Primer for the Undecided: Why it's Kerry
October 13, 2004
By Bernard Weiner, The
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.