Yes on Schwarzenegger. No on Bush.
Same goes for Bush's Iraq policy. It's a betrayal of everything Republicans claim to stand for—fiscal prudence, the reservation of U.S. military resources for the protection of the national interest, and skepticism of government's ability to shape society. The weapons of mass destruction that Bush touted as the reason for spending our blood and treasure in Iraq are simply not there. We were not greeted with sweets and flowers as the administration suggested. We have lost nearly 1,000 soldiers. We have sunk about $200 billion into this mistake, and there is no end in sight. It's a complete failure.
Unable to defend the policy, Schwarzenegger defends Bush as "a man of inner strength. He is a leader who doesn't flinch, who doesn't waver, who does not back down." But "inner strength" is exactly the kind of New Age pap no hard-headed Republican should fall for. Accountability means judging a president by visible results. Schwarzenegger says leadership is "about making decisions you think are right and then standing behind those decisions." Fine. But standing behind your decisions means taking responsibility at election time. This is election time, and Bush's decisions have turned out to be disastrously wrong.
Schwarzenegger applauds Bush for taking a hard line on terrorism. So do I. Bush's clarity on this subject is his finest quality. But it doesn't make his foreign policy wise, any more than liberal piety about compassion makes liberal social programs effective. In Iraq, Bush has confused a mortal enemy with a less urgent one, and he has botched the worthy idea of American military leadership by biting off more than we can chew. The hatred manifested by terrorists "is no match for America's decency," Schwarzenegger opines. Decency? Do you think we're going to defeat Osama Bin Laden with decency? That's liberal talk. What we need is smart allocation of our resources. At this, Bush has utterly failed.
I'm no huge fan of John Kerry. He sees two sides of every one-sided issue, and four sides of every two-sided issue. But the alternative is a president who sees one side of every issue, no matter how many sides it has. Given how many sides there usually are, and given how little effort Bush makes to learn about each issue, the odds are that, on average, he'll pick the wrong side. The record of the last four years shows that he has done precisely that. But because Bush refuses to "waver," as Schwarzenegger charitably puts it, we keep going in the wrong direction. The only way to stop such a president is to vote him out of office. Fortunately, an election is coming.
Correction, Sept. 1, 2004: I initially wrote that Schwarzenegger described the Humphrey-Nixon exchange as a debate. I misunderstood him. There were no debates in that campaign. He was talking about watching both candidates and comparing their positions. (Return to corrected sentence.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Gary Hershorn/Reuters.