George Bush doesn't have a record of fiscal tightness to defend, and he correctly shares the blame for the deficit with the Democratic Congress. But it is plausibly assumed that the substantial increases in military spending during the first six Reagan years have generated counter-tendencies to look for opportunities to contract unnecessary spending. These economies may never be achieved by President Bush. They would not stand a chance under President Dukakis.
Oh, yes, the military. Why the military? If the "evil empire" was dissolved at the June summit of 1988, in Moscow, there is left the problem of the old evil empire's surviving 12,000 strategic nuclear warheads, more than 7,000 tactical aircraft, 53,000 tanks, and more than 1,700 warships. Since these have not been turned into plowshares, it is always possible that the Soviet Union will resume what in fact it has never quite stopped doing—sowing the seeds of revolution and watering the harvest wherever it can do so and gain net satisfaction from the exercise (yes, Nicaragua; no, Afghanistan), and promoting disinformation and confusion wherever it can. In 1985 (alongside such as Jesse Jackson, George McGovern, and Ronald Dellums) Dukakis joined the advisory board of something called jobs With Peace, which called for $70 billion in defense cuts. Dukakis favored a nuclear freeze when that was the cause du jour among liberals. If his wish had been made policy, then the Soviet missiles in Eastern Europe would be frozen there in perpetuity, monuments to faddism masquerading as foreign policy, instead of being removed, as they will be under the terms of the intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) treaty. He now opposes aid to the contras and is pledged to outlawing South Africa as a terrorist state. The Democratic platform calls South Africa "a uniquely repressive regime." There is a sense of intellectual and moral disorder there. In an age of gulag, Pol Pot, the Cultural Revolution, Vietnam, and Kim Il Sung, serious men do not refer to South Africa as a uniquely repressive state.
George Bush in matters of foreign policy has a more convincing sense of priorities. It may sound glib to plead the need to gain access to the mineral resources of South Africa, but in a pinch this would be a grave responsibility. But few liberals, exercised by the tragedy of Vietnam, are prepared to challenge Senator J. William Fulbright's statement that the United States government has no proper quarrel with a government, no matter how odious its domestic policies, so long as it does not seek to export them. If it is generally contemplated that we revive the Wilsonian mandate to mobilize in order to make the world safe for democracy, Dukakis had better begin by asking for a universal draft and a trebling of the defense budget.
If the vote were to hang on a division of opinion over a single matter, I would be tempted to vote for the man who sought seriously to explore the possibilities of the Strategic Defense Initiative. On this matter the division is absolutely clear: Dukakis opposes Star Wars, and Bush favors a space shield. Bush seeks to move in a different direction from offensive dominance in nuclear weaponry. A question to Dukakis: "Governor, today what happened to the Vincennes could happen to the country. There could be a suspicious something on our radar screens, heading right for midtown Manhattan. How do you propose to defend us against such a threat?"
He would have no answer. Would he intone the word deterrence? That means merely that we could fire back a missile at the party that fired at us; New York, meanwhile, has been incinerated. Under even a rudimentary version of SDI there would be a chance of saving New York from a Soviet missile, launched accidentally or otherwise, or from one fired by a terrorist Third World regime into whose hands the march of technology is bound, sooner or later, to put the necessary competence.
Since the figures are now public, I publicly recall a lunch with George Bush in the summer of 1987, when he told me that intelligence estimates were that the Soviet Union is spending $25 billion a year in hectic pursuit of anti-missile technology. The George C. Marshall Institute reports that more than 10,000 Soviet scientists are engaged in a project that attracts the economic and scientific resources of the Soviet Union as fully as our determination to land on the moon once mobilized us, twenty years ago. George Bush has a feel for this challenge, understands its humanitarian implications and the SDI's decisive potential for ending forever any temptation to a first strike or any possibility of diplomatic ultimatum based on first-strike confidence. Michael Dukakis gives no evidence of having any sense of the dimensions of the question. He conveys the impression that in matters of foreign policy he is the creature of regnant liberal clichés: on spending, on the MX, on SDI, on the contras, on Namibia, whatever. Bush grew up with the Cold War. He would, as would we all, welcome its demise, while insisting absolutely that its demise should not threaten the demise of the republic.
It would be bad journalistic manners to conceal a personal knowledge of the candidate I favor. He graduated from my college two years or so before I did. That he was a war hero made no difference on campus—there is no place more blasé about such things than a college campus two thirds of whose matriculating freshmen are veterans of a war. But his impact there was palpable. This was so because of his quite unusual social manner. College students are merciless toward cant or affectation. George Bush in his early twenties was always a center of the admiring and affectionate attention of his peers, as a modest, bright, engaging man, thoughtful and considerate, tough and competitive. I saw him frequently during the sixties and seventies, as occasions brought us together, and I have seen and judged his reactions in myriad situations. I saw him mad as hell at Ronald Reagan. (Reagan's managers had backed the opponent of Bush's son in a primary—with the sole motive of defeating, in Texas, someone called George Bush. Why? Because the George Bush was himself running for President.) I liked that quiet anger, at Reagan's violation of his own pledge not to interfere in a Republican primary contest. But a few days later I saw him together with Reagan, and observed with fascination the professionalization of the personal problem: pique and hurt and resentment had been subsumed into competitive energy and loyalty to the common enterprise.
George Bush on television does not display his best qualities, any more than did Harry Truman, or Dwight Eisenhower. At some point we will, I think, need to focus on the question Do we insist on a telegenic President? Bush has, in the phrase of one observer, filled about half the jobs there are in government. A defective character would by now be public knowledge. Those who have worked with him (which I have not done) agree that he has been tested by more varied experience of national government than any other applicant for the presidency in this century. Bush knows in his bones what a President Dukakis could learn only by an arduous tutelage of high potential cost.
One way to put the case for George Bush is that his reactions are as one would wish them to be in the leader of the free world. His historical opportunity is to bring good nature, intelligence, and an abiding faith in high standards to serve a country that has been oscillating over a period of years between an undifferentiated flirtation with angst and a tumescent heartburn for the victims of a robust society. The way out, we reason, is a re-identification with the ancient ideals of a free society. George Bush cares deeply for the success of the American proposition. To turn him down is to turn our backs on the policies that have brought us peace and prosperity these past seven years. It is to revisit the spiritual turmoil that has given us so very little opportunity, in our search for justice and mercy, to pursue our dream for an inventive and secure republic—in which the children of George Bush and of Michael Dukakis will meet the challenge of those awful odds against a nation of the people and for the people, keeping bright for America the prospects for the next century.