Democratic Underground

Bush vs. Kerry: The Question of Core

July 13, 2004
By D.A. Blyler

"Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day." - Thomas Jefferson

When you walk into the Jefferson Memorial in Washington D.C., an inscription from the architect of the Declaration of Independence can be found carved into the base of the dome: "I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

I was reminded of this recently when watching conservative media pundits reduce the coming U.S. Presidential Election to the question of "core." The way the argument plays is that the resolute, unwavering, leadership of George W. Bush in Iraq is a reflection of our president's strong moral grounding, while the apparent "flip flopping" of Democratic nominee John Kerry reveals an opportunistic man without core beliefs.

By the time the November elections roll around, this argument will have been re-hashed, re-worded, and re-invented ad nauseam by conservatives through every media outlet with a microphone, printing press, or web connection.

Reasoned debate was abandoned by the Republicans long ago in favor of political mantras aimed at boring the vast electorate into non-voting ennui, while igniting the passions of the party faithful. And by and large the tactic proves winning, with over fifty percent of registered voters never caring to cast a ballot, while conservative hardliners march to the polling booths in droves.

It is a cynical strategy, and a "tyranny over the mind of man" that surely would have provoked a hostile response from Jefferson, were he still alive and sipping mint juleps on his plantation at Monticello.

It is against this public tyranny that John Kerry must wage his 2004 presidential campaign. On the singular issue of "core," Kerry must stake his claim on knowledge, reason, and thoughtful debate. And to avoid the pitfalls of Al Gore, who during his 2000 presidential run often sounded like an agitated schoolmarm, he must temper his logic with humor, wit, and humility.

The American public must be forcefully reminded that there is no greater core than an active, contemplative mind used to its fullest, God-given, potential - and that the process of political decision making is not a black and white arena of universal absolutes (such as Good vs. Evil) but an all too human convention, which if not rigorously evaluated and upgraded becomes obsolete.

Case in point, Kerry's quote: "I actually did vote for the $87 Billion [to fund the Iraq war] before I voted against it." The right wing is bludgeoning the Massachusetts senator with this comment, much in the same way they hammered Gore with the out-of-context, misleading, accusation that Gore thought he "invented" the internet. Gore never cut the sails from this ridiculous charge and it rode him all the way to Election Day, with many people believing the Democratic nominee was off his rocker.

Kerry can't make the same mistake. He must reclaim his words, place them in perspective, and turn them against the Republicans. He must contrast himself (his core), with a prideful sitting president who confuses the admission of mistakes with weakness and changes of course with a lack of stalwartness, in order to remind voters there is no greater sign of wisdom and maturity than admitting one was wrong, and after owning up to mistakes, laboring to make things right. Only then will the public be reassured that with John Kerry as Commander-in-Chief "failures of intelligence" won't have another willing accomplice in the White House.

D.A. Blyler's essays have appeared at, The Korean Herald, The Nation newspaper in Bangkok, and other international publications. He currently makes his home in South-East Asia. An archive of his articles and books can be found at:

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