This is an excellently written letter I'm posting here as one last effort to try to get anyone reading it who is still undecided to please vote for John Kerry.
Primer for the Undecided: Why it's Kerry
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers Oct. 16, 2004
(All names are changed, to protect my relatives.)
Dear Aunt Estelle and Uncle Hobie:
Cousin Frank told me that you two are still undecided about your presidential vote. You're not alone; there are a lot of citizens in the same boat. Many are turned off by the choices they're given. Many are waiting to see what the debates yield. Many are just uncertain which way to go, and are looking for some answers.
So I hope you won't mind if your nephew throws in his two cents. I feel strongly about this and hope - even though you voted for Bush last time out and once called me a "wishy-washy liberal" - that you'll be open to hearing my point of view.
I'm guessing you might, since you're obviously conflicted about voting for Bush again. Even though I don't often agree with your politics, I find your brand of old-fashioned conservatism honest and admirable.
Many other traditional conservatives likewise are having trouble voting for Bush: He's not fiscally responsible, he's abandoned the concept of small government, he's running roughshod over the Constitution (while saying he'd appoint strict constructionists), he's taking us into dangerous international adventures for no good reason, he's allowing his fundamentalism to intrude on his policy - more on all this below.
I'll look forward to hearing your responses. I think we may agree on more things than first appears. I'll start with the major issue in the campaign, then move on to domestic matters.
THE IRAQ "VICTORY"
When we were sitting in your living room the day Bush gave his "Mission Accomplished" speech on the aircraft carrier, you said Bush was a strong, forceful, patriotic President who was leading the U.S. to victory; I wonder if you still feel that way today.
I agree that George Bush is forceful, but acting aggressively and appearing strong doesn't make a leader's policy correct. It may mean that he's bull-headedly obstinate and refuses to face the facts on the ground, and make corrections from earlier mistakes.
But Bush, a man extremely weak in self-esteem, cannot admit mistakes, about anything, certainly not about the war. If he were to just tell the truth to the American people, many of us would be open to listening to what he has to say. But all he does is deny and continue his fantasy that all is going well in Iraq and that we're about to "turn the corner."
I think "the corner" he's talking about is the November 2 election. If he can just brazen his way through until then, he believes, the facts won't matter.
But they do matter because our young men and women are being killed and maimed there every day - for a war that needn't have happened - not even to mention the approximately 15,000 dead Iraqis, most of them innocent women and children. (Our Marine neighbor's son, Vinny - remember him? - is in Iraq now, and I worry for his safety.)
The truth is that each of the numerous, always-changing reasons Bush has supplied over the past year-and-a-half to justify our war in Iraq has turned out to be wrong. Each time another study determines that one of Bush's reasons is false, he slides to another one, and those newer reasons are getting ludicrous. (The latest one is because Saddam Hussein was cheating on the oil-for-food program! - supposedly a solid reason for Bush to rush to war, getting 1000+ Americans killed in the process.)
WHY WE OSTENSIBLY WENT TO WAR
You remember how they sold this war to the American people, and to the Congress: Saddam supposedly had stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons, and an active nuclear program, and those WMD were going to be unleashed on the U.S. mainland by missiles and drone planes over the East Coast, and supplied to terrorists and so on. Saddam had to be taken out now. Couldn't wait another day.
None of it was true. The original chief U.S. inspector, David Kay, was dispatched and said he expected to find those WMD stockpiles; he found nothing. The government's suppositions were wrong, he said.
An angry Bush refused to believe those findings and so dispatched another chief inspector, Charles Duelfer, and a huge team of military experts; they searched and interviewed and examined documents for many months and just this week reported back that there was no WMD, no active programs to produce any, no nuclear program, nothing, other than a vague intent to maybe start up some programs years from now.
Why the rush? Why couldn't Bush permit the U.N. inspectors to finish their work? What was the hurry?
In short, despite Bush and Cheney insinuating that Saddam was part of the 9/11 attack, Iraq was a weak sister who could do little harm to anybody, not to his neighbors and certainly not to us. The previous U.N. inspections and the international embargo had done the job in containing Iraq, reducing its threat to near-zero. The new U.N. inspectors were doing their job and would have revealed no stockpiles of WMD. Bush raced to war instead.
So we have 135,000 troops on the ground in Iraq for no good reason, occupying a country that is grateful that Saddam's brutal regime is gone but does not want to be occupied by us. Virtually all of the insurgents are Iraqis, anxious to kick out the occupiers.
WHY WE REALLY WENT TO WAR
What were the real reasons for Bush's rush to war, and for occupying the country in the first place? It certainly wasn't WMD. Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz later admitted that the Bush Administration chose WMD as the reason for the war because they could sell that one to the American public. The true reasons were too controversial: controlling the oil, establishing military bases in the Middle East region in order to alter the geopolitical map of that area, to use Iraq as an object lesson for other leaders who might want to object to American policy.
