by Thomas Sowell
October 10, 2006

With a war going on in Iraq and with Iran next door moving steadily toward a nuclear bomb that could change the course of world history in the hands of international terrorists, the question for this year’s elections is not whether you or your candidate is a Democrat or a Republican but whether you are serious or frivolous.

That question also needs to be asked about the media. In these grim and foreboding times, our media have this year spent incredible amounts of time on a hunting accident involving Vice President Cheney, a bogus claim that the administration revealed Valerie Plame’s identity as a C.I.A. “agent” — actually a desk job in Virginia — and is now going ballistic over a Congressman who sent raunchy e-mails to Congressional pages.

This is the frivolous media — and the biased media. Republican Congressman Foley was wrong and is out on his ear. But Democrats in both Congress and the White House have gone far beyond words with a page and an intern. Yet the Democrats did not resign and Bill Clinton’s perjury, obstruction of justice, and suborning of perjury by others were treated as if these were irrelevant private matters.

Even when serious issues are addressed, they can be addressed either seriously or frivolously. If you are content to see life and death issues of war and peace addressed with catch phrases like “chicken hawk” or to see a coalition of nations around the world fighting terrorism referred to as “unilateral” U.S. action because France does not go along, then you are content with frivolity.

You may deserve whatever you get if you vote frivolously in this year’s election. But surely the next generation, which has no vote, deserves better.

Weak-kneed members of both parties have been calling for a timetable to be announced for withdrawal from Iraq. No other war in thousands of years of history has ever had such a timetable announced to their enemies. Even if we intended to get out by a given date, there is not the slightest reason to tell the terrorists that. It is frivolous politics at its worst.

There has never been any reason to doubt that American troops will be removed from Iraq. They were removed after the first Gulf War. Before that, they were removed from Grenada and from other Western Hemisphere countries throughout the 20th century. Millions of American troops were removed from Europe after World War II.

Why should there be the slightest doubt that they will be removed from Iraq? The only question is whether you can run a war on a timetable like a railroad and whether you need to announce your plans to your enemies.

All this rhetoric about a withdrawal timetable is based on trying to make political hay out of the fact that the Iraq war is unpopular. But all wars have been unpopular with Americans, as they should be.

Even World War II, won by “the greatest generation,” was never popular, though the home front was united behind the troops a lot better than today. The last shot of that war had barely been sounded before the cry arose to bring our boys back home.

The exuberant celebrations across this country when World War II ended showed that we weren’t looking for more war or more conquests. We weren’t even trying to hold on to all the territory we had conquered. There has probably never been a time in history when a military force in the millions was disbanded so quickly.

Even after the first Gulf War, with its quick success and low casualties, the biggest ovation that the first President Bush got when he addressed Congress afterwards was when he announced that our troops would start coming back home.

Those who discuss the current war in terms of frivolous talking points make a big deal out of the fact we have been in this war longer than in World War II. But, if we are serious, we would know that it is not the duration of a war that is crucial. It is how many lives it costs.

More than twice as many Marines were killed taking one island in the Pacific during World War II than all the Americans killed in the four years of the Iraq war. More Americans were killed in one day during the Civil War.

If we are going to discuss war, the least we can do is be serious.

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Some people say that there is no point voting because there is no difference between the two major parties, and the other parties have no chance of winning. However, there is a difference: the Republicans are disappointing and the Democrats are dangerous.

Republican voters have more reason to be bitter than do Democratic voters. The Democrats are in Washington pushing for the kinds of things their supporters want: more spending, more immigration, more liberal judges.

Republicans are also in Washington pushing for more spending and — in the Senate, at least — more immigration. But the Republicans have finally stopped nominating liberal judges, after years of putting liberals like David Souter and John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court.

Differences in judicial nominees may seem like a small difference between the two parties. But federal judges serve for life — and some are a major disservice for life. Crazy decisions are still being made by federal judges appointed by Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and even Lyndon Johnson.

Allowing these kinds of judges to create new “rights” for captured terrorists out of thin air would be an invitation to disaster. Yet more such judges will be appointed by Democrats.

