WHY GEORGE W. BUSH MUST GO (10-20-04)
Well, here it is. We're now three weeks away from what far more people than I have said is the most important election in our lifetimes. With the clock running out, and my web stats telling me that people are reading this site fairly regularly, I feel that I should make plain why this election is so important.
Because I keep hearing that it's not. From regular people in regular places, both in New York, Texas, and elsewhere. Politics is politics, and politicians are politicians, so there are no good choices, and so forth. I recognize this conventional wisdom because I held it for some time. At age 18 in 1992, when I cast my first vote for Bill Clinton, I ultimately did not get much of what was promised. The Republicans did no better after 1994, and indeed the political waters of the 1990s muddied further, to the point that in 2000, the candidates offered up by both parties said so little about so much that they all but canceled each other out. I was so disgusted by that point that I wholeheartedly threw my vote at Ralph Nader, desperate for SOMEONE to talk about SOMETHING of substance.
So what's changed since 2000? Why do I now believe that the George W. Bush who rivaled Al Gore in sheer milquetoast-per-square-inch is now the greatest threat to American democracy since the Revolutionary War?
One answer is simple: He's a liar.
The George W. Bush you see before you today is not the product advertised in 2000. Not even close. Now, I can already hear the keyboards warming up to tell me how 9/11 changed everything. So for starters, allow me to list 5 Bush lies that involve neither 9/11 or Iraq (courtesy of the Center for American Progress):
2001 - Bush pledges not to
touch Social Security surplus. (Bush speech, 3/3/2001)
2002 - Bush spends Social Security surplus. (The New York Times, 2/6/2002)
2000 - Bush praises Texas patients'
right to sue. (Bush speech, 10/17/2000)
2004 - Bush argues against patients' right to sue. (Washington Post, 4/5/2004)
2000 - Bush says gay marriage
is a state issue. (Larry King Live, 2/15/2000)
2004 - Bush supports constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
2000 - Bush supports mandatory
caps on carbon dioxide. (Bush Environmental Plan, 9/29/2000)
2003 - Bush opposes mandatory caps on carbon dioxide. (from a letter to Senator Chuck Hagel [R-NE], 3/13/2003)
2001 - Bush supports extending
Assault Weapons Ban. (Attorney General John Ashcroft's confirmation hearing,
2004 - Bush opposes extending Assault Weapons Ban. (Washington Post, 2/26/2004)
Those are merely a few, but you get the idea. The chief argument that Bush supporters use to promote their candidate is that he's consistent. He knows what he thinks and he does what he says. Except that it's not true. Bush has, dare we say, "flip-flopped" rather regularly on a host of issues.
Chief among these is the idea of fiscal conservatism. For decades, voters could be reasonably assured that a vote for a Republican was a vote for smaller government, greater personal privacy, and generally less government involvement in people's lives.
Bush's record stands in stark contrast to these ideas. Rather than shrink the size of government, he has increased it. Over 1 million jobs have been added to the government's payroll since 2000, and discretionary spending on non-military items increased by 21 percent under Bush (ABC News, 9/22/2003). This would be alarming enough, but Bush's tax cuts have rid the government of a great deal of the money to pay for this new spending. Even the ultraconservative Heritage Society condemns the tax cuts and deficit spending, concluding that "one cannot overlook the largest domestic spending spree since the Great Society."
Oh, yes. The deficit.
Now, I will be one of the first to say that the current recession did not start on Bush's watch. The dotcom bubble that I myself was so precariously floating in began to burst well ahead of the 2000 elections, and besides, it's ludicrous to blame an economic downturn on a President. The techs were overvalued, and their fall was inevitable.
But it is well within the bounds of reasonability to hope that in the middle of a recession, the government will behave in a fiscally conservative manner. Oops.
True fiscal conservatives across the board have been appalled by Bush's spending, from the Cato Institute to Andrew Sullivan. Jonah Golberg, columnist for right-wing bastion The National Review, wrote that "In general, Bush has been spending money like a man with a week to live."
Bush's alarming tendency towards overspending the budget and creating massive deficits would alone give me cause to vote against him. But it gets worse.
