- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 24, 2004

With just over a week before the election, newspapers throughout the country are announcing their presidential endorsements. I’m not sure if these things swing even a single vote. But I do think that those of us who try to influence public opinion for a living have a responsibility to state our presidential preferences, if only for the record. In that spirit, I announce that I will be casting my vote for President Bush.

Although I have never seriously considered voting for John Kerry, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t debated the possibility as I have read the reasoning of good conservatives who have decided to vote for Mr. Kerry. For example, I recently read with great interest an article in the liberal New Republic magazine by Robert A. George, a respected conservative editorial writer for the New York Post, explaining why he is voting for Mr. Kerry.

Various conservative Web “bloggers” have also said that they will be voting for Mr. Kerry as well. One whom I respect is Daniel Drezner, a professor at the University of Chicago who writes at www.danieldrezner.com/blog.

Playing “devil’s advocate” with myself, following is my thought process on the question of Bush vs. Kerry.

Starting with economic policy, Mr. Kerry has been very critical of Mr. Bush’s tax cuts and increase in the federal budget deficit. I, too, have been critical of the tax cuts as well, but not because they are too large or too tilted toward the rich. On the contrary, I think that the tax cuts were not sufficiently oriented toward increasing incentives for work, saving and investment by our nation’s most productive citizens. I think too much revenue was, in effect, wasted on give-aways, such as the tax rebate, that had no meaningful impact on economic growth.

As it happens, the most recent recipient of the Nobel Prize in economics, Edward Prescott, an Arizona State University professor, shares my view. Said Mr. Prescott, “What Bush has done has been not very big, it’s pretty small. … Tax rates were not cut enough.”

Where Mr. Bush is more vulnerable is on the budget. There is just no getting away from the fact that he has really let spending get out of control. And his unfunded expansion of Medicare for prescription drugs is indefensible. However, it is revealing that Democrats, including Mr. Kerry, voted against this legislation not because it was too big, but because it was too small. Indeed, Mr. Kerry’s principal campaign promise is to increase federal spending for health by trillions of dollars more.

I sincerely wish Mr. Bush could have found a bill to veto. I think that one reason Congress has let spending get out of control is because Mr. Bush has failed to exercise discipline by using the veto. No doubt, given that he will probably have a Republican Congress to deal with, Mr. Kerry would have reason to use his veto pen quite often.

This is actually the only really good reason for a conservative to vote for Mr. Kerry. His election would bring back “gridlock” and prevent any new spending programs from being enacted. There is no question in my mind that the main reason for the emergence of budget surpluses after 1994 is that we had a Republican Congress and a Democrat in the White House who couldn’t agree on new budget-busters, thus leaving spending on automatic pilot.

On Iraq, there is no doubt that Mr. Kerry would not have entered into this conflict. However, he will inherit a situation there from which he will not easily extricate this nation. Indeed, he has said that he would basically continue Mr. Bush’s policies from this point forward — only better. But Mr. Kerry is dreaming if he thinks that our so-called allies in Europe will change their policies and aid us in Iraq. The truth is that they couldn’t if they wanted to because their militaries have atrophied to the point of meaninglessness.

On civil liberties, an area emphasized by Mr. George, I see a similar situation. Once in office, I think Mr. Kerry would quickly recognize the value of the Patriot Act and push for its renewal. I see no real reason to choose between Messrs. Bush and Kerry on this basis.

Where I think Mr. Bush ultimately emerges as the decisive choice for conservatives is on judges. Although he hasn’t done as much as he should have to get them confirmed, there is no question that Mr. Bush’s judicial appointments have been exemplary from a conservative point of view. With several Supreme Court appointments likely in the next few years, it is absolutely essential that Mr. Bush and not Mr. Kerry be the one to make those nominations.

Bruce Bartlett is senior fellow with the National Center for Policy Analysis and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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