Why is this race even close?

Because George W. Bush has campaigned better, proposed more forward-thinking programs and proved, in the end, that he's smarter than Al Gore.

Topics: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Al Gore, LGBT,

Why is this race even close?

If anyone had told me back in February that I would be endorsing George W. Bush for president in November, I wouldn’t have believed it. I was a McCainiac back then, and an Al Gore sympathizer. You can check my columns to see that I’m not making this up. I wrote several zingers on Bush, especially after Bob Jones and the refusal to meet with Log Cabin Republicans. I’m not a Republican. I’m a small-government independent: fiscally conservative, socially pretty liberal, with libertarian leanings. I supported President Clinton in 1992. I’m gay, and it is hard to forget the vile gay baiting that has passed for social policy among some of the Republican right in the past decade or two.

Sure, I became a Clinton critic in the mid-1990s, but I never extended my contempt to Gore, whom I always took to be a decent, earnest man. I found the social agenda of the Republican Congresses of the 1990s to be disgusting — from their anti-immigrant posturing to their gay baiting. And I found much that the New Democrats did — from welfare reform to the expansion of the earned-income tax credit to NAFTA — to be admirable government policy. I also believed that the New Democrats represented a good start toward undoing the identity politics of the previous years, a politics that has done nothing but further marginalize minorities in a well-meaning attempt to help them.

So why George W. Bush? The answer turns out to be a pretty simple one. When I look at what he is proposing to do, I agree with him far more than I do with Al Gore. For me to support Gore on his current big-government, leftist platform would simply mean renouncing most of the principles I have long believed in and cherish. Let me explain.

The surplus. Bush’s tax cut is too big for an already overheated economy. But I do believe that the bulk of the surplus should go either toward paying down the debt or toward reducing tax rates for all of us. Leave that money in Washington and it will be guzzled up by a thousand pork-barrel projects or by the bottomless pits we call Medicare and Social Security. Gore has no real tax cuts. He merely has a bunch of new tax shelters, designed to pander to certain constituencies. Our tax code is already way too complicated without adding another layer of micromanagement.

Gore also wants to funnel most of the rest of the surplus into an unreformed Social Security system. To my mind, that’s money wasted. Social Security was a system designed in the 1930s, and the way it siphons vast amounts of productive capital into low-paying government investments is explicable only in the context of a country terrified of another Great Depression. It should, in my view, be privatized along the British model, a part-public, part-private system that has led to a transformation in that country’s fiscal standing. Bush’s plan is half-assed and vague. With any luck, it will be improved and fully analyzed before it is ever implemented. But at least Bush has put reform on the table. If he’s defeated, we won’t have a chance to revisit it until it’s too late. Gore’s know-nothing response to the looming Social Security crisis, his desire to keep it as an election issue and his pandering to the elderly to preserve it have basically cost him my respect.

Healthcare. It’s quite clear now where Gore wants to take the country — toward a government-controlled medical system. His support for a new prescription drug entitlement under the existing Medicare program is the surest sign of this. He wants to give a benefit that’s soaring in price to the wealthiest group in society: the already pampered elderly. Apart from winning Florida and Pennsylvania, Gore’s aim in this is surely to increase the federal government’s leverage with the drug companies and thereby force drug prices down. The next step is price controls, and a slowly expanding federal role in medicine.

All of this would, in my view, be disastrous. We would hear another giant sucking sound as Medicare costs, unrestrained by HMOs, soared. We would see a swift decline in research and development as the drug companies saw their profit margins clobbered. We would move one step closer to the socialized healthcare systems of Europe, where everyone gets the same, crappy care, except for the superrich, who can escape. I feel particularly strongly about this because I have HIV. Gore’s attacks on the pharmaceutical industry — and by extension, the industry’s research — represent a far bigger threat to people with AIDS than anything Bush is proposing. But the AIDS establishment is so intermeshed with the Democratic money machine that it will never tell HIV-ers the truth.

Identity politics. One reason I liked New Democrats was their resistance to the victimology culture of the ethnic and sexual interest groups. I believe in an equal society with equal rights for individuals — not a balkanized society where membership in certain groups guarantees special privileges and rights. Gore, to my great surprise, has turned out to embrace groupthink in all its forms. He believes in crude affirmative action, just when most people realize it’s counterproductive and immoral. He supports a hate crimes law, a fascistic device to bring group rights into the criminal justice system and use law as an instrument of the thought police. He opposes measures, like gay marriage and school vouchers, that would grant equality to individuals of any group and demand responsibility in turn.

