Respond to this Article September 2004

The Roquefort Cheese Wars

By Christopher Buckley

Why does the question "What if he wins?" sound, in this context, so ominous, as if it were the title of a big-screen disaster movie? Portent of tsunami and a frozen-over Manhattan?

W2 is not a terribly encouraging prospect. I say this as a loyal but dispirited Republican who will probably hold his nose on election day and pull the Republican lever. Every time I contemplate voting for Kerry--and I have--I consider the consequences, chiefly among them an even more insufferable Michael Moore, thumping his kettle drum chest and claiming credit for having changed the course of history. This is too dreary to contemplate.

But to answer the question, let me paraphrase Betty Davis: Fasten your seat belts, kids, we're in for a bumpy second term.

The present political atmosphere is so partisan, mutually suspicious, and antagonistic who, really, would be surprised to wake up the day after the election to the news that recounts were being demanded in all 50 states, by both sides? Or even in Guam, where, as we relearn every four years, America's day begins?

This will not be a pretty spectacle, or healthy for the republic. The last election took 35 days to settle. This time, it could conceivably take longer. Maybe it would make sense to move Inauguration Day back to its previous March 4 slot.

But let's say Bush does squeak through with a little luck--paging James Baker--and a Sandra Day O'Connor deus ex machina. What, as Robert Redford said at the end of The Candidate, do we do now?

Second terms are not notorious for being successful. Eisenhower, LBJ (if you consider '64-'68 a second term), Nixon, Reagan, Clinton--would any of them consider their second helping a triumph? And their approval ratings, going in, were generally higher than Bush's. It's hard to find many, even in the most vermilion parts of the red states, who are deep down, in their heart of hearts, ardent for George W. Bush. Among the rock-ribbed, one does not hear enthusiastic cries of "Encore! Encore!" (We of the Republican persuasion tend to lapse into French at times of excitement--a legacy, sans doute, of attending fancy boarding schools.)

Assuming Bush stays the course--as we used to say during Reagan's first term--then from the point of view of a traditional (that is, pre-compassionate) conservatism, the prospects seem pretty bleak: quagmire in Iraq; a series of petty trade wars with old Europe involving Roquefort cheese; feckless attempts to placate congressmen by levying and then rescinding tariffs; bigger government (while decrying the growth thereof); a military stretched wafer-thin; toleration of failure at the CIA and FBI, while paying lip service to the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission; the further decline of American prestige abroad; and most ominously of all, a plunge in visa applications by native French speakers. Who, then, will teach America's future leaders the language at the fancy boarding schools? This is a crisis that cannot be ignored much longer.

Bush is a conspicuous Christian, but he is not on the whole given to conspicuous displays of one of the chief Christian virtues: humility. It would become him, should the Almighty bestow on him the grace of another term in office, to manifest some. Nothing so extreme as showing up at cabinet meetings wearing an itchy hair shirt, or even bowing and scraping before the (old) Europeans--something Kerry seems impatient to start doing--but a little frank chin-wag with the nation from the Oval Office about how he realizes that things did not turn out in Iraq as well as he had hoped; that the "mission" is not yet "accomplished," that four-hundred-billion-dollar deficits are not desirable; and that if the Congress sends him one more squealing, oinking pork-laden, budget-busting bill, he is going to veto it. He might, too, in the same talk even extend a hand to old Europe, saying that while America cannot ask permission of its friends to defend itself when it is truly threatened, but that it also understands that as what's-his-name, the poet guy, put it: No country is an island.

Another Republican president, in his second inaugural, talked of binding up the nation's wounds. Not a bad text. Not a bad way to reboot.

Christopher Buckley, founding editor of Forbes FYI, is the author of, most recently, Florence of Arabia, a Middle East comedy (Random House, September 2004).


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