Monday, October 18, 2004
What is the worst that can happen?
"The election and America's future", in this latest issue of The New York Review of Books, is not a pleasant read. By turns somber, angry, bitter, incredulous, and perhaps also with a measure of despair; there is not an optimistic note — the sunny "Hope is on the way!" sloganeering of Kerry & Edwards notwithstanding.

What is the worst that can happen, should Bush be re-elected? So the Iraq War drags on for another five or eight years, and the America takes another 10,000 deaths, would that be sufficient to irrevocably weaken the US? Vietnam was far more painful than Iraq will likely be, and the US, stun, defeated, was still strong enough to face down the Soviet Union. Will defeat in Iraq spell the end of the US as the greatest power in the world? No. Will defeat in Iraq mean less security here at home? Perhaps, but Islamic terrorism, no matter what Bush &c. wants the public to believe, is not remotely the existential threat to (Western) liberal democracy and security the Soviet Union was.

So the war costs and Bush's fiscal recklessness will become a heavy burden for future economic progress. But proportionally to the US economy as a whole, these burdens are not any heavier than the cost of Vietnam and of the Cold War in general. So instead of a quick return to the prosperity of late 1990s, the US experiences an additional decade of economic stagnation, high interest rates, possibly inflation. The stagflation of the 1970s did not reduce the US to a secondary economic power and a future episode of the same won't either.

So a re-elected Bush administration will entrench conservative judges, who may limit, or even overturn, Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, separation of Church and State, &c. But even judges with life-appointments are not immune to political & social pressures. The overturning of the Texas sodomy laws, possible in part by a change in opinion by Justice O'Connor, illustrates the fact judges are not hermetically sealed-off philosophical absolutists, but are embedded in the broader society and are influenced by emerging social consensus. The broad historical pattern of the American society has always been one of increasing tolerance and acceptance of ever more diverse liberties; that is unlikely to change whoever becomes the president.

Finally, America is after all, a democracy, and democracy is self-correcting, perhaps not this election, but next, or the next thereafter. The Soviet Union made colossal mistake after colossal mistake for 70 years, until it was buried by them. I doubt America will ever be so wrong for so long.