John Kerry for President

Sharon Farmer/Kerry-Edwards 2004, Inc.

John Kerry is welcomed by supporters in Albuquerque, N.M., Oct. 10.

The Inlander | October 20, 2004
The swift boat veterans have turned out to be not very swift at all, but they have been right about one thing: The Vietnam War is a crucial issue in the 2004 race for the White House. While many pundits have dismissed the connections between that painful conflict and the one underway in Iraq, the fact is that how a commander in chief commits American blood to battle is perhaps the most profound question in this election.

John Kerry served in Vietnam; George W. Bush did not. That is pertinent, and it is part of the reason Kerry is the right choice for president. Bush is the wrong choice for many reasons, but perhaps chief among those is for the way he has led the nation to make the same mistakes it has made before. One major difference between the two wars, however, is that Vietnam became a lost cause. Iraq is still winnable, but only with the kinds of major changes in strategy Kerry is planning to implement.

Past as Prologue

Starting with George Washington, American history shows that men who tasted battle have been more reluctant to wage war than those who did not. Some think any reluctance to commit troops is a sign of weakness, and that any man who questions his country in war — as Kerry did — is unfit for the office. History proves that wariness of war is no sign of weakness, as some of our greatest patriots have questioned conflict. Washington became an ardent isolationist after the Revolutionary War, and Abraham Lincoln was a leading critic of the Mexican War of 1846.

President Bush invaded Iraq without adequate cause, and in violation of his own Secretary of State’s doctrine of using massive force and charting a clear exit strategy — a doctrine forged in Vietnam and first employed in the Gulf War. Bush’s rhetoric in the face of these facts is unapologetic and clear: Iraq was not a mistake, and he plans to keep the United States on the offensive in the war on terror. If you take Bush at his word, “Four More Wars” could be less of an election-year punch line than you might think.

In fact, none of the Bush brain trust — save Colin Powell — has seen war from the trenches. And seeing the horrors of Vietnam would have been a useful experience for this commander in chief. It was a political war, run by presidents more than generals. As a result, history now shows us that it was a massive betrayal of American civilians and troops. Never again, is what we have heard from the likes of Powell and Kerry. Yet here we are, with generals in Iraq complaining of White House interventions in military planning.

Bush’s one nod to history has been his attempt to link his presidency to Ronald Reagan’s. In fact, his record more closely resembles Richard Nixon’s. The two administrations share a pessimistic view of the world, an unconditional demand of loyalty and a routine demonization of their political opponents. And they both prosecuted a controversial war very poorly.

The Bush campaign has mocked Kerry’s statements that he would fight a “smarter” war on terror, relying on allies and diplomatic pressure more than bombs and tanks. Yet Kerry’s plan is in keeping with the approach Ronald Reagan took in the closing years of the Cold War, of which Vietnam was but the bloodiest chapter. Reagan departed from the Nixon approach of military escalation in places like Vietnam. Instead, he led what can only be described as a smarter war, by isolating the Soviet Union with the help of allies and showing the world a very big military stick. Reagan’s actions, perhaps more than any other president’s, brought down the Berlin Wall and Communism in Europe.

No Republican would dare mock Reagan’s smarter approach to the Cold War. But it’s Kerry who has learned from it. Because Bush and his advisors have not, the nation has been doomed to repeat past mistakes.

Why Kerry Is Right

With tens of millions of dollars in TV ads, Bush and his surrogates are trying to divert attention from his record and turn Kerry into the biggest liberal since Karl Marx. With that kind of money, you could turn Mother Teresa into Madonna.

Bush loves the word “liberty,” but “liberal” — at its root, the same word — is his favorite term of derision. The label alone means nothing: Is Bush arguing that his opponent would be too liberal in his use of the nation’s treasury? Too liberal in seeking big-government solutions to social problems? Too liberal in applying the American military around the globe? If that’s what Bush means, the argument doesn’t hold water, since that describes the president’s own behavior over these past four years.

While a vote for Bush is a vote for more of the same, here are a few changes you can count on Kerry to bring to the White House:

He will not support new tax cuts when we can’t even pay for the ones already enacted.

He will get more Americans covered by health insurance.

He will get more Americans back to work.

He will beef up the active-duty military.

He will go after corporations who attempt to shirk their tax responsibility.

He will make environmental policy that will protect America’s land, air and water.

He will listen to advice from the State Department.

He will pronounce the word “nuclear” properly.

He will support equal rights for all Americans.

He will keep Wall Street’s hooks out of Social Security.

He will believe in science.

He will make a fresh start with our allies, the only hope for more help in Iraq.

He will develop public policy out in the open.

He will listen to all available intelligence when deciding whether to commit American troops to battle.

He will respect the role of the press.

He will windsurf and play some hockey.

He will stick to the truth when informing the nation of the State of the Union each January.

He will deal with nuclear proliferation in North Korea, Iran and the former Soviet Union.

He will treat elected officials from all parties with respect.

He will reduce the deficit.

He will protect the identities of undercover American intelligence agents.

He will get the nation back to work in helping solve the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

He will speak in complete sentences.

He will improve homeland security.

He will appoint Supreme Court justices who reflect mainstream American values.

He will observe the Geneva Conventions.

He will oppose putting more media outlets into fewer hands.

He will appoint an Attorney General who respects the Constitution.

He will bust the Halliburton monopoly in Iraq.

He will address the issue of global warming.

He will restore America’s respect in the world.

He will stick up for the middle class.

He will try to change the tone in Washington.

He will read newspapers to keep up with current events.

He will put corporate criminals behind bars.

He will care about the plight of the least among us.

He will protect a women’s right to choose.

He will support the troops.

He will admit that he is not perfect.

He will be a very good president.

