Foreign Policy

Editor's Note: Electoral Unenthusiasm

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In "Who's Getting Your Vote?," our presidential poll that starts on page 24, I cop to the youthful indiscretion of pulling the lever for Walter Mondale back in 1984, the first presidential contest in which I cast a ballot. What can I say? Fritz's notorious "Norwegian charisma," combined with my sympathy for obvious losers and a general lack of interest in politics at the time, account for my decades-old decision.

As we gathered responses on past and pending votes from a wide variety of wonks, journalists, and thinkers for this issue, I was surprised by the range of responses, and not simply with regard to participants' "most embarrassing vote." (On that score, I think most readers will agree that John Perry Barlow's vote for George Wallace takes the prize, though P.J. O'Rourke's write-in ballot for "Chairman Meow" is a close second.)

I was even more struck by the almost complete lack of enthusiasm for any of this season's candidates. Election 2004 may or may not be the most fractious—and important—election in recent memory, but it is unquestionably the most dispiriting.

Mirroring the national electorate, most of our poll participants are voting against someone rather than for someone. That is, when they can stomach making a decision at all. "Bush does not deserve re-election," says supply-side maven Jude Wanniski in a typical entry, "and Kerry does not deserve to be elected." Or, as Senior Editor Jacob Sullum sums up his sentiments, "I would like to see Bush lose, but without Kerry winning." Yet one of these two will win. (Sorry to break the news to Nader's raiders and Badnarik's boosters.)

Ben Fenwick's great on-the-ground piece, "Meanwhile in Afghanistan" (page 48), lays out part of the foreign policy conundrum that will immediately face November's victor: "the coming 'warlord war' in America's other occupation." In trenchant and telling detail, Fenwick reports that even as post-Taliban Afghanistan readies for its own presidential contest this fall, the line between electoral politics and civil war remains far from clear. More troubling, U.S. troops in that Central Asian country are increasingly under fire as various militias vie for power and prestige.

Closer to home, Reason Science Correspondent Ronald Bailey's "Mandatory Health Insurance Now!" (page 38) documents the creeping nationalization of health care during George W. Bush's first term, a trend that would likely accelerate under a President Kerry. "Maintaining our private medical system is vital because American health care and medical science are the most advanced and innovative in the world," writes Bailey, who argues that "most medical progress will be stopped in its tracks" if a national single-payer system is adopted.

That neither major-party candidate offers a sharply defined alternative to the other on this issue (among many others) helps to explain the lack of enthusiasm they inspire in voters.

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