Monday, October 25, 2004

The Man with the Plans

Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream. John F. Kerry has a plan. Actually, he has many plans–on the war in Iraq, on bringing in our allies (i.e., France and Germany), on funding Pell Grants, on anything and everything. And these are not just any plans. They are smarter, tougher, and, yes, “more sensitive.” Just ask him.

George W. Bush has some plans, too (such as saving Social Security). But–unlike most of Kerry’s post-Vietnam public life–Bush also has deeds. Here are a few: deposing the Taliban and instituting democracy for 25 million people in Afghanistan; overthrowing and capturing Saddam Hussein, who killed more than 300,000 of his own people (some with weapons of mass destruction); wiping out or capturing three-fourths of the Al Qaeda leadership; and creating the Department of Homeland Security, which, to this point, has successfully kept Islamic terrorists from launching another 9/11-scale attack in the United States.

Incidentally (or maybe not), his tax cut has helped create nearly 2 million jobs in a little over a year, allowing the economy to rebound from the Clinton recession, the stock market dot-com bust, and the shock over September 11. Not a bad list in just three years and change.

Of course, Bush and the country have also experienced some reverses: failing to capture Bin Laden or find weapons of mass destruction; unexpectedly heavy casualties in Iraq; the sky-high price of oil; and huge new budget deficits. Then there has been the intense partisanship of the campaign, with attempts by Kerry and his surrogates alternatively to paint Bush as a dolt or a cunning knave (in hock to the Saudi royal family or to Halliburton). Bush, according to Kerry, either has no plans, or has bad ones–on capturing Osama in the Tora Bora Mountains, on winning the peace in Iraq, on flu shots.

The key to the election is whether the American people will trust Kerry’s plans during a time of war–or Bush’s deeds. There’s no denying that Kerry has an advantage with this tactic. Being in no particular position of authority (having dropped all pretense of fulfilling his duties as an elected member of the U.S. Senate), he can spin out endless plans on the headlines of the day. If anything goes wrong (and things always do in war), he can blame Bush. If things go well (and some do), he can go to the next plan. (Being a liberal presidential candidate means never having to explain to the media why he never put any of these plans into action during 20 years in the Senate.)

According to the Democrats, everything bad in the world is the fault of one man–George W. Bush–but their plans will change everything. Meanwhile, Bush keeps at his job–protecting America by taking the war to the terrorists and their state sponsors–unable for security reasons to fully explain his successes to anxious voters, who against their better judgment are tempted to believe everything they see on CBS.

This endless bashing of the president reminds me of an instructive comment from Theodore Roosevelt, who, like Bush, was a strong-willed man of action. Roosevelt’s words are worth remembering as we wind up this election season.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

In the current contest, is there any doubt who the man in the arena is?


Blogger Bob said...


Congrats on the new blog. It looks great.

Your point on Kerry is well taken--his plan seems to be to say, "I'd do the opposite of President Bush." And from his opponents, Bush gets little credit for Afghanistan or the Sudan (which would be even worse if not for US involvement) or for any domestic policies. Lots of Democratic (which is the way I lean most of the time) have made him out as a village idiot or a cold hearted fundamentalist. Even Garrison Keillor, who makes a number of good points in his book, Hometown Democrat, unleashes so much invictive that you'd think Bush was the devil himself.

The man in the arena analogy is fitting but sometimes seems uses to excuse bad decision making. The man in the arena can lose if he makes a fatal mis-step, and that's what I fear the President has done in Iraq. I don't think he counted the cost of this war beforehand--what we may end up with is an Islamic Republic of Iraq that sees the US as its sworn enemy, That's what happened in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Yes we got the Russians out but we laid the seed for Al Queda. We went in, like in Vietman, without understanding the context, and may leave a worse mess that was there when we started in Iraq.

3:34 PM  
Blogger Stan Guthrie said...

Thanks for your comments, which are well-considered. I agree that we always have to live with the law of unintended consequences regarding Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other dangerous but worthy venture. But we also have to reckon with the consequences of not acting. I guess we have to get all the info we can--but not be paralyzed into inaction--and make a decision. Bush is willing to do that. Kerry does not appear able on that score. Remember, not deciding is a decision in itself. I think we can all agree that the president needs the best info he can to fight the war on terror. But we should not hold him to an impossibly high standard of 20-20 hindsight.

4:14 PM  

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