Preposterous Universe

Thursday, October 28, 2004
Winning the war

John Holbo points to a post by Jim Henley on why libertarians should vote for Kerry. Part of the argument is kind of obvious -- general fears of big-government Democrats aside, why would any libertarian think that George W. Bush would be better? Apart from the general incompetence of the administration at just about everything, they haven't demonstrated any particular tendency toward small government, aside from cutting taxes. Spending is up, foreign policy is willfully interventionist, the deficit is out of control, civil liberties are under assault as never in the past fifty years, and no special effort has been made to promote free trade. But the particular emphasis of Henley's piece is the unrealistic attitude of the administration to the war on terror. Which, although I agree with the critique, raises an interesting rhetorical point, and a valid criticism against both Kerry and Bush.

"Terror" is a tactic, not an enemy. You can't "win" the "war" on it, the notion is absurd. The best you can hope to do is to minimize the danger, so that concerns about terror are reasonably contained, just as we hope to do with countless other dramatic dangers. Everybody in their right minds knows this, certainly both candidates do. But you aren't allowed to admit it out loud. It is taken as a given that we must pretend that the goal is to crush terrorism out of existence, and that each candidate has a plan for doing so within four years. The problem is, campaigning is hard and people get tired, so both candidates will occasionally slip. They will admit in moments of weakness that the fight against terror is likely to go on forever, and that really the goal is to minimize the danger. Within minutes the other campaign will be all over them, accusing the momentarily honest politician of insufficient manliness to lead our nation through these perilous times.

Only a few more days before the recounts and court challenges begin in earnest.

Ideas on culture, science, politics.
Sean Carroll

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