Given America's place in the world, the importance of next week's presidential election cannot be overrated. Or maybe not. American voters will decide between two men: either a Democrat or a Republican. By some lights the choice is not a choice at all. The true believers-the strident partisans-think that we are faced with a fundamental choice between candidates who represent diametrically opposing philosophies.
A Libertarian might say that Republicans and Democrats are alike. After all, it doesn't matter which candidate is elected since the result is sure to include bigger government, higher taxes and greater public indebtedness, more regulation and more creeping socialism. It is difficult to argue with the libertarian pessimist. Anyone who knows the history of the last 50 years knows what the established trend has been.
A Green Party environmentalist might agree that it doesn't matter whether a Democrat or a Republican is elected. Either way the rich will get richer and the poor poorer, corporate cheating will continue, pollution will worsen, global warming and imperialism etc., etc. The Green Party environmentalist expects greater and greater wickedness from the folks who supposedly own and run everything. Given recent statistics on corporate cheating, dishonest accounting, phony resumes, puffed earnings statements, legalized embezzlement schemes and more, the Green Party environmentalist believes the world is going to hell in a capitalist handbasket (which is certainly of higher quality than the socialist alternative). Whatever major party wins the election, the moral decline of the country's elite isn't going to stop. Whether or not global warming is real, the weather isn't going to be decided at the polls. Even if the United States elected the Green Party candidate, the country would still be governed by an oligarchy. As Robert Michels explained several decades ago, "Democracy is merely another way of organizing oligarchy." Truthfully, a Green Party oligarchy would prove worse than the reviled "corporate" oligarchy. Green Party politicians, like all politicians, are not to be mistaken for saints. If they have avoided "selling out" to the corporate elite, then perhaps it's because some of them have been growing and selling marijuana on the side. The reviled businessman, in fact, has been America's salvation. I think it was H.L. Mencken who once noted that all oligarchies involve larceny; but America's so-called robber-barons were different. Their gains were used to build a country.
Those who stand outside the two-party system, like the Libertarians and the Green Party advocates, tend to dismiss the differences between the Democrats and Republicans for the following reasons: The way the existing system works-the very logic of American democracy-has given us a two-party system. What is the real difference between them? One of these two parties represents a gradualist Bolshevism mixed with liberalism (the Democrats); the other represents a more conservative approach (potentially signifying the sudden and unexpected surrender of tradition, common sense and economic freedom). The two major parties accept the welfare state, they embrace fiscal irresponsiblity, they prefer free trade that isn't free and a pattern of globalization that is bound to implode. And yet, the apparent flexibility and professional realism of this two-party system has served us well. It is the pattern of Western democracy that everything looks to be in shambles from the perspective of philosophical rationalism. But the world is greater than our philosophical categories. Those of us who loathe the fiscal irresponsibility and administrative bloatedness of the federal government tend to think it is bound to come to grief. Yes, and admittedly we have thought this for twenty years. Through all this time the great system has managed to maintain our prosperity and avoid catastrophe. This is not what many of us expected. How does a system that wastes so much money, that tolerates so much corruption, continue to advance as if from strength to strength?
This week I traveled across the United States. The country is a marvel. Landing in New York after flying from Los Angeles, driving West through New Jersey, cheered by the changing of the leaves in Eastern Pennsylvania's colonial yuppy (peppered with blue Kerry/Edwards signs), the country's apparent prosperity is mind-boggling. Despite an obvious spiritual, educational and intellectual decline, something is holding back the floodgates of chaos. Perhaps we are gliding forward on the unspent momentum of earlier times. I do not know.
Does it make a difference who we vote for next Tuesday?
The short answer is "yes." George Bush and John Kerry are not the same. Their respective instincts and ideas are different. Each will react to a crisis in a unique way. President Bush prefers an aggressive foreign policy. This entails risks and benefits. Senator Kerry prefers cautious diplomacy. In terms of domestic policy, the political outcome depends to a great extent on control of Congress.
Who is likely to win the election?
Despite several polls showing a tight race, President Bush is in a much stronger position than John Kerry. A close election is possible, but my guess is that President Bush will win by at least 60 electoral votes, and by 5-8 percent of the popular vote.
Well, the outcome will be known soon enough.