In the opinion of many, including myself, President Bush is the worst and most reckless president in recent history. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, he has time and again responded to complex problems by imposing simple solutions that turned out to be wrong. He assumes that macho persistence is better than “flip-flop” indecisiveness, no matter how much damage is produced by staying the course. As a result, just about all of his policies have borne harmful, even disastrous consequences. Even worse, as Bush himself boasts, his administrative style depends on “gut decisions” confirmed by prayer. Our nation thus supposedly enjoys genuine “faith-based” executive authority perhaps for the first time in its history. Of course others play a role, for example Vice President Cheney and campaign chairman Karl Rove, but input is minimized from experts whose “reality-based” knowledge compromises their willingness to go along with decisive steps when these seem necessary. Unfortunately, Bush’s arch-inspirational leadership is no way to run a modern nation, and its misapplication has been all too obvious in just about every decision he has made additional to his colossal errors linked with the Iraq invasion.
President Bush has filled his administration with ideological zealots in domestic policy (Ashcroft, etc.) and equally ideological Neocons in foreign policy (Perle, Wolfowitz, Libby, Feith, Abrams, etc.). Ashcroft has stretched constitutional law about as much as anybody in his position by supposedly defending it, and the Neocons actually recommend new invasions, probably beginning with Syria and Iran, but perhaps also North Korea and even Venezuela, as would be suggested by the coup d’etat engineered in Haiti earlier this year. If future invasions are in the works, universal conscription will soon become necessary despite Bush assurances. Our troops are now stretched so thin (by a conservative count occupying 725 bases in 38 nations plus our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan) that nothing else seems possible, given Bush’s obsessive campaign to promote “freedom” elsewhere in the world, whatever it takes.
Significantly, high officials who voiced disagreement with Bush’s policies during his first term have been eliminated. These include Paul O’Neill, the Secretary of Treasury, for opposing excessive tax cuts, and Christie Whitman, Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, for taking her responsibilities seriously. Larry Lindsey was sacked as White House economic advisor for suggesting that the Iraq invasion might cost between one and two hundred billion dollars, and General Shinseki, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was forced into early retirement for arguing that a couple hundred thousand troops would be needed to occupy Iraq. It turns out that both were correct. Secretary of State Colin Powell reportedly intends to retire once Bush is reelected, and this would give even more leverage to Neocons and right-wing zealots.
Regarding Bush’s foreign policy, most of us opposed to his reelection are profoundly disturbed by his invasion of Iraq justified by ”cooked” evidence, by his abysmal failure to restore peace in Iraq, by his use of torture at Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay (as recommended by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales as well as lawyers in the Justice and Defense Departments), by his willful abuse of the U.N. Charter, Geneva Convention, and 1951 Uniform Code of Military Justice, by his contempt for former allies and the overwhelming majority of the U.N. membership because they opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and by his having granted extravagant reconstruction contracts without competitive bidding to friend and family-connected corporations such as Halliburton, Bechtel, Carlyle Group, etc.--pretty much the same corporations that profited the most from the invasion of Iraq. In our opinion, this totally disgraceful record in and of itself warrants his defeat in the upcoming election.
It also disturbs us that Bush has given Prime Minister Sharon maximum freedom to conduct operations against the Palestinians at whatever level he chooses, and that Bush has refused to negotiate with North Korea based on the understanding obtained by Clinton during the final months of his administration. And we are amazed that Bush has invested many billions of dollars ($3.7 billion this year alone) in a missile defense system located in the Aleutian Islands on the assumption that