The debate tomorrow brings with it the opportunity for either side to fundamentally change the tone of the national election—since the dawn of television the presidential debates have provided a final chance to pull a campaign out of the grave, or simply dig the hole a bit deeper. Though the campaign officially ends on November 2, the Harvard Republican Club fully expects President George W. Bush to devoid the opposition of credibility and secure four more years as Commander in Chief this Thursday night.
In spite of John Kerry’s strengths, he faces an uphill battle in tomorrow’s debate for several reasons. Of course, many of these problems arise from decisions made early in the campaign that have come back to haunt the challenger; the idea that Kerry could run on Bush’s record, now seems untenable. Even as Kerry paints a bleak picture for the future of our nation, the American people seem to recognize the stimulus to our economy brought on by tax cuts and other investment incentives, the benefits of the president’s bi-partisan education reform, and most relevant to tomorrow’s debate, the progress that has been made in the War on Terror.
In presidential debates, much of the power unquestioned rhetoric holds is muted. The opportunity to respond to attacks, and systematically point out the defects behind those attacks forces the debaters to focus on facts. The debate tomorrow night will focus only on foreign policy issues, and provide the American people with the opportunity to examine each candidate’s view of the world, and America’s place therein. In this respect, President Bush holds a distinct advantage over John Kerry as the result of an accomplished foreign policy record over the past four years.
We have liberated the people of Afghanistan, and freed women and other groups in that nation from the systematic persecution that preceded American intervention. Afghanistan is now preparing for elections, and will select for themselves their own fate. The actions of the Bush Administration have disrupted terrorist activities in that nation, and, to the best of our knowledge, crippled Osama bin Laden’s abilities to communicate with other terrorists.
We have secured the cooperation of Pakistan in our efforts, a reality that would have been unthinkable four years ago. Syria abandoned a weapons of mass destruction program without a shot being fired. We continue to make progress, if slowly, towards ending weapons programs in North Korea through multi-national talks and increasingly productive negotiations. With the help of the international community, we are working to end similar programs in Iran.
In Iraq, we are restoring stability to a nation by training Iraqi security forces, delivering water and electricity to thousands of Iraqis, building roads and other infrastructure, and opening schools again. Our efforts are paying off; after years of brutal dictatorship and fear, we are on track to hold secure elections in 75 percent of the country by January of next year.
The notion that the president mishandled Iraq is a particularly dubious assertion when coming from the mouth of John Kerry. In his speech at New York University last week, the senator said, “Five months ago, in Fulton, Missouri, I said that the President was close to his last chance to get it right… [w]e must act with urgency.” For all of Kerry’s urgency and insistence that the situation in Iraq has been mishandled, he seems completely unable to articulate a plan of action for Iraq five months after he said we were close to our last chance to get it right.
All of these issues will be discussed, and the rhetoric Kerry has used to belittle or otherwise understate these accomplishments will fall to the hard facts the president can stand upon.
This debate will reveal contrasts that lie deeper than either candidate’s prior successes. George W. Bush stands not only on an accomplished record, but demonstrates a sense of clarity and leadership necessary to pursue a successful War on Terror. The president, if nothing else, will be straightforward and sincere tomorrow night. This sense of honesty and clear, determined vision will undoubtedly stand in sharp contrast to his opponent’s precarious pessimism, and find a resounding audience with the American people.
In this respect, the national debate may have found an issue that transcends the importance of individual policy determinations. This election, and this debate, is not, nor should it truly be, about selecting a candidate based on individual views or nuanced opinions crafted to meet a particular demographic. The president’s sudden popularity with women cannot be explained by a radical shift in the Administration’s policy. Instead this election is about finding the strong, determined leader we need to carry our nation through this time of change and into an age where democracy thrives where dictatorships once were, and the treasures of freedom more completely secure the safety of those who come after us.
In our quest to determine who possesses this leadership, there is one clear choice, and that choice will be reinforced time and again not by overt statements, but rather through the composure and steady resolve George W. Bush has consistently demonstrated over the last four years, and will demonstrate over the next.
James P.M. Paquette ’06, a government concentrator in Winthrop House, is Policy Director and Member at Large of the Harvard Republican Club.