This is the part where some of you may say that I've gone crazy. To all of you, I say quite unabashedly that I truly, truly wish that were so. Those who have known me through my adult life thus far will attest that I am not prone to hysterical ravings and conspiracy theories. But in examining the present administration's record, the only response for any reasonable being is astonishment and outrage.
When this country was founded over 200 years ago, those who established it knew something about oppression. They knew the dangers of having a few people with too much power, and they believed in establishing a government that was truly able to rescue itself from the consolidation of power, where dissent could have a voice.
One of the most frightening aspects of this Presidency is its attitude towards dissent. For nearly 4 years, prior to the recent campaign debates, our President has not been in a room with a private citizen who was allowed to disagree with him. Attendance at GOP events featuring the President involves signing a Loyalty Oath, ensuring that no opposing opinion will be uttered in the President's presence. No such oath is required to attend Democratic events.
Press conferences require a list of questions pre-approved by the Administration, and must be asked only when the President calls on the reporter. Walter Cronkite, one of the most respected news anchors in history, has said repeatedly that the President's press conferences seem scripted, and that their toothless nature stands in stark contrast to the questioning spirit of the free press, demonstrated as recently as the Clinton administration.
In fact, the President himself either purposefully or inadvertantly informed the world that his press conferences were scripted in his press conference of March 6, 2003. When CNN's John King attempted to ask a question, Bush cut him off, saying, "We'll be there in a minute. King, John King. This is a scripted..." before trailing off.
But it gets worse. While the audio and video record of the press conference clearly shows Bush saying that the event is scripted, over 15 major newspapers reported the line as "This is unscripted" or omitted it entirely.
This is the part where many of you may turn off. Oh, look, he's going into his conspiracy theory about how the Bush administration controls the press. In decades past, readers would be correct to laugh at such assertions.
So now we will talk about Iraq. Because it is in regard to Iraq that the Bush administration's control over the media is most noticeable.
A few weeks ago, I watched a panel discussion on C-Span with the head newsanchors from CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, and PBS. Each and every one of them said that their organizations had not asked enough questions in the run-up to the war on Iraq. And the reason given? Fear. They were made to understand that those who asked the difficult questions would not get access to the President or the coveted "embedded" reporter spots with the military during the invasion. The print media was no better, and in many cases (notably the New York Times columnist Judith Miller), press releases from Bush functionaries such as Ahmed Chalabi (now a U.S. criminal suspect) were used as "sources", with no questions asked as to their veracity.
Most of these news organizations have apologized profusely to the public for their poor handling of the run-up to the war. But these apologies only emerged when it became impossible to hide the fact that the purported reasons for embarking on the war were being proved nonexistent. Even the dreaded Bill O'Reilly had to admit that there were no weapons of mass destruction, as he had been repeatedly told by administration officials.
All during the run-up, people involved in the Iraq containment effort through the '90s were denied airtime and print space in the American media. Weapons inspector and former Marine Scott Ritter could find a hearing only on C-Span and in foreign publications like the UK's Guardian. The message from Bush was clear: Those giving time to dissenting views will be shut out.
But the press is not Bush's only target.
As in 2000, Florida police have been arriving in black neighborhoods, busting down doors and investigating cases of "voter fraud". Subsequent press inquiries have shown that many of those investigated had no criminal records, and indeed weren't even registered to vote.
A few months ago, Bush's brother Jeb, governor of Florida, refused to release copies of lists being used to purge voter rolls of felons, as they had done in 2000. When at last CNN and a number of other news organizations sued and got copies of the lists, they were found to contain names of voters who were not felons, and in some cases did not even have criminal records. Upon hearing this, Governor Bush announced that of course, the lists would not be used. We don't have to wonder what would've happened if they'd remained private.
In Ohio, Republican Secretary of State Ken Blackwell attempted to throw out all new voter registration cards that were not on 80-pound stock paper. Why? Refer to the New York Times:
"The analysis by The New York Times of county-by-county data shows that in Democratic areas of Ohio - primarily low-income and minority neighborhoods - new registrations since January have risen 250 percent over the same period in 2000. In comparison, new registrations have increased just 25 percent in Republican areas."
