Niall Ferguson: The Republicans Might Be Better Off If Bush Loses





Niall Ferguson, in the WSJ (Aug. 27, 2004)

It is doubtless not the most tactful question to ask on the eve of the Republican convention, but might it not be better for American conservatism if George Bush failed to win a second term?

Yes, I know, the official GOP line is that nothing could possibly be as bad for the U.S. as a Kerry presidency. According to the Bush campaign, John Kerry's record of vacillation and inconsistency in the Senate would make him a disastrously indecisive POTUS -- an IMPOTUS, as it were. By contrast, they insist, Mr. Bush is decisiveness incarnate. And when this president makes a decision, he sticks to it with Texan tenacity (no matter how wrong it turns out to be).

It is a mistake, however, to conceive of each presidential contest as an entirely discrete event, a simple, categorical choice between two individuals, with consequences stretching no further than four years.

To be sure, there are many tendencies in American political life that will not be fundamentally affected by the outcome of November's election. For example, contrary to what Mr. Kerry claimed in his convention speech, there are profound structural causes for the widening rift between the U.S. and its erstwhile allies on the European continent that no new president could possibly counteract. And regardless of whether Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry is in the White House next year, the U.S. will still be stuck with the dirty work of policing post-Saddam Iraq with minimal European assistance other than from Britain -- which, by the same token, will remain America's most reliable military ally . . . regardless of whether Mr. Bush or Mr. Kerry is in the White House.

Nor would the election of Mr. Kerry have the slightest impact on the ambition of al Qaeda to inflict harm on the U.S. Even if Americans elected Michael Moore as president, Osama bin Laden would remain implacable.

In geopolitical terms, at least, what happens on Nov. 2 will change very little indeed. Yet in other respects -- and particularly in terms of party politics -- the election's consequences could be far-reaching. It is not too much to claim that the result could shape American political life for a decade or more....

In my view, the Bush administration, too, does not deserve to be re-elected. Its idée fixe about regime change in Iraq was not a logical response to the crisis of 9/11. Its fiscal policy has been an orgy of irresponsibility. Given the hesitations of independent voters in the swing states, polls currently point to a narrow Bush defeat....

But then what? The lesson of British history [--a flawed John Major won election, which led to the demise of the Tories for seven years and counting--]is that a second Bush term could be more damaging to the Republicans and more beneficial to the Democrats than a Bush defeat. If he secures re-election, President Bush can be relied upon to press on with a foreign policy based on pre-emptive military force, to ignore the impending fiscal crisis (on the Cheney principle that "Deficits don't matter") and to pursue socially conservative objectives like the constitutional ban on gay marriage. Anyone who thinks this combination will serve to maintain Republican unity is dreaming; it will do the opposite. Meanwhile, the Dems will have another four years to figure out what the Labour Party finally figured out: It's the candidate, stupid. And when the 2008 Republican candidate goes head-to-head with the American Tony Blair, he will get wiped out.

The obvious retort is that American politics is not British politics. No? Go back half a century, to 1956, and recall the events that led up to the re-election of another Republican incumbent. Sure, Eisenhower didn't have much in common personally with George W. Bush, except perhaps the relaxed work rate. But Ike was no slouch when it came to regime change. In 1953 a CIA-sponsored coup in Iran installed as dictator Mohammed Reza Shah. In 1954 Ike enunciated the "domino theory," following the defeat of France in Vietnam and invaded Guatemala to install another pro-American dictator. In 1955 he shelled the Chinese isles of Quemoy and Matsu.

Yet Eisenhower's refusal to back the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt following Nasser's nationalization of the Suez Canal, and his acquiescence in the Soviet invasion of Hungary, should have alerted American voters to the lack of coherence in his strategy. Predictably, Ike's re-election was followed by a string of foreign-policy reverses -- not least the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy in Iraq, Castro's takeover of Cuba and the shooting down of Gary Powers's U-2 spy plane over the Soviet Union. These were the setbacks that lent credibility to JFK's hawkish campaign in 1960: And Kennedy's victory handed the rest of the decade to the Democrats.

Like Adlai Stevenson before him, Mr. Kerry has an aura of unelectability that may yet prove fatal to his hopes. But a Stevenson win in 1956 would have transformed the subsequent course of American political history. Conservatives may ask themselves with good reason whether defeat then might ultimately have averted the much bigger defeats they suffered in the '60s. In just the same way, moderate Republicans today may justly wonder if a second Bush term is really in their best interests. Might four years of Mr. Kerry not be preferable to eight years or more of really effective Democratic leadership?


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Jeff Schneider - 8/28/2004

These pro-war theorists are amazing. First they set the intellectual groundwork for the necessity for war (Boot), and empire (Ferguson) and then they say that the War in Iraq was not justified. Empire is as empire does, Mr. Ferguson. In the event, they turn up opposed to the war and "reconstruction." They are as shameless as can be.

Jeff Schneider


Jeff Schneider - 8/28/2004

These pro-war theorists are amazing. First they set the intellectual groundwork for the necessity for war (Boot), and empire (Ferguson) and then they say that the War in Iraq was not justified. Empire is as empire does, Mr. Ferguson. In the event, they turn up opposed to the war and "reconstruction." They are as shameless as can be.

Jeff Schneider

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