is how Europe will read it. That’s how the United Nations will read it. That is how the New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the entire chattering class will read it. And, given Kerry’s tendency to do what the chattering classes think is wisest at the moment–including his pick of a vice president who was supposed to deliver the south–I fear that is how John Kerry would read it.

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