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The White House Horrors: Why a Kerry Vote is the Only Rational Option

August 27, 2004
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

Below is a short list of positively frightening power-grabs by the Bush Administration that will curl your hair - and, I hope, provide reasonable justifications for a Kerry vote by those still undecided or those leaning toward Nader or other alternative candidates.

But, in the interest of transparency, let's get the personal history out of the way first so you'll know where I'm coming from. I voted and worked for Ralph Nader in 1996. Up until the last minute, when it became clear how close the election was going to be, I was going to vote for Nader in 2000. Going back even further, in 1968, unable to support the pro-war Democrat Hubert Humphrey, I became a state official in The New Party - the radical party founded by the likes of Benjamin Spock, Barry Commoner, Marcus Raskin.

In short, I hold no brief for the current two-party system; it must either be drastically reformed - starting from how campaigns and parties are financed, and how decisions are made at the top while ignoring the rank-and-file base - or a viable third party must come to the fore, perhaps aided by an instant-runoff election option.

Now, having said all that, I enthusiastically support John Kerry's candidacy and am working vigorously toward moving him into the White House, and ejecting the current squatter regime.

I have no other realistic option; voting for a third-party candidate who cannot win - even a pure-as-snow one (assuming one could be found) - is a luxury for another time, not in 2004.

Will John Kerry significantly change the way politics is done in Washington? Probably not as much as we'd like, of course, but to charge that there is "not a dime's worth of difference" between the Kerry Democrats and the Bush Republicans - while it may sound clever in rarefied intellectual circles - is to ignore the great difference nine cents can make in peoples' actual lives.

We've endured nearly four years of Cheney/Bush/Rumsfeld/Ashcroft rule since 2000, and it's crystal clear that this reckless, corrupt, incompetent, extremist crew are a disaster for our country and for the world. They have to go.

THE WHITE HOUSE HORRORS

If the American citizenry were to give Bush&Co. four more years in power, we would be approving all the current White House horrors - wars of choice, torture as official policy, shredding of Constitutional guarantees of due process, giving dictatorial power to the president, turning over environmental law-making to the polluting industries, appointment of extreme-ideologue judges and Supreme Court justices, and on and on - and providing a mandate for even more such policies, with no restraints operating on a second Bush term, since they would be lame-ducks, with nothing to lose.

Kerry does come from the same class and shares many of the same interests as the Bush clan. But we can be certain, given his history and inclinations, that his policies would be significantly different, and better, in almost every area of concern you can think of. Certainly, this is true with reference to domestic policy: environmental law-enforcement, the kinds of judges nominated, tax and monetary policy, job-creation, health care costs, Social Security, civil liberties, respect of Constitutional due-process, women's right to choose, racial equality, and on on.

In foreign/military policy, things aren't quite so clean cut. Kerry hints that his policies in this regard would be different enough - no "preventive" wars, no arrogant unilateral bullying, rebuilding our alliances with the European allies humiliated by Bush, and so on - but there's still Kerry's vote that gave Bush (despite caveats) authority to launch war on Iraq, his "stay the course" rhetoric about that conflict, and his unwavering support for Israel with no comparable support for a viable Palestinian state.

Now, maybe Kerry feels he has to fuzz up his Iraq and other policy stands in order to lure uncommitted voters in the swing states; perhaps he will be more sensible once he gets into the White House.

FORWARDS OR BACKWARDS?

But even if Kerry were as bad as many on the Left claim - and I don't believe that for an instant - I would still support his candidacy. That's how high the stakes are this time around. With Kerry, we move forward with a president who's correct on many issues, incorrect on others, but someone who is open to reason and scientific evidence, someone we progressives can lean on to affect change in his positions (our work, money and energy would have been instrumental in getting him into the White House, after all).

Or we can get self-righteous and self-destructive and vote for Nader or someone else more "pure," and watch our country move further into a militarist police-state, and send more of our young men and women to kill and be killed in other countries on the neo-con hit list - in sum, permament war abroad, and a tightening of the authoritarian net at home. (Many leftists in early-'30s Germany actually didn't mind Hitler's ascension to power, since they believed his extreme policies would so horrify the population that their left parties would be the beneficiaries in the next election. There was no next election, and they wound up in the concentration camps.)

