As a classical conservative on most issues, my heart warms to the themes of this convention: freedom, strong defense, true diversity, personal compassion. I like Bush as a person and respect his good intentions. It is very hard to disagree with the central argument of my idols, McCain, Giuliani and Schwarzenegger, that Bush has the better temperament and will to conduct the war against our enemies. And I remain as committed to that war as I have ever been. You only have to see the carnage in Russia, or the hideous massacre of Nepalese workers in Iraq, or the threats against French journalists to see why this war is vital. But that doesn't mean you should not grapple with the other side of the equation: How will Bush bring us back to fiscal sanity? What will he do with Iran? How can he wage a competent war while alienating so many of our allies? (You should hear how the pro-war Brits talk of his diplomacy.) How can he unite the country while backing the agenda of Christian fundamentalism in all domestic issues? How can he guarantee progress in Iraq while the country is riven by two major insurgencies? The answers I keep getting from Republicans is: Kerry would be worse. That is not an answer. It is an avoidance. Conservatives should not let pure partisanship blind them to fiscal abandon, war incompetence, and social intolerance. Maybe Kerry's characterological weakness makes Bush the best bet in the war. Maybe that means he deserves your vote in November. But that doesn't mean these underlying questions can be ignored or forgotten. They could make a second term a disaster - for the country and for conservatism and for the world.
I must admit I agree with many of his "classical conservative" values. I also grew up in a European country that was dominated by the inefficient and dogmatic Labor movement, and as such I can appreciate his skepticism with regards to big government, unions and citizens who blame the state for all their ills. Europe has also been incredibly naive on defense issues, hundreds of millions of them thought the Soviet system was better than capitalism in the eighties.
I really don't understand how he can "like Bush as a person" though. For sure, Bush has better inter-personal skills than Kerry, and he seems to have a great ability to touch people. I can also appreciate his sense of humor (like when he said "this is me looking for WMDs" while showing a picture of himself looking under a desk - very funny I thought).
But everything I've read about him suggests that he is not very "deep" - in fact the stories about him in cabinet meetings (from Paul O'Neil among others) seem to suggest that he is shallow and a piss-poor listener. His policy stubbornness seems to confirm this. He is clearly surrounded by "yes-men" and he hates it when people don't toe the line. How anyone with half a brain can like a person like that is beyond me. It's like admiring a dictator because he throws good parties!
Last point: I don't agree with Sullivans wholeheartedly support of "the war on terror" either. There is a middle ground between "we must win the war on terror at all cost, or else they will kill us all" and "fighting terrorism is best done through regular law enforcement". Sullivan (and most Americans) is too pessimistic about human nature. There is no reason why Arabs and Jihadists won't respond to sound and just policies that promote freedom and the institutions that are needed for personal ownership. Some of this may fall under what Sullivan rightly calls the "incompetent" way Bush has waged this war. But any solution in the Middle East has got to start in Israel and Palestine. Read Richard Clarke's book, he knows what it is all about - winning the war of ideas.