Also in Ohio, elderly Democratic voters have reported receiving phone calls from individuals claiming to be from the state board of elections, telling them where their polling places are. Except that, upon calling the state board back, the voters have been told that no such calls were being made, and in fact the polling places specified were incorrect. At the same time, Secretary Blackwell is actively attempting to draft regulations that will make it easier for election officials to discard provisional ballots, i.e. the ballots cast by individuals who are registered to vote, but accidentally show up at the wrong polling places.
In the third world, countries ruled by a single party are called banana republics. Got your banana ready?
But even this is not the endgame of power consolidation for the Bush administration. And this is the part where it gets really scary.
Laws proposed for both PATRIOT Act I and II give the executive branch the authority to arrest, imprison, and even revoke the citizenship of any American citizen at its own discretion, without due process and without informing family or legal counsel. New laws proposed in the current session of Congress give the administration the ability to send prisoners to other countries for interrogation, countries where enforcement of the Geneva Conventions is less than satisfactory.
These are not the actions of a President who believes in keeping the government out of people's lives. This is the establishment of a message, the same message given to the press: Those with dissenting views will be shut out.
We saw a glimpse of what such a scenario would bring during the Republican National Convention. Whole blocks of citizens, legally protesting, were rounded up and shut in empty warehouses on piers along the Hudson not far from my apartment. Many of those arrested were not even protesters, but tourists unwittingly standing too close to the fray. Because of the sheer number of these protesters and the overwhelmingly Democratic population of New York, the protesters were released after the convention. But none of them were given due process, and they are presently having to sue the city to get any apology whatsoever. And this is merely a best-case abuse of PATRIOT Act powers.
Imagine that you've got a website. On your website, you make a joke about someone needing to pop a cap in George W's ass. The Justice Department reads your website and places you on a watch list. The FBI then gets a listing of all the library books you've checked out in the last 10 years. They find that in 2001, you checked out a book about Osama bin Laden, because you are a Middle Eastern politics enthusiast and wanted to know more about the man who attacked your country. You are placed on the no-fly list. Months later, at an airport gate, you are stopped by Homeland Security officers. They take you to an armored room and interrogate you for 12 hours. You have nothing to confess to them, but they see that you're on a watch list and on the no-fly list, so you are placed in a cell. You are not allowed to call your family or a lawyer. Upon researching your file, they find that your mother was born in Jordan. They ship you overseas to a Jordanian jail where you are beaten and tortured until you sign a confession saying that you are affiliated with Al Qaeda. The Justice Department, on the basis of this confession, revokes your citizenship and sends your family a letter, 12 months after your arrest, informing them of your deportation to Jordan.
Finally flipped my lid, have I? Not if you've read the provisions that the Bush administration has attempted to make into law since 9/11. And every one of the individual horrors has been reported by both foreign visitors and American citizens on a number of occasions in the past 3 years. (for a listing, see various pieces on my War Page)
I myself would rather not believe that my own government was capable of these things. I would rather believe that we, the people, had decided to face the threat that Al Qaeda presents to our freedoms by further strengthening those freedoms, not by taking them away. Because as Benjamin Franklin said, they that can give up a little freedom for a little security deserve neither.
In all of this, you'll note that I have not mentioned Iraq very much. That issue, I believe, is rather self-explanatory to anyone who cares to consider it. It's worth noting, however, that Iraq provides two more examples of Bush "flip-flopping":
2000 - Bush opposes nation
building: "If we don't stop extending our troops all around the world
in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem
coming down the road." (Bush speech, 10/3/2000)
2003 - Bush supports nation building: "We will be changing the regime of Iraq, for the good of the Iraqi people." (Bush speech, 3/6/2003)
2003 - Bush says we found the
weapons of mass destruction: "We found the weapons of mass destruction.