You may think that, in order to get you to vote for Kerry, I'm exaggerating about what might happen if we sit on our hands this election, or vote for a third-party candidate, and Bush gets four more years in power.

PARTIAL DIRTY-LAUNDRY LIST

But all one has to do is objectively view the Bush&Co. record of the past four years, and what they've begun to do to prepare for their next four years. It's all right out there, in public statements and internal documents - a good share of which have been buried by the conglomerate-owned mass media that shares the Bush&Co. mindset.

Just a few examples:

• In secret memos, some of which worked their way into the public realm during the first revelations of the Torture Scandal, Administration lawyers came up with interpretations of law designed to place Bush outside the reach of the courts. In this legal reasoning, as long as Bush says he's operating as "commander-in-chief" during "wartime" - remember, he has proclaimed that he is a "wartime President" in an endless "war on terror" - he can do whatever he deems necessary. End of argument. (See articles in "Is Bush Above the Law?")

Richard Nixon tried this rule-by-executive-fiat dodge - he maintained that the very fact that the President ordered an action meant it could not be illegal - and was slapped down by the courts. Bush is dealing with a much friendlier judicial system, with a great many jurists appointed by him. (And, don't forget, Bush was installed as President by the conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court.)

• Once he was selected President, Bush worked feverishly to make sure that U.S. officials and soldiers could not be charged with war crimes by any international body or court. Later, after he and Cheney/Rumsfeld launched their war-of-choice against Iraq, and authorized "harsh interrogation methods" (read: torture) against suspected terrorists at Guantanamo, and then suspected insurgents in Iraq, we came to understand why he sought the exemptions for U.S. officials and troops.

• Earlier this year, Bush set in motion actions that would give legal sanction to the "postponement" of the November presidential election. As usual, whenever these guys want to get something, they invoke the magic words "war on terror" and "national security" as rationalization for their action. Presumably, if Bush's poll numbers keep sliding in the toss-up states, they might well use a terrorist attack or "credible threats" of a major terrorist attack to "postpone" the election. (Note: Never in our country's history, not even during the Civil War, has a presidential election been postponed.)

SELECTIVE VOTE-COUNTING?

• Even more nefarious than a wholesale "postponement" of the election, a new memo has been revealed that provides legal rationalizations for certifying the November 2 election results even if parts of the population are prevented (by a "red alert" terrorist threat, for example) from voting. You can guess which states might not have their votes counted, and which ones would. Under this scheme, a president could be elected by truncated democracy - that is, put into power by his supporters, while the opponent's supporters would be prevented from having their votes counted.

Here are the key portions of the July 14th memoradum prepared for the Congress; for more on this, see Ritt Goldstein's article, "Memo: 'Terror' Election Barring Voters Could Stand."

The State Department's July 14, 2004 legal memo, "Executive Branch Power to Postpone Elections" [pdf], examines the mechanisms the Bush administration might use to disrupt the November ballot. It explicitly states that if the Congress were to give the Executive the requisite power, "the executive branch could make decisions that would make it impossible or impractical" for an election to occur.

The memo elaborates on how the administration could "limit the movement of citizens under its emergency powers," further finding that "exercise of such power would not appear to have the legal effect of delaying an election."

Reading that last sentence makes my hair rise: using its state-of-emergency powers granted it by the GOP-controlled Congress, the Bush Administration could "limit the movement of citizens" on Election Day, and doing so would not invalidate the selection of a president by partial vote. That kind of thinking reminds us of the three times Bush has been quoted as saying, "in jest," that he would much prefer to rule as a dictator.

SNEAKING-AND-PEEKING

• The so-called USA PATRIOT Act, which was rushed through Congress in the days following the 9/11 attacks, in effect vitiates a number of Amendments to the Constitution (the "Bill of Rights") protecting the home and privacy of citizens. Under these draconian laws, the Justice Department is permitted to engage in sneak-and-peek "black bag" jobs - entering your home secretly to rifle through your papers and computer files; monitoring your personal email without your permission; requiring librarians to disclose what materials you're reading (and forbidding those same librarians from discussing the matter with others); removing the lawyer-client privilege of confidentiality, and so much more. Those who raise questions about these, and other such matters, said Ashcroft, are aiding terrorists.

