Sunday, October 24, 2004

 

Trenton (NJ) Times: Kerry for president

Okay, so it's not a surprise, and it's also not that big a deal considering Kerry's going to win NJ anyway. But it's my local paper (good local paper, too), so it's nice.
Kerry for president

Sunday, October 24, 2004

An election involving an incumbent president is necessarily a referendum on his stewardship. That's certainly true this year, as President George W. Bush runs for a second term on the record of his first.

The record is unacceptable. The policies of the Bush administration have been bad for the nation, weakening national security in the name of strengthening it, and bad for ordinary Americans, who have seen the economy go sour and the environment endangered.

We believe Mr. Bush's opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry, would be better equipped by temperament, character and conviction to lead the United States out of the foreign and domestic predicaments in which it finds itself. The senator is a thoughtful man of proven courage, patriotism and ability to lead. We recommend his election.

When Mr. Bush campaigned in 2000, he pledged to be "a uniter, not a divider." Yet, since winning election by the narrowest Electoral College margin in modern times while losing the popular vote, he has presided over a public that is increasingly polarized and far too ready to demonize those holding opposing views. Much of the blame for the bitter political climate that has swept across America has to be laid at his doorstep.

It didn't begin that way. After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush was in fact a uniter, speaking words of comfort and inspiring and reflecting America's resolve to defend itself. His decision to send U.S. forces into Afghanistan to unseat the despots who had sheltered al-Qaida was the right one, and the military campaign initially was adequately manned, planned, fought - and supported internationally.

Then the administration's anti-terrorist efforts veered off the track. President Bush resisted two obvious steps - to create a Department of Homeland Security and summon a bipartisan commission to investigate why we were so vulnerable on 9/11 - before reversing his positions under pressure. He refused, and still refuses, to draw on the great reservoir of patriotism in the country by asking for shared sacrifice. And, in a tragically misguided blunder promoted by his neocon advisers, he rushed America into a pre-emptive war against Iraq for reasons that have changed like a kaleidoscope as one presumption after another has been discredited. He did this without adequate planning or preparation and without the support of a global alliance of the kind all previous presidents, including his father, have believed to be vital.

The war has been hideously expensive in lives and treasure. It has diverted the nation from more effectively addressing the terrorist threat, gobbling up resources that could be better used to secure seaports, airports and industrial plants against terrorists and prevent weapons-grade nuclear material from falling into their hands. It has diminished America's options for dealing with Iran and North Korea, two rogue nations that already, or may soon, possess the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein's Iraq didn't have. How America will put an end to the bloody insurgency that is tormenting Iraq, and maximize the odds that the Iraqi people can create a stable government and a better life, is a huge and baffling question.

Sen. Kerry agrees that the United States cannot walk away from the mess the president's folly has created. He promises to seek broader international aid to secure and restore Iraq. Can he succeed? Surely his chances are better than those of a president who is held in contempt abroad to a degree unseen in any American's lifetime. Mr. Bush says Sen. Kerry has undercut any such efforts by calling the Iraq conflict "the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time," but foreign leaders already had reached that conclusion. Speaking truth is no disservice.

No previous administration has so cavalierly dismissed science or so consistently done the bidding of the radical right. The president has ignored the ever-increasing evidence that global warming is a reality. He has refused to fund international family-planning efforts through the United Nations on the discredited grounds that the U.N. abets coercive birth-control policies in China. He has severely limited federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research, which scientists say could lead to effective treatment for some of mankind's most intractable ailments, and he wants to curtail the research still further by outlawing therapeutic (not reproductive) cloning and forbidding ill Americans to benefit from any medical breakthroughs achieved by the process abroad. His Food and Drug Administration rejected a request to approve over-the-counter sales of Plan B, a safe means of pregnancy prevention, for social-policy reasons that are altogether outside the FDA's province. To stop any state presumptuous enough to legalize gay marriage, he would amend the U.S. Constitution to prevent it. On all these issues, Sen. Kerry's positions are more enlightened and compassionate.

President Bush claims that he has "no litmus test" for Supreme Court nominees. Nevertheless, it's inconceivable that this president would nominate a justice who would uphold Roe vs. Wade, the decision establishing a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. Many of Mr. Bush's lower-court nominees have been ideologues, and his favorite Supreme Court justices are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the grim twins who oppose Roe and consistently dissent from judicial decisions that favor diversity efforts and the rights of homosexuals, racial minorities, the disabled and the poor. With three vacancies likely in the next four years, a re-elected President Bush could recast the court as a body that would make America a harsher, less tolerant country.

The Bush administration automatically sides with corporate interests and the well-to-do, with unfortunate results.

The president's tax cuts that gave a windfall to the rich, combined with his failure to veto a single one of Congress' giveaways to agribusiness, exporters and other lobbies, helped turn the record budget surplus he inherited from President Clinton into a record deficit. Now Mr. Bush wants to make his tax cuts permanent, slash additional taxes, and partly privatize Social Security in a way that will cost one to two trillion dollars over the next decade. This is not to say that Sen. Kerry's own tax, spending and budget-cutting arithmetic adds up, but it is more responsible than Mr. Bush's fiscal fantasies.

The president's remark during the debates that he has been a "good steward" of the land is at odds with reality. The League of Conservation Voters has given him its first F grade. His administration has weakened air pollution controls, sought to open up federal preserves to loggers and miners and drill in the Arctic wilderness, blocked the phaseout of snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and cut back sharply on civil lawsuits against polluters. Mr. Bush is pushing energy legislation that relies on heavy subsidies for and fewer restrictions on gas and oil companies, while his vice president meets with industry leaders behind closed doors to make energy policy and openly derides the concept of conservation.

Again, some of Sen. Kerry's environmental and energy proposals are ill-defined and lack a plausible funding plan. But the voters can be sure that a Kerry presidency would be friendly to the environment, not hostile.

The president's backers describe him as a decisive leader and deride Sen. Kerry as a flip-flopper. However, as the senator said in the first debate, a leader can be certain and be wrong. That often has been the story of President Bush. His confidence in his own decisions is unaffected by changing circumstances and borders on the messianic. Ron Suskind, in The New York Times magazine, quotes Bruce Bartlett, a Republican official in the Reagan and Bush I administrations, as saying of President Bush: "...[H]e 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." Sen. Kerry, on the other hand, would carefully study controversial issues, seek expert advice, weigh the options with care, then make a decision - which he would willingly re-evaluate if circumstances changed. In this world of unprecedented dangers and complexities, isn't that the process the American people want their president to follow?

The choice of running mates is an important window into a candidate's thinking, as well. Sen. Kerry's choice, the intelligent, articulate and optimistic Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, offers a striking contrast to the sour and negative Vice President Dick Cheney. Mr. Cheney has much more experience in Washington than Sen. Edwards does, but out of that experience has come disastrous counsel.

President Bush has shown in ways big and small that his judgment and instincts are flawed. There's no reason to think these would improve if he won another four-year term in the White House. It's time for America to change leaders and change direction.

Copyright 2004 NJ.com. All Rights Reserved.

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