Why this pro-life libertarian is voting for Kerry

October 26, 2004|By Steve Chapman

CHICAGO - At the age of 50, I get few chances to try something entirely new. Come Nov. 2, I plan to take one of those rare opportunities. I'm going to vote for a Democrat for president.

I've never done it before, and I hope I never have to do it again. But George W. Bush has made an irresistible case against his own re-election. His first term has been one of the most dismal and costly failures of any presidency. His second promises to be even worse.

John Kerry is not an inspiring candidate. He's a believer in expensive government solutions, a defender of abortion rights and a supporter of the congressional resolution that gave President Bush the authority to invade Iraq. I'm a small-government, pro-life libertarian who thought the war was a terrible idea from the start.

But I can't vote Republican this year - and the stakes demand using any available instrument to remove Mr. Bush. Mr. Kerry is not the ideal instrument, just as a rubber raft is not the optimal vessel on the open sea. But when the ship is sinking, you can't be choosy.

One of the most heartening positions Mr. Bush took in 2000 was to reject using the U.S. military for nation-building. I hoped he would reverse President Bill Clinton's habit of risking American lives on missions that didn't enhance American security. Instead, Mr. Bush has embraced that approach in spades, taking possession of a country that posed no appreciable threat to us.

Now we are mired in a war that Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said there is "no way to militarily win." For that, we can thank Mr. Bush.

As for the broader terrorist threat, we can also thank him for shortchanging the program to dismantle Russian nuclear weapons - which may someday wind up with al-Qaida. More of those potentially "loose nukes" were destroyed in the two years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks than in the two years after.

The war in Iraq is one reason government has expanded over the past four years. But only one reason. At his worst, Mr. Kerry would be hard-pressed to fatten the bureaucracy as much as Mr. Bush has done. Under Mr. Bush, domestic discretionary outlays unrelated to homeland security have risen far faster than under Mr. Clinton.

The incumbent would have us believe that by cutting taxes, we can get more government for less. In fact, if you cut taxes while increasing outlays, you're not cutting taxes, just postponing them. We'll be paying for Mr. Bush's deficits for a long time.

Anyone who is sincerely pro-life may be inclined to vote for Mr. Bush on that issue alone. But when it comes to abortion, Mr. Bush has provided mostly words, and not many of them. His policy against embryonic stem-cell research deals only with federal funding - a politically attractive "compromise" that doesn't prevent human embryos from being destroyed for scientific research.

The right-to-life movement's support of Mr. Bush rests mainly on the hope that he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe vs. Wade. But a reversal of that decision is unlikely no matter whom he picks - and I doubt Mr. Bush really wants it overturned, lest Republicans pay a political price.

The only realistic way to combat abortion is to work ceaselessly over time to change attitudes about it. Mr. Bush, in his cowardly refusal to exercise leadership on the issue, has done nothing to change attitudes.

Respect for life, however, goes beyond abortion. The other big issue for "seamless garment" pro-lifers like me, who reject the taking of human life except in self-defense, is the death penalty. There, Mr. Bush is proudly in favor of killing people to teach us that killing people is wrong.

Mr. Kerry, it's true, is worse than Mr. Bush on some issues. But he can probably pass a test that Mr. Bush has failed, namely, avoiding catastrophe.

His presidency would also restore something valuable: divided government. Unlike Mr. Bush, Mr. Kerry would face a Congress dominated by the opposition party. As Cato Institute Executive Vice President David Boaz puts it, "Republicans wouldn't give Kerry every bad thing he wants, and they do give Bush every bad thing he wants."

Bad things have been the hallmark of the Bush presidency, from either a conservative or a liberal perspective. On Nov. 2, we can let him expand the grave damage he has done to the national interest - or we can hold him accountable.

I'll vote for Mr. Kerry without high hopes or enthusiasm, but vote for him I will.

Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.

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