Why Bush Is Wrong

Many thoughtful Republicans are wondering what happened to their party, which often leads them to the next question: Can I really support this president? It’s confusing, but the fact is those people aren’t the ones who changed. It’s the GOP that has taken a hard right turn under Bush.

The key constituents of this new direction seem to come from three groups. There are the dittoheads, who like to win and who really do seem to think exactly what they’re told to think. Then there are those people who truly believe that Bush has the only endorsement that counts — God’s. Finally, you have the very rich, who are willing to let the country suffer as long as their bottom line improves with bigger and bolder tax cuts. But if you listen carefully, many who don’t fit into these groups are starting to revolt. More and more old-school Republicans are coming to realize that the party has been hijacked by extremists.

Republicans used to be against nation building — remember Bush’s scoffing at the notion at a debate back in 2000? They were for balanced budgets, but today spending is out of control across the board, not just in defense, and Bush has yet to veto a spending bill. And for decades, they were dead-set against any big-government solutions. Yet the GOP just created the biggest new government entitlement since the 1960s in the Medicare drug benefit.

It’s very telling that a handful of leading Republicans have started to publicly criticize the war, and the ethics commission in Congress, which includes Republicans, recently censured Tom DeLay, the powerful Texan who enforces the president’s agenda on Capitol Hill. America needs two healthy parties to be at its best, and the people who are bravely speaking out today will be the ones who will turn the Republican Party toward a wiser future.

That future was on display at the Republican National Convention, when a parade of up-and-coming leaders was presented. (The current administration, however, doesn’t share many of their views.) John McCain, Rudy Guiliani and Arnold Schwarzenegger embody where the GOP is headed. Republicans nervous about Bush would be doing their party a favor by bringing that future closer.

It didn’t have to be this way. President Bush truly had the country behind him right after 9/11. When he got that bullhorn out atop the wreckage of the World Trade Center and said we would get the people who knocked those buildings down, nobody was thinking about their party affiliation. That day, we were all Americans. Who even worried about a reelection campaign? The guy was a shoo-in.

The country changed after 9/11, but Bush didn’t. According to most accounts, his advisors continued to drive the agenda in his name. Unfortunately for the country, they gave him some very bad advice. When Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld wanted to change the subject from getting the people who knocked down those buildings to invading Iraq, we needed a president to stand up for bringing the 9/11 plotters to justice. The toughest devil’s advocate in government should always be the one who sits behind the desk in the Oval Office. But instead of asking sharp questions when he was told American troops would be greeted as liberators by newly freed Iraqis, Bush dug out the rubber stamp of approval.

The president really showed his true colors as a divider and not a uniter during the 2002 mid-term elections, when he allowed the issue of terrorism to be turned into a political weapon. Karl Rove presided over the use of the tragedy of 9/11 as a giant hammer — men like Max Cleland, who despite having lost two legs and an arm in Vietnam, was called unpatriotic in campaign ads that year. Such a smear of a decorated veteran doesn’t square at all with that mantra of supporting the troops, and Americans knew it. At that moment, all of Bush’s talk in the 2000 election about changing the tone in Washington was exposed as nothing more than empty election-year rhetoric.

Too many hands in the cookie jar is another problem the president could have stopped. But he didn’t, which has led to rampant, unprecedented spending: Sen. John McCain famously referred to the Energy Bill as the No Lobbyist Left Behind Bill. But it’s no joke, because for all the president’s talk of protecting us from terror, he has left us exposed to catastrophe on the economic front. Not only has this administration done nothing to decrease the impact of high gasoline prices, but by choosing to pay for tax cuts on the nation’s credit card, we now owe billions to foreign investors. Bush talks tough about not letting any other nation veto our security, yet other nations like China already own our future in significant ways. If these investors stop financing our debt, many experts predict economic chaos. Despite what the vice president believes, deficits do matter. Everybody knows this pace of spending is unsustainable, but Bush shows no signs either in his actions or his words of changing the way he does business.

And viewed through the lens of business, the failure becomes even more evident. If a CEO cuts sweetheart deals with his buddies and insults all of his best clients while running his company into bankruptcy, shareholders would outsource him to Antarctica. Voters are the shareholders in this scenario, and on Nov. 2 they finally have the chance to play Donald Trump: “Sorry, George, but this is an easy one: You’re fired.”

Fear Not

Like Nixon before him, Bush and his handlers thrive on fear. Here again, Bush misses the lessons of history. When FDR said we have nothing to fear but fear itself, he articulated an all-American point of view that saw us through the Depression and World War II. When Reagan talked about the U.S. as a shining city on a hill, he gave the country hope and pride in uncertain times. Those two presidents were optimists when America needed them to be.

Instead, Bush intones that terror and evil are all around us, that we’ll surely suffer another terrorist attack and that the war on terror is unwinnable and never-ending. And sadly, this fear is being used in an attempt to scare voters into four more years: Our color-coded terror alerts have been manipulated to help the president’s political fortunes; citizens who dare to criticize the administration’s policies at campaign events have been arrested and jailed; and the vice president has even said that electing Kerry would make a terrorist attack more likely.

Maybe Bush and his advisors are driven by fear, but that doesn’t work on Americans for a simple reason: We are not a nation of cowards. We will do whatever is necessary to protect our families and communities, but the American people have never been too afraid to face their challenges. The politics of fear helped Nixon for a while. But having lived through those years, many American voters now recognize this ploy for what it is.

The incumbent administration might think it can get you to forget about the profound failures of these past four years if they treat you like children. But on Nov. 2, you can tell them that 9/11 only proved more than ever that the United States is not the land of the scared. Like the song says, this is the home of the brave.

On Nov. 2, reject the politics of fear and choose hope. Vote for John Kerry.

— Ted S. McGregor Jr., Inlander editor

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