"They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique / And a swinging hot spot
Don't it always seem to go / That you don't know what you've got / Till it's gone / They paved paradise / And put up a parking lot."
-Joni Mitchell, Big Yellow Taxi
George W. Bush's years in the White House have been far from Edenic. External blows like the 9/11 attacks and internal problems (particularly confusion about education and poverty-fighting) have sunk some of the optimism of Jan. 20, 2001. But if Christian conservatives stay home next Tuesday, the Bushes will move out of the White House on Jan. 20, 2005. Only then will some of us know what we had.
The four Bush years have been full of weeds but they've also seen the planting of many young trees. Christian schools, pregnancy help centers, and anti-poverty programs have had room to grow. Tax cuts have let hard workers keep more of the money they've earned. Bush-appointed judges, when they've been able to get through the Senate, have backed the democratic process of lawmaking instead of imposing their own preferences.
John Kerry goes by the label "Democrat," but his views are autocratic. He prefers rule by courts to rule by voters on social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage. He is a 20th-century candidate when it comes to Social Security and healthcare, favoring governmental rather than individual control of everything from choosing investments to choosing doctors. He still wants to rely on the "experts," like the early 20th-century progressives who pushed for regulatory agencies independent of Congress, and for appointed city managers rather than elected mayors.
Those drives to remove power from voters eventually fizzled, but such thinking carried over into judicial tendencies to legislate from the bench. The 20th-century drive to rely on supposedly neutral "experts" influenced other fields as well. Control of colleges moved from legislators or denominational leaders to Ph.D.-certified professors. Social workers with newly minted degrees pushed deacons and other volunteers out of many charitable activities. The professionals regularly said "trust my degrees" or even (in Dan Rather's case) "trust me."
The 21st century could be a century in which both liberty and democracy expand. Look at how more parents are picking private schools or homeschooling, instead of merely trusting the supposed experts. Look at how legislators and college alumni aware of professorial bias are examining ways to break faculty strangleholds over hiring. Look at how the faith-based initiative is challenging the dominance of secular social workers.
The growing journalistic revolution is a case in point. "Bloggers in pajamas" not only beat the pressed suits of CBS but rediscovered the virtues of "open source journalism," where one observer tells what he knows and others add to the story out of their own knowledge. That's what James O'Shea, managing editor of the Chicago Tribune, calls "information anarchy." But what people in the club call anarchy is what people on the outside call democracy.
John F. Kerry is the candidate of status quo autocracy. George W. Bush is a 21st-century, small-d democratic candidate. Economically, he wants people to control the expenditure of more of the money they earn. Socially, he wants voters and legislators rather than nine justices in robes to decide what should constitute a governmentally honored marriage.
If we have a second Bush term, I hope that principles of liberty and democracy will be extended to social welfare expenditures, with taxpayers directing more money to poverty-fighting attempts they believe in, rather than those preferred by governmental autocrats. I hope those principles will be extended to education, so that poor parents as well as rich ones have school choice. A second Bush term will bring the opportunity for new growth and also new disappointments. A Kerry administration, though, will cement over all such hopes and substitute for them one swinging hot spot.
"Late last night/ I heard the
Screen door slam/ And a big yellow taxi
Took away my old man/ Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got/ Till it's gone
They paved paradise/ And put up a parking lot."
Don't let it happen. Vote. If you're a Christian conservative and like President Bush, vote for him and drive your friends to the polls. If you're a Christian conservative and you don't like President Bush, vote for him anyway. You won't be able to elect anyone better, and with John Kerry you'll have someone far worse.