In the run-up to William F. Buckley’s speech before the Yale Political Union last week, I decided to educate myself regarding his recent political writings, hoping to understand better why he is so revered by almost every stratum of the American conservative movement. During this foray into what is certainly a bountiful corpus, I found a recent article in which Buckley quotes a speech decrying American involvement abroad. The speaker labels the United States as reactionary, arrogant and ignorant of international law and irresponsible with human life. Though the speech could have quite plausibly been delivered by a politician advocating for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, it was not. The words had instead been uttered by Martin Luther King Jr. four days prior to his death in 1968, calling for an end to U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Buckley concludes this article by noting that, for what it’s worth, Dr. King never lived to see the cesspool of chaotic suffering that Vietnam remained long after an American withdrawal that all but accepted defeat.
Buckley’s point, I think, was that we have an obligation in the present to diminish future strife and turmoil in Iraq, regardless of whether our initial adventure was justified. As Americans go to the polls today in an election many believe will cause a landmark shift in political power, we might glean a few lessons from Buckley’s call for foresight that goes beyond foreign policy in Iraq. When one examines the most prominent criticisms being levied at Republicans by Democrats, one might find that the issues at hand are at least a little more complex than some would have the public believe.
One commonly accepted aphorism is that the 109th Congress has been a “do-nothing” Congress. In certain ways, that’s true. The gargantuan reform of immigration law and the partial privatization of Social Security, the two hallmark initiatives of President Bush’s second term, have progressed at a snail’s pace. This is in part because of Republican squabbles and in part because of near-universal Democratic obstruction of both efforts. But no Democrat has put forth an alternative proposal to reform Social Security — beyond simply raising taxes — that has any semblance of feasibility. And Democrats have appeared almost as divided as the Republicans over how conciliatory our attitude should be toward the nation’s glut of illegal migrants. Both issues require attention, and it is important to consider how they might be addressed in the 110th Congress.
Further foresight is needed in the fiscal realm. Democrats are determined to repeal tax cuts in an effort to control the federal deficit. But their party platform also includes promises to increase student loans and provide health care for every uninsured American. While these are noble goals, proposed methods of implementation and the economic repercussions that would follow have scarcely been considered. Though Republicans have not been paragons of fiscal responsibility recently, they have fostered economic growth that, coupled with restrained spending, has immense potential. The Democratic plan has its own benefits, but the tenor of the party’s rhetoric suggests that its efforts could be economically hobbling.
On some issues, however, the Democrats have shown an undoubtedly higher level of prescience than Republicans. The former’s insistence on government aid for researching alternative energy sources is laudable, as is their insistence on the growth of federally funded stem cell research. The long-term benefits of both programs are irrefutable, and Republican legislative efforts on them in the 109th Congress were mostly stagnant. Though the conservative propensity for caution and long-term thinking is often admirable, there are some instances, especially on social and environmental issues, on which a majority of informed Americans now see the need for new directions.
It is thus at this classic impasse that we find ourselves. How many Yale students, or politically minded citizens in general, now label themselves “fiscally conservative but socially liberal”? Each party, in its own idiosyncrasies, often departs from pragmatism. The question of whom to vote for, then, boils down to one of foresight. On what issues should we exercise it, and to what degree? Each party seems unfortunately indebted to influential interests that prevent it from being universally wise. And regarding the most pressing issue — the war in Iraq and associated foreign policies — the answers are as muddled as ever. On whose behalf should we exercise caution and forethought, Iraq’s or our own? And how might a Democratic Congress stabilize Iraq in ways that for some reason have eluded Republicans?
I don’t profess to know the answers to these questions. But public debate during this election cycle has been markedly one-sided to an almost comical degree. Republicans, though far from faultless, have been intensely vilified for certain transgressions that do not necessarily make Democrats the wiser choice for America. This article, then, is not an endorsement, but an entreaty. When you vote, consider all sides, entertain all notions, and think not only of the past, but also of the future.
Dan Bleiberg is a sophomore in Trumbull College.