he 2004 election is more significant than any since the end of the Cold War. Irrespective of the Administration’s tactical errors in Iraq, the two parties and their respective “red” and “blue” states–the symbolism of which tells which is now the patrician and which the plebeian party–are divided by the key issue of this generation: whether 9/11 was a signal that the postmodern victimary era is over and that we can no longer afford to consider resentment of “hegemonic” power as proof of injustice, or whether, on the contrary, 9/11 was a warning that the USA has been paying insufficient heed to the resentments generated by its hegemony–those of our Franco-German allies, disturbed by our “hyperpower,” and especially those of the Muslim world, where our “crusader” policies are “recruiting terrorists.”
The debates between the candidates have succeeded only in muddying the waters; by “looking presidential,” Kerry has increased his chances of victory without in the least facing up to the consequences of the configuration of American hegemony and its resentful opposition that will dominate the world scene for the foreseeable future. Just because Bush failed to refer to Kerry’s vote against the first Gulf War or to his damning August remark that, given what he knew, he would still have authorized the second, and just because Kerry is now opportunistically attacking the administration from the right as well as the left, calling for more troops and equipment after voting against the supplemental appropriation, doesn’t mean that the Democratic party has suddenly returned to the era of Harry Truman. It is the party of Michael Moore, and Kerry is a member of its liberal wing. Just the other day, Kerry expressed the thought that our goal should be to reduce terrorism to an “annoyance,” like illegal gambling and prostitution. However the rhetoric is spun, the comparison of mass murder with victimless crimes is offensive in itself; but what is more disturbing is this blithe revelation of the lack of seriousness with which the Democratic candidate and his party consider the central conflict in the world today. It is a follow-up to Kerry’s criticism that the “$200 billion” spent on Iraq would better be invested in after-school lunch programs.
Whatever Bush’s failings as a debater, I think the most significant moment of the first debate was one of his few triumphs: his picking out the term “global test” in Kerry’s carefully worded set of criteria for preemptive action. The party that speaks in terms of a “global test” is more attentive to the opinions of reluctant allies than to our own sense of political necessity; as Clinton’s record shows–and Clinton had the excuse of preceding 9/11–it projects power only weakly and in situations peripheral to the national interest. The left has always seen the glass as half-empty, but only in the victimary era does its championing of negativity target not an all-powerful Capitalist other, but ourselves–Pogo’s “We have met the enemy and they are us.” From the party of the people, the Democrats have become the party of upscale white guilt to which the “dominated” are attracted as clients. The old-money patrician Roosevelt spoke to the masses; the parvenu-patrician Kerry speaks to the liberal intelligentsia. This is a transformation wrought by the postmodern era.
The Republicans, in contrast, are the conservative party; they value what is over what might be and view history in that light. Fifty years ago, the Republican-Democrat opposition meant little more than that one party was more sensitive to the desires of the working class and the other to those of business owners. Today the Republicans are the chief defenders not merely of “business interests” but of global democracy. The world in the era of American hegemony is a resentful place, and our choice in this election is between a candidate and a party who respect this resentment and would engage it in dialogue, and a candidate and a party who believe that only by diminishing the danger of the world’s resentment to us will we diminish the resentment itself.
Victimary thinking has become to such an extent the dominant mode of the postmodern intelligentsia and the end of the Cold War has created so great an asymmetry in favor of the United States that the most extreme violence exercised against us in nearly two hundred years has only driven the Left further left. No doubt a president more like FDR than George W. Bush might have rallied a larger percentage of the moderate electorate; but this makes the choice in November all the more crucial. The Democrats’ insistence on “strength” and on their standard-bearer’s four-month three-Purple-Heart war record is not so much dishonest as an attempt to persuade themselves, along with the voters, that they are as staunch defenders of American interests as their opponents. But the party of white guilt is a poor choice to defend these interests against forces that manipulate this guilt.
Asymmetric warfare against a shadowy brotherhood may not be the same as state-level warfare, but it is warfare nonetheless. Israel, the most salient point of scandal for Muslim irredentism, has shown us the way by its relentless fight against terrorist groups, including the assassination of their leaders. Not long ago, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict played the same role as Iraq today, that of the crucial test of the need for a post-millennial reassessment of victimary thinking. Today we can say–cautiously, but with a clear sense of momentum–that Palestinian terrorism is a demonstrated failure; increasing numbers of Palestinians are apparently realizing this themselves. The longevity of Yasser Arafat, like that of his fellow “revolutionary,” Fidel Castro, serves as the chief obstacle to a democratic renewal that will not, to be sure, turn Palestinians and Israelis into brothers, but should lead to the renewal of some of the initiatives of the Oslo period, this time on a far more receptive terrain. Terrorists are willing to give their lives for their cause only so long as they can imagine it prevailing. Islamic terrorism can be defeated if we are willing to follow the Israeli model.
The challenger’s argument that Iraq is “the wrong war at the wrong time” has the appearance of a strategic position when it is in reality a formulation of principle. Like their European mentors, the Democrats are opposed to any war that is not a direct response to attack. Action against Iraq would have been warranted only if a smoking gun had been found connecting Saddam with al Qaeda; being a supporter and fomenter of terrorism–and one thought by everyone to have retained the capacity for chemical and biological, if not yet nuclear warfare–is not sufficient. Bush in fighting Saddam instead of pursuing Osama is “taking his eye off the ball,” as though there were only one “ball” on the Islamic-terrorist field. Beyond Osama, the Democrats insist on the dangers from Iran and North Korea as if to demonstrate that, since they are as bad as Iraq, we should have invaded all three or none at all.
Weapons of mass destruction or not, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the best place to start replacing despotism with democracy. Many tactical errors have been made there, but they can be corrected; the war has been won and the “peace” will eventually be won as well. It took considerable political courage for Bush to carry out this proactive policy, and it is a courage that the opposition party and its standard-bearer do not have.
If you think our aim should be to reduce terrorism to an “annoyance” like gambling and prostitution, you should vote for Kerry. If you take our combat with radical Islam a little more seriously than that, then you should be happy to know that there is a candidate in this election who shares your views.