How serious are we?

A few days ago, Mark Helprin delivered a stinging condemnation of the way we are waging the war on terrorism. Helprin is a terrific writer, and his piece is well worth reading. Certainly, few turn a better phrase. Consider:
“On the one hand is John Kerry, a humorless Boston scold, in appearance the love child of Abraham Lincoln and Bette Midler, who recites slogans that he understands but does not believe. And on the other is the president, proud of his aversion to making an argument for his own case, in appearance a denizen of the Pleistocene, who recites slogans that he believes but does not understand.”
Actually, though, it is Helprin who seems averse to making an argument. Stripped of its rhetoric (which would be a pity), Helprin essentially presents a series of policy preferences backed by little or no argumentation. He would like for the administation to have talked more about a clash of civilizations and to have declared war, but he makes no real argument that we would be doing better in the fight against terrorism had we done these things. He would like us to be spending more money on the military. So would I. But he makes no real effort to show that what we’re spending now is inadequate. He assumes that our efforts in Iraq are destined to fail, and with it our efforts to promote democracy in the region. But he presents no real analysis in support of these assumptions. Helprin may be correct on all of these counts, but I regard them as open questions, and Helprin does little to advance the inquiry on any of them.
There is one issue, though, on which I agree wholeheartedly with Helprin — his lament over our lack of serious effort to control our borders. People I know with ties to the Hispanic community tell me stories about how easy it remains for illegal aliens to enter this country from Mexico, particularly in Arizona. An ardently conservative friend who has worked for the INS and its successor for decades is so disgusted with the administration’s lack of seriousness that he will not vote for Bush. I can make the argument that he should vote for Bush for other reasons, but I cannot point to anything in the record to show that Bush has anything over Kerry when it comes to the immigration issue itself. And our lack of seriousness when it comes to immigration does at least suggest the possibility that, as Helprin asserts, we are not serious enough when it comes to other terrorism-related issues and perhaps the war on terrorism generally.

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