• We're returning to something approaching Nixon's "enemies list." In Bushland, it's a black and white world; if we're not with them, we're obviously enemies to be dealt with. The FBI knocks on doors of non-violent dissenters from Bush policy, for a little Q&A; Senator Edward Kennedy and Congressman John Lewis, and hundreds of other opponents of Bush policies are placed on airlines' "watch lists" and harrassed at airports; amendments by Democrats are sometimes not permitted on Congressional bills, and they are rousted from their own caucuses by Congressional police; outrageously sleazy lies are encouraged, or at least not discouraged, against opposition candidates and leaders (and their spouses) - see what was done to John McCain, Max Cleland, and now John and Theresa Kerry; and on and on. As Robert Kuttner and others have put it, a Bush victory would accelerate America becoming a one-party state.

NEO-CONS READY TO ROLL

• There are more "evil" countries out there targeted for "regime change" - those states that might want to question America's aggressive moves to control energy resources, weapons of mass destruction, and the geopolitical situation in the Middle East. The neo-conservatives in the Bush Administration - led by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, et al. - continue to operate on the belief that as the sole world superpower, the U.S. should take what it can take, control what it can control, shape the world they way it wishes, as long and as forcefully as it's able to do so. (See "How We Got Into this Imperial Mess: A PNAC Primer".)

• In order to properly prepare for the coming invasions of these "evil" regimes, the U.S. military needs bodies. It is stretched perilously thin in Iraq and Afghanistan, and so it has instituted a "backdoor" draft - by using National Guard and Reserve troops, stopping those who have fulfilled their obligation from leaving the service, calling back long-retired soldiers, by beginning prelim inary moves to restaff local Draft Boards.

And, of course, it has announced that it is recalling 100,000 troops from Europe and elsewhere for eventual deployment to hot spots around the globe. You believe these 100,000 troops will remain in the U.S.? You're dreaming.

DROWNING THE ECONOMY

• Spending (and wasting) hundreds of billions of dollars in its Iraq and Afghanistan adventures, it is effectively bankrupting scores of popular social programs, and moving to privatize others such as Social Security, thus rolling back the social gains made by American citizens over the past 50 years. All in the name of "fighting terrorism," of course.

And, to ensure that the budgetary system will be SNAFU long after they're gone, they have placed the country into a humongous deficit hole - trillions! - that ensures an enormous tax and interest burden on our children years and years into the forseeable future.

A byproduct of all this shrinking of funds is that states are not receiving the normal amount of federal funds for their mandated programs, so they put the squeeze on cities and counties, which, of course, affects programs at the lowest levels. This means mandatory cuts of social programs, infrastructure upkeep, libraries, police and fire, public education, college availability, etc. etc. Citizens get angry at their local officials and governors, and forget that the cutbacks originated at the top, in the White House. (And, of course, we haven't even mentioned the stagnant economy, the "jobless recovery," the enormous offshoring of hundeds of thousands of good-paying positions.)

THE BEST OPTION

Well, I could go on forever listing the scores and hundreds - and some have even compiled a list of a thousand-plus - reasons why a Bush second term would be a catastrophe for our country.

Given all this evidence, many of us on the left have concluded that the best chance for moving this country back toward a more sane, rational government - one that respects its citizens and the Constitution, and has an affinity for the glories of democracy - is to support John Kerry for president.

He was not my first choice (Kucinich), nor my second (Dean), nor my third (Clark) - and I still have sharp disagreements with some of his policy positions - but I believe he is a good, solid, intelligent man who may well grow into a fine president, one open to listening to the diverse American people, and especially to us progressives, as he shapes his new administration and initiatives.

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D, has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits the progressive website The Crisis Papers. He is a contributing author to the recently-released book Big Bush Lies.

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