Instead, we got Bore and Gush. During the primary season, I grew increasingly disgusted with George W. Bush, so much so that I reached the conclusion that I could not vote for him. That certainly did not mean that I voted for Al Gore. Some have talked about this campaign being, as in 1996, a choice of the "lesser of two evils," or the "evil of two lessers." My take is that Gore is evil, but Bush is lesser. I instead supported Pat Buchanan.
It didn't have to be that way. Despite sympathy for some elements of Buchanan's appeal, I disagree with him on many issues. Like most Republicans in 1999, I was excited by what I heard about the junior Bush: a youthful governor, energetic, re-elected by a landslide, popular among blacks and Hispanics, an incredible campaigner, yet at the same time, more conservative than his father. While I supported Alan Keyes as the primary campaign began, I knew that there was little chance he would win and that Bush would most likely get the nomination, and looked forward to waging a general campaign with a candidate as wonderful as Bush. It is a mark of Bush's mediocrity that he lost my loyalty in spite of my divergences with Buchanan.
My disillusionment began when George Bush avoided the early debates, turning up his nose at the other candidates. While Keyes boldly championed his principles in debate after debate, Bush cowered in Austin, waiting for his coronation. When he finally showed himself for the later debates, it became apparent just why he had been staying away. He had nothing to say! He spent the entire primary season avoiding taking a single stand on any issue! I also became convinced, as did others, that he really wasn't all that smart. He only scored 1200 on his SAT (underwhelming for someone wishing to become the most powerful man in the world),
Of course, the junior George Bush would not have gained such support without his last name. He dominated public opinion polls at a time when few knew much about him. As the Clinton years grind on, it has become more and more common to remember the Bush presidency in a nostalgic haze, as a time when the White House was occupied by a man who respected the dignity of his office. It is all too easy to forget that the Bush administration was actually a failure, when a lack of vision squandered the legacy of Reagan and opened the door to Bill Clinton.
Some point to foreign policy as the senior George Bush's strong suit, but that only underscores how pathetic his administration was.
Bush's foreign policies
Bush reaped the benefits of Ronald Reagan's policies in Eastern Europe, presiding over the final collapse of communism, but mainly as a passive observer. Reagan had stood before the Berlin Wall and challenged Mr. Gorbachev to "tear down this wall," but on the night that Berliners began tearing down the Wall, Bush had nothing to say. And as the peoples of the Soviet Union demanded self-determination and the opening of the "prison of nations," Bush delivered his infamous "Chicken Kiev" speech, warning against their national aspirations.
His invasion of Panama was another great bungle. Admittedly, he inherited a hardline policy towards Manuel Noriega from the Reagan administration. However, he could have removed Noriega with far less bloodshed and expense had he given military support to an attempted coup a few months earlier. Instead, he held back, and the coup leaders were executed. The invasion itself was an excessive and pointless exercise. Prior to the invasion, Noriega had been the subject of hysterical media coverage, depicting him as a cruel despot almost singlehandedly responsible for poisoning America's youth with drugs.
The Gulf War is hailed as a triumph, but Bush's botching of the endgame ensured that Saddam Hussein would remain a thorn in our side. President Bush called an early end to the war, and by failing to give guidance to the commanders negotiating the armistice, allowed Saddam Hussein to unleash helicopter gunships against rebelling Iraqis. Indeed, his abandonment of those rebels is his greatest disgrace. Bush had called on the "people" of Iraq to rise up. But once they did so, he suddenly decided he didn't want Shi'ites rising up, because they might ally with their coreligionists in Iran, or Kurds, because they might inspire Kurds in neighboring countries to rebel against their governments, including Kurds in Turkey, our NATO ally. But the Shi'ites alone comprise more than half of Iraq's population! Thus, after calling on the "people" to rise up, Bush concluded that two-thirds or more of the "people" belonged to the wrong religious or ethnic group! The will of Saddam's generals was collapsing in the face of the swelling revolt, but Bush's comments about preserving the "territorial integrity" of Iraq bolstered them and headed off their defection. When president-elect Clinton's comments on Haiti inspired thousands of Haitians to begin building boats, official Washington tsk-tsked him, saying that he needed to learn that words have consequences; but what of George Bush, who
Nor did his administration's reaction to the breakup of Yugoslavia show much brilliance. Just as Bush had stressed the "territorial integrity" of Iraq, so too did he initially refuse to recognize the secession of Slovenia and Croatia.
At this point, a reader might conclude that my support for Pat Buchanan has more to do with a dislike of George W. Bush (or even a dislike of his father) than any positive appeal on his part, and there is more than a grain of truth to that.
Considering that I am not all that enthusiastic about Buchanan either, perhaps I should discuss the other third-party candidates, and why I did not support one of them.
Harry Browne, Libertarian: I sympathize with many aspects of the Libertarian message, but their indifference to the moral decay of the nation turns me away.
John Hagelin, Natural Law: I don't consider Transcendental Meditation to be the solution to all of this country's problems, which pretty much excludes this choice.
Ralph Nader, Green Party: Despite disagreeing with Nader and the Greens on almost every issue, I admire the idealism and excitement they have generated. I'm almost tempted to vote for him just to "stick it" to the two parties. But in the end the gulf between our positions is too great.
Howard Phillips, Constitution Party: Phillips is the candidate that I would likely be voting for if I were not supporting Buchanan. He does not have some of the baggage Buchanan has, and in some areas is closer to my own positions than Buchanan. However, I had already proclaimed my support for Buchanan; I believed that voting for Buchanan would have more of an impact this year; and if I have differences with Buchanan, I have some with Phillips as well.