Now you may not like many of the Arab nations in that area, or the extreme religious zealotry of some of the branches of Islam, but the result of our invading Iraq has been to unite the Iraqi population against us, unite the various political and religious factions within Iraq against us, unite a good share of the Muslim world against us, unite a good share of Western Europe against us, and, perhaps worst of all, help provide more recruits for Osama bin Laden and other jihadist leaders.
In short, we are more isolated in the world - regarded as a pariah nation by many - and more insecure now against terrorism than we were before the Iraqi invasion.
In addition, Bush has botched the post-"Mission Accomplished" phase of the war. He disbanded the Iraqi army, he permitted widespread looting to occur (except, of course, at the Oil Ministry), he didn't guard the huge ammo dumps, he asked our warriors to become peace-keepers and nation-builders, he didn't properly supply our troops with body armor or with armored vehicles, he didn't let the Iraqis be responsible for their country's reconstruction but foisted huge American corporations on them, he didn't get the electricity and water supply working well.
In short, in the rush to war, he had no plan for winning the peace, and our young men and women on the ground are paying the ultimate price for his failed policy. (Many of these charges come from conservative Republicans, such as Senators Richard Lugar and Chuck Hagel and John McCain.)
Probably in order to win the November 2 election, Bush proclaims that there will be democratic balloting in Iraq in January. But in order to meet that rushed timetable, Rumsfeld says we may have to leave out certain major population centers - perhaps a quarter of the population - because of lack of security. A recipe for a disastrous civil war.
IT'S DEJA VIETNAM ALL OVER AGAIN
In sum, the whole Iraq adventure reeks of Vietnam all over again. We'll be stuck there for years. For what? So that our troops can die for a mistake, or for more of Bush's "preventive" wars? No, thank you. I won't risk Bush putting our sons, your grandsons, into harm's way because of his desire to exercise "benevolent global hegemony." (See "How We Got Into This Imperial Pickle: A PNAC Primer.")
I know that you want to support your government and that you believe that presidents do the right thing. But surely by now you've noticed that Bush and Cheney are unabashed liars. For example, their lies suggesting that Iraq was somehow tied in to the 9/11 attacks, which even the bipartisan 9/11 Commission said was untrue. In fact, in an unguarded moment, Bush himself admitted as much. Cheney has been incorrigible for many months in his constant refrain insinuating a connection between Iraq and 9/11 - and then he had the audacity to lie about it at his debate, saying he'd never made such suggestions. (Except this time the press published his numerous quotes to the contrary.)
John Kerry is willing to face up to the realities of what's really going on in Iraq, and to make sure nothing like that happens again. Bush and Cheney continue to rely on their fantasy vision that the situation there is rosy and all will be well if we just trust them. We trusted them before and they're the ones who got us into this mess. They exacerbated it when Rumsfeld authorized "harsh interrogation methods" (read: torture) of Iraqi detainees in our care. So why should we trust them again? No, thank you.
I will be voting enthusiasticly for Kerry - even though there are aspects of his programs and policies I disagree with - because as patriots who love our country, we must do all in our power to get it back on track, to change course in Iraq and at home.
Which brings us to Bush's domestic policies. I'll just mention a few briefly.
The economy. Bush does not bear the total blame for the stagnant economy and the loss of nearly two million jobs during his tenure, but he bears the overwhelming responsibility for wrong decisions that have made the situation even worse. One such is his constant cutting of taxes - mostly for the already wealthy - during wartime, when Iraq and Afghanistan are costing us nearly $200 Billion.
The result of this wrong-headedness is two-fold: no money to pay for necessary infrastructure upkeep and popular programs - therefore forcing the states and cities to use limited funds to pay for them, which means fewer governmental services, and increases in local taxes. It also means a humongous deficit, in the trillions already, which will place an expensive burden on the upcoming generation to pay the interest on those debts for decades, fewer government services, privatization moves on Social Security and Medicare.
The media. Our Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, seeing how a leader easily can become an authoritarian bully, made sure to divide up power between the three branches of government - to make it difficult to get anything done quickly, thus putting impediments in the way of misrule. The Fourth Estate of journalism, they expected, would provide an extra block on runaway rule, by speaking truth to power.
But the extremist rightwing crew that has taken over the Republican Party is not especially interested in the centuries-old limitations on power, even though the traditional Republican party long had been opposed to oppressive federal rule. And, since the hard-right GOP now controls the House and the Senate and the White House and increasingly in the federal courts - while the conglomerate-owned mass media serves as a cheerleader for this crew - the entire checks-and-balances system is not working the way it was intended.