On immigration, at least the Republicans in the House of Representatives had the sense and the guts to stop the Senate Republicans from creating amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Moreover, on immigration as on spending, where the Republicans are bad, the Democrats are worse. Ted Kennedy and company have fought bitterly against building a fence on the border.

As for spending, both of California’s Democratic Senators want the federal government to give the taxpayers’ money to agricultural producers who lost money because of the recent recall of contaminated spinach that spread sickness and death to people in a number of states.

Maybe financial losses will help get some of these agricultural producers to clean up their act before their produce sickens and kills more people. But liberal Democrats want to throw the taxpayers’ money at irresponsible behavior, whether by farmers, foreign aid recipients or people on welfare.

The most that can be said for the current Republicans is that they want to throw away less money than the Democrats. In general, Democrats are the only real reason to vote for Republicans.

When it comes to national security and the war on terrorism, that is a big reason.

The same liberal unwillingness to get tough with criminals that has marked the Democrats, and the judges they put on the federal courts, for decades on end has now been applied to the captured terrorists for whom they want to create new “rights” that are nowhere in the Constitution or the Geneva convention.

Whatever the Democrats’ new-found rhetoric about “supporting the troops,” their track record for more than a quarter of a century has been one of consistently voting against military appropriations and appropriations for the intelligence services, as well as hampering the intelligence services with restrictions.

On foreign policy, Democrats continue to argue as if talking with our enemies is the magic formula. We should keep talking with Iran while they keep building a nuclear bomb, just as the western democracies kept negotiating with Hitler while he kept building up his war machine in preparation for starting World War II.

Today, people ignorant of history — which includes graduates of our most prestigious universities — have no idea how close the western democracies came to losing that war and what an unending nightmare it would have been for the world if Hitler and his Japanese allies had won.

Nor do most of the liberal Democrats, which is to say, almost all Congressional Democrats, seem to have any sense of what an unending nightmare it will be for western nations if Iran and the international terrorists it sponsors have nuclear weapons.

Against that background, those disappointed Republican voters who plan to stay home on election day to protest their elected officials’ failings are seeing politics as a way to vent their personal emotions. That is a frivolous self-indulgence in a deadly serious time for this nation.

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Nowhere is political frivolity more in evidence than in issues involving racial and ethnic groups. Disagree with some policies or demands and you become an instant “racist.”

The substance of those policies or demands, and the substance of the objections to them, get lost in an orgy of rhetoric and personal accusations. Racial issues are just one of a growing number of issues where rational discussion has become virtually impossible.

Rational discussion would not serve the interests of the Democratic Party, and the Republicans think that the way to increase their small share of the black vote is to imitate the Democrats.

All the most powerful groups within the Democratic Party — the teachers’ unions, environmental zealots, lawyers who make big bucks off frivolous lawsuits, and the American Civil Liberties Union — have interests diametrically opposed to the interests of blacks.

The teachers’ unions fight any attempt to allow parents to pull their children out of failing schools and no one needs to do that more than black parents who want their children to get a decent education — without which they have little chance for a better life.

Severe building restrictions imposed by environmental zealots make housing prices skyrocket, forcing blacks by the tens of thousands out of San Francisco and other places dominated by green limousine liberals.

Huge damage awards or out-of-court settlements won by frivolous lawsuits force up all prices, with special impact on low-income groups, such as blacks.

When the American Civil Liberties Union and liberal judges are able to get criminals freed on flimsy grounds, or prevent hoodlums from being expelled from the public schools, the community most likely to be harmed is the black community.

How then can the Democrats consistently get the lion’s share of black votes? And why can’t the Republicans make any serious inroads?

Democrats understand that the key to their success is in keeping blacks dependent and fearful. They cry “racism” at every opportunity and resurrect every grievance of the past. But the real secret of their success is the ineptness of Republicans.

Republicans have been trying to win over the average black voter, something they are not likely to do for decades, if not generations, because political inertia is powerful.

Blacks voted solidly Republican for more than half a century after Abraham Lincoln and solidly Democratic for more than half a century after Franklin D. Roosevelt. Nor are blacks unique. The “solid South” voted Democratic for more than a century.

The only black voters the G.O.P. have any real chance to attract are those whose views and values happen to be closer to those of the Republicans than those of the Democrats.