We found biological laboratories...for those who say we haven't found
the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they're wrong, we
found them." (Bush interview in Poland, 5/29/2003)
2004 - Bush says we haven't found the weapons of mass destruction: "David Kay has found the capacity to produce weapons. And when David Kay goes in and says we haven't found stockpiles yet, and there's theories as to where the weapons went. They could have been destroyed during the war. Saddam and his henchman could have destroyed them as we entered into Iraq. They could be hidden. They could have been transported to another country, and we'll find out." (Bush on Meet the Press, 2/7/2004)
But in all of these seemingly plain things, there is a rather more disturbing undercurrent.
I grew up in Weatherford, Texas. While not a regular churchgoer, I went to services with friends and grandparents on a number of occasions each year. I went to school with evangelical students and broadcasted sermons during my Sunday morning DJ shift at our tiny AM station. Through all of this experience, I gained a pretty good understanding of your average Texas fundamentalist Christian. And our current President fits the model pretty much to a T. I say "pretty much" because very few Texas fundies are born with millions of dollars and political connections at their disposal.
Much has been written about the devil's marriage that has taken place in America between free-market capitalism and fundamentalist Christianity, two philosophies that are...well, fundamentally at odds, camels through eyes of needles & all. But George W. Bush is an example of how the two have been made to work together. Bush and the fundies like the violent parts of Christianity, the ones that speak of the end of the world and the final battle between good & evil. The Book of Revelation, Left Behind and all that.
In this worldview, there is no room for gray area. You're either on God's side or Satan's. To quote our President, "You're either with us or against us."
Such a view would explain our lack of concern about the downward spiral in Israeli-Palestinian relations, global warming, or African genocide campaigns. The end is coming, why fight it?
Such a preparing-for-the-end stance has effects not only on our foreign policy, but also domestically. If the world is about to end, why spare energy on anything but girding for battle? It certainly makes it easier to put aside Christ's teachings on seemingly far more mundane matters like helping the poor, feeding the hungry, and doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.
Modern Republican Christianity is an odd beast, and there are far better authorities on its oddities than I. But of the apocalyptic Texas fundie, I know a great deal. And I know that they do not pay attention to information that does not fit their worldview. Any deviation from a predetermined path is a possible lure from Satan, and therefore not to be trusted.
In his New York Times article on October 17th, author Ron Suskind recounts the words of Bruce Bartlett, a columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who was a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for George W. Bush's father:
"Just in the past few months," Bartlett said, "I think a light has gone off for people who've spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he's always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do. This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can't be persuaded, that they're extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he's just like them. This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts. He truly believes he's on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence."
In truth, I didn't need a concerned Republican to tell me that George W. Bush is not concerned with this country, nor indeed this world. And being that I, and even George, have to live in this world ("Of that day or that hour no one knows, not even angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." Mark 13:32-33), I am compelled to vote for someone who recognizes that the problems facing us must be considered on the facts, not a delusion of messianic destiny.
The man is as unfit for public office as it is possible to be, short of being dead or in a coma. Please, for the good of your country, act on November 2nd to remove him from the dangerous position he now holds over your life and the future of your nation.
In writing this, I weighed whether or not to throw in a Kerry endorsement. As I have stated elsewhere, John Kerry was not my first choice for the Democratic nominee. Though for those who believe he has no record or plan on fighting terrorism, I suggest you read this article. Truthfully, I still agree with Ralph Nader that the reason we've gotten to this horrific place in history is because of a lack of real choice.
But over the past year, it has become clear to me that a real choice does exist this year. John Kerry is not perfect, but one thing that he is not is a delusional, power-hungry, apocalyptic maniac.
And the fact that in November of 2000, we did not know that one of the candidates was in fact a delusional, power-hungry, apocalyptic maniac can mean one or both of two things:
1. Bush was and is a liar.
2. Bush is slipping into insanity.
There are actually medically sound reasons for suspecting the latter, which I won't go into (though watching the debates may help illustrate). But in either case, the man has to go.
I hope and pray that you now understand, if you didn't already, the important choice that stands before you on November 2nd. This may be America's last chance to avoid becoming a banana republic. It may be the last time you get to speak your mind without fear of government investigation. And it may be the only chance to keep a hypothetical apocalype from becoming a real one.
Vote your conscience, and I'll see you on November 3rd. With any luck, the conscience of America will be clear.