The only check we still have is an election that can make a change at the polls.
Extremism at home. It's possible that you agree with what the current Republican leadership is doing, so why would you want to change things?
The answer is that the Republicans in control are going way beyond what even traditional conservatives find reasonable. Bush&Co. are proposing scary, extremist grabs at power that would take America into a quasi-dictatorship.
You may think I'm exaggering just to help remove Bush from office. What I'm about to cite is from official government documents. I didn't make this stuff up. Were it not for various Bush scandals in recent months, we mostly likely would never have heard of any of this - until it was too late. So, here's what I'm talking about:
A. The captured Iraqis and Afghans weren't talking, so the Bush Administration came up with ways to justify torturing them that, they claimed, would be legal. Lawyers in the White House and Ashcroft's Justice Department and Rumsfeld's Pentagon devised the following rationalization: When the President is acting as Commander-in-Chief during "wartime," he can order whatever is necessary and cannot be challenged. In other words, whatever a President says and does as Commander-in-Chief is, ipso facto, legal. If that's not a definition of a kind of dictatorship, what is? (The GOP also is pushing bills in the Congress that would take certain cases out of the purview of the courts - in other words, to denude the Judicial Branch of its essential power to interpret the Constitution.)
B. Some of the same lawyers came up with what they claimed were legal justifications for partial or total "postponement" of elections, even though the U.S. has never postponed a national election, not even during the Civil War. How it would work: If a President decided that the "national security" situation was severely endangered due, say, to a terrorist attack or a "credible" threat of a terrorist attack the election could be postponed. Or, if those threats were specific to certain cities or regions, those areas could be locked down and the elections there postponed - though the elections would go on elsewhere and the winner could be decided based on those truncated results. A perfect invitation for electoral mischief, probably by an incumbent President who believed he is about to lose an election.
C. More than 300 municipalities and several states have looked at the way John Ashcroft has used the Patriot Act to shred constitutional protections and the Bill of Rights and have said they won't cooperate with the federal government in those violations. These are not wild-eyed liberal fanatics; these are normal Americans terrified at how, using the fear of terrorism, the Bush Administration has gone way beyond the pale to enact and propose laws that give way too much power to snoop and pry into our homes, our computers, our emails, our library habits. Bush and Ashcroft say we need to expand the Patriot Act, to give the government even more police powers.
The environment. Bush, in a recent debate, claims he is "good steward" of the environment. Next to his claims about how well he's handling the situation in Iraq, this is one of his most egregious lies. He basically has turned the rule-making authority to protect our air and water over to the industrial giants who do most of the polluting. He comes up with grand-sounding titles for his laws and executive orders - "Clean Air Act," "Healthy Forest Initiative" and so on - but they mask the largest rollback of environmental protections in modern times. Up is down, black is white, war is peace - reality in this, and all other matters, is what Bush&Co. says it is, so there.
The ballooning size of the federal government. Most true conservatives want to limit the size and intrusiveness of the federal government; even Clinton and Gore cut the bureaucracy. Under Bush, it has grown tremendously, especially in areas related to controlling citizens' views (see Patriot Act discussion above). In addition, GOP legislators used to contantly criticize the Democrats as "tax and spenders" for their pork-laden bills; once the GOP took control, they forgot their principles and jumped on the gravy-train themselves, big time, and the GOP's pork-filled bills are bigger then ever, driving up the deficit even more. This is traditional conservative fiscal responsibility?
Well, that's enough from me, Aunt Estelle and Uncle Hobie. By and large, most of the charges I'm making in this list can't be ascribed just to us "liberal Democrats." Often, the most vociferous objections are coming from libertarians and conservative Republicans, horrified at how their party has been hijacked by extremists, incompetent at that, who are doing great damage to our institutions, economy and reputation in the world.
I urge you to spend some time talking about some of the issues I've raised here - and, again, feel free to come at me with questions or objections - during the next three weeks. I think, I hope, you'll come to the decision that even if you don't like everything about John Kerry and his positions, the alternative of four more years under this Bush crew is much, much worse. Kerry clearly offers a smarter, more hopeful alternative.
Thanks for listening. Let me know if you need a ride to the polls.
Your loving nephew,
Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers. He is a contributing author to the recently released Big Bush Lies book.
"If one candidate's trying to scare you, and the other one's trying to get you to think; if one candidate's appealing to your fears, and the other one's appealing to your hopes, you better vote for the person who wants you to think and hope." - Bill Clinton
"He's a long way from being the Messiah, but at least he's not the anti-Christ."
Robert Wright, Slate Contributor, speaking of John Kerry.
"Behind every great fortune lies a great crime."
Honore de Balzac
"Democrats work to help people who need help.
That other party, they work for people who don't need help.
That's all there is to it."
~Harry S. Truman