These are certainly a minority of black voters but many elections are won or lost by a few percentage points. In a closely divided country, if the Republicans can just reduce the Democrats’ 90 percent of the black vote to 75 percent, the Democrats are in big trouble.

Instead of specifically targeting those black voters they might have some chance of winning, Republicans have been trying for decades to placate black “leaders,” including the NAACP, and to throw blacks such sops as stamps honoring Paul Robeson and Kwanzaa, and awarding a Medal of Freedom to Mohammad Ali.

Those black voters that the Republicans have some chance of winning over are more likely to be repelled than attracted by Republicans’ honoring a communist, the black separatist counterculture and a follower of Louis Farrakhan.

As for black “leaders,” as heads of protest movements they need an enemy just to keep their jobs, and where will they find new enemies if they let up on the Republicans? The NAACP’s most irresponsible and demagogic insults against Republican presidents did not let up even after Ronald Reagan and both Bushes tried conferring and conciliating with them.

It doesn’t seem to occur to Republicans that a strategy which has failed every time for more than 20 years may be wrong.

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Choosing candidates to vote for at election time is not like choosing a buddy or choosing some sports or entertainment figure to idolize. Nor is it a verdict on someone’s qualities as a human being.

Theodore Roosevelt was a very honorable man with high intelligence and high ideals but he did much harm and the country would probably have been better off if he had never been President. The same could be said of Herbert Hoover.

It is not necessary to denigrate individuals in order to criticize their policies. Unfortunately, there are too many voters — in both parties — who act as if choosing whom to vote for is like choosing sides to cheer or boo at a sports event.

But elections in an age of international terrorism and with the shadow of a nuclear Iran looming ahead are much too serious for self-indulgence in idolizing or demonizing individuals.

Some Republican voters are apparently thinking of staying home on election day because they certainly have no one in their party to idolize and the Democrats haven’t had enough power to do anything to be demonized for.

Democrats of course have plenty of Republicans in power to demonize, starting with the President and the Secretary of Defense. It is doubtful whether anyone has ever filled either of those jobs without making mistakes but serious proposals for alternative policies would be more adult than demonizing Bush and Rumsfeld.

So many people have pointed out that Democrats offer no alternative policies that this can no longer be just an oversight on the Democrats’ part.

It is a calculated strategy, assuming that continuous second-guessing and denunciation of the Bush administration will undermine the Republicans enough in the eyes of the public to win the Democrats enough votes to take control of the House of Representatives this year and control of the White House in 2008.

Every opportunity for in-your-face obstructionism has been seized, whether the issue was serious or trivial.

The mere formality of counting the electoral college votes from the 2004 election in the House of Representatives was held up for hours by Democrats, even though they knew they had no chance to prevent Bush from being declared the winner. And since he was already President, this did not postpone his powers for a second.

Similarly, the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State was held up after Colin Powell was gone and she was already the President’s principal adviser on foreign policy.

In other words, nothing substantive was at stake. It was the frivolous politics of obstruction once again, playing to the grandstand.

The current round-the-clock rhetorical orgies about Congressman Foley’s sex notes to Congressional pages are more of the same frivolous playing to the grandstand. Foley is gone, as he should be, and if laws were broken, that is what cops and courts are for. But none of that solves any of this nation’s problems, at home or abroad.

If you think political spin and political gamesmanship are the answers to this country’s problems, then vote for the Democrats.

Some leading Democrats have already announced that they plan to impeach President Bush if they get control of the House of Representatives. In other words, in the middle of a war, they are prepared to bog down the administration in domestic political and legal hassles, putting the winning of the White House in 2008 ahead of winning the war on terrorism.

There was a time when we all understood that, whatever we might think of a President, we still had only one President at a time and that wholesale obstruction and undermining of him was obstruction and undermining of the United States in the face of its enemies.

Shrill obstructionist House minority leader Nancy Pelosi obviously does not share that view — and if Congressional Democrats win this election, she will become Speaker of the House.

If Democrats win the Senate as well, then they will have the power to not only impeach the President and Vice President, but also the power to remove them from office. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would then become President Nancy Pelosi.

— Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and one of the greatest academic minds of our time.