The other day, an email landed in my mailbox exhorting me to vote for George W. Bush. It said that if John Kerry wins, evildoers will dance with joy, the rivers will run with blood, milk will curdle, and the angels will weep. Well, not in so many words, but that was the general drift of it. When I was done reading this screed, I had a strong urge to vote for John Kerry.
That lasted until I read the latest screed telling me that if Bush is reelected, heretics and dissenters will be burned at the stake on the Washington Mall, independent women will be replaced by those nifty robots from The Stepford Wives, and killer hurricanes will sweep the land. That last part, by the way, is not an exaggeration; pro-Kerry billboards in Florida are telling voters that Bush's failure to stop global warming will lead to more potent hurricanes.
Sometimes in a debate, you find yourself rooting for whomever you are listening to at the moment. In this election, at least for me, it's been the other way round. Bush won't admit to a single mistake he has made in the course of his presidency (now there's a new doctrine: presidential infallibility!) and continues to give us an Alice-in-Wonderland version of a liberated Iraq where things keep getting better and better. Kerry won't admit to a single flip-flop, and tells us he knows exactly what to do to get us out of the mess in Iraq.
Meanwhile, in one of the lowest points of this already low campaign, John Edwards tells us if Kerry gets elected, quadriplegics like Christopher Reeve will get up from their wheelchairs and walk. Is this man running for president or God?
Right now, while Iraq burns, the two presidential candidates squabble in their television ads over who's to blame for the flu vaccine shortage. It's Bush's fault—it happened on his watch! No, it's Kerry's fault—he and his trial lawyer friends blocked tort reform that could have kept more flu vaccine manufacturers in business! Maybe, before it's all over, the candidates will accuse each other of spreading the Black Plague.
I am not a Republican or a Democrat. Politically, I would describe myself as a moderate libertarian, which means that I favor fairly minimal government intervention both in the economy and in social and personal life. I have still voted for major party candidates, putting aside disagreements on some key issues. Never yet have I felt so tempted to vote for whatever dingbat the Libertarian Party has put on the ballot this year (for the record, Michael Badnarik), or to cast a write-in vote for George Washington, Xena the Warrior Princess, or Homer Simpson.
This year, libertarians are as divided as the general population. This was evident not only at a recent symposium on the war in Iraq that I attended at the Cato Institute, America's foremost libertarian think-tank, but in endorsements by columnists and bloggers. Few find much to like about Kerry, who has the typical liberal's faith in the government's ability to manage people's affairs better than they can themselves. But what about Bush? Is he, mistakes notwithstanding, a defender of Western civilization and its freedoms against a theocratic fascist enemy—or a reckless bungler abroad and himself an enemy of freedom at home?
I don't know how I'm going to vote. I know that I'm fed up with the hysteria and the distortions on both sides, and with trying to figure out which side lies worse. I'm offended when the Bush team suggests that a Kerry victory would leave us more vulnerable to another terrorist attack. I roll my eyes when Bill Clinton tells people to vote for the candidate who offers hope rather than fear while Kerry tries to scare us with the prospect of a draft. I find myself bitterly amused when each candidate rips into the other for stating, at different times, the difficult truth—that it's unlikely we will defeat terrorism completely, and that the best we can do is reduce the risk to manageable levels.
Many years ago, the great American essayist H.L. Mencken wrote, "Under democracy, one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule—and both commonly succeed, and are right." Never did this insight seem so true.
With charges of election theft already flying, perhaps the best one can wish for this election is: Please, let it be over quickly.