Bush leaves a lot to be desired on these issues. He has ducked a forceful rejection of affirmative action, he believes in hate crimes laws for some groups but not others and he thinks gay people should live as criminals under sodomy laws (which is almost enough to send me back to Gore). Bush would represent an uneven and unprincipled check on the balkanization of America. But a check is better than the expansion of the racial and sexual apartheid favored by Gore.

The campaigns. Quite simply, if Gore runs the country the way he has run his campaign, we’re in huge trouble. He micromanages, he bloviates, he condescends, he panders, he demonizes. He compares some Americans to vermin, he equates opposition to him as evil, he attacks the very people he takes money from, he changes themes from day to day and hour to hour. He has no ability to relate to most Americans, resorting to the corniest rhetoric and cheapest of cheap shots on a daily basis. What passes for his intellect is the most pretentious, pseudo-intellectual drivel you’re likely to hear this side of a Bill Moyers special.

Can you imagine how he’d run the country? We’d have more chiefs of staff in four years than versions of AOL.

Bush is no hero. He’s incurious, he’s inarticulate and he bears all the marks of the privilege into which he was born. But he has at least been vaguely consistent, he’s kept his pledges (to campaign in California, for example), he has avoided the puritanism of past Republican campaigns and he clearly won all three debates. His veep pick has survived the test of time better than Gore’s. To be honest, I never expected him to campaign with this kind of skill. Is he too dumb? It wasn’t Bush who compared running the country to a bagel or went on about the “self-sameness” principle. It wasn’t Bush who managed to turn what should easily be a landslide victory into a squeaker by his sheer political stupidity. Bush is no intellect, but he’s no dumber than Dwight Eisenhower or John F. Kennedy. And he’s surely sharper than Gore.

Two final thoughts. I can hear you all now wailing: How can a gay man support George W. Bush? If you tote up the policies on any number of gay-related issues, it’s undeniable — Gore is far better. I don’t want to hide from that. But on some of those issues — hate crimes law, for example — I actually agree with Bush. On marriage rights, I obviously disagree about as strongly as anyone could. But a president has little power over the issue. The worst he can do has already been done — by Clinton, when he signed the Defense of Marriage Act, which was eagerly supported by Gore.

On the military, Gore is clearly better. But forgive me for skepticism. Gore was in part responsible for almost doubling the rate of discharge of gay people from the military in the last seven years. He says he’ll end the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” Don’t believe him. He can’t do it alone; and there won’t be enough votes in Congress to do it for him. He’d much rather push legislation, like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which keeps gays in their assigned place as victims, and keeps him as the recipient of all the money gay rights groups funnel his way. On the plus side, Bush has clearly signaled an end to the gay baiting of the recent Republican past. The way Dick Cheney handled the question of marriage rights in the debate was encouraging to say the least; and having an open lesbian in the second family can only help. In my judgment, it is far more important for gay people in this country in the long term that the Republicans moderate their hostility than that the Democrats continue their co-optation.

A victory for Gore and the Human Rights Campaign (sorry for the redundancy) would mean the same pattern of the last few years: little progress, continued polarization and more corruption of a civil rights movement that needs to get distance from pandering pols. In short: Gore’s better, but not so much better that a self-respecting homo couldn’t vote for Bush (or even Nader) for broader political or economic reasons.

Another defensive crouch: I’m not supporting Bush for purely selfish white/rich/whatever reasons. In some ways, my life would be a lot easier if I endorsed Gore. Heck, my paycheck is paid by one of Gore’s closest confidants and supporters. Almost all my friends are liberal Democrats. You think I’m going to get a warm embrace from the Republicans? And I’m not desperate for a tax cut. I’m writing this simply because, in my conscience and judgment, it’s the right call. I may be wrong.

But one reason I have become so disenchanted with the left is its politics of personal emotional blackmail. One more vicious letter comparing me in truly hateful language to Clarence Thomas and I’ll lose it. One reason I have come to respect Bush is that he has not indulged in the same tactics. I hold some slim hope that if he wins Tuesday, our politics might even become more civil, open and, yes, tolerant. I see few signs at present that Al Gore, after the vicious, divisive negativism of his campaign, could achieve the same result.

Salon columnist Andrew Sullivan's commentary appears daily on his own andrewsullivan.com Web site.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>