Third Party & Independents Archives

Lets Agree to Agree

A political science professor once taught me that if there are only two candidates with a realistic chance to win an election, the laws of self-interest will inexorably push both toward the center. This theory was on grand display during the Wednesday night President Debate, with John Kerry and George W. Bush squabbling about details while being unwilling to make serious principled distinctions.

The following are examples of issues on which one or both of the candidates purposefully pushed themselves toward the center to increase their chances winning in November:

1. Gun Control- Both men expressed their admiration for the Second Amendment, while spitting on it by supporting the extension of the assault weapons ban. If Americans want to ban assault weapons so much, they should have to pass a constitutional amendment. It is dangerous to ignore away constitutional rights because the majority no longer finds them useful.

2. Minimum Wage- In what was one of the most surprising (and infuriating) moments of the night, George W. Bush joined John Kerry in supporting increasing the minimum wage. It is staggering that candidates who talk about the problem of unemployment cannot see that increasing the minimum wage, if it has any effect at all, will lead to more unemployment. A principled stand by Bush on this issue could have showed how confused Kerry’s economic vision is. But Bush chose to take the path of least resistance because increasing the minimum wage sounds like it make sense to certain key voters in key states.

3. Affirmative Action and Abortion- These are two areas where conservatives have the moral high ground- fighting both for the rights of the unborn and against obvious racist policy. Yet, George W. Bush deftly dodged taking any position on these issues by (1) refusing to condemn the logically and constitutionally implausible Roe v. Wade on two separate occasions (not that I expect Bush to understand what Roe v. Wade stands for, as he could not even explain what Dred Scott was about in the second debate); (2) refusing to condemn affirmative action.

4. Gay Marriage- While John Kerry reiterated his opposition to the gay marriage amendment, he continued his resistance to granting marriage rights to same sex couples. As a result, he shied away from an issue where Democrats clearly have the moral high ground for fear of upsetting key voters.

5. Fiscal Policy- Each man talked about his many extra spending initiatives- from job training to healthcare to school funding, ect. They both did this while promising to either cut taxes on just the middle and lower classes (Kerry) or cut them on everyone (Bush). Both men expressed confidence in their mystical ability to implement these plans while cutting the deficit.

6. Education- Both candidates espoused the same model for education, with the federal government expanding its extraconstitutional role in funding education across the country. The only disagreement was whether the currently bloated federal budget for education is large enough.

It is striking how little principled disagreement there was in the debate and how most of the talking heads ignored this obvious fact. The rhetoric may have been sharp, but the discussions on real issues were muted in hopes of capturing the few remaining “swing” voters in “swing” states. Meanwhile, those of us who think there is serious depth to issues like the minimum wage, abortion, affirmative action, gun control and gay marriage were left without anything of substance.

It looks like the theory my professor taught me could not have been more right- frustratingly so.

Posted by Misha Tseytlin at October 16, 2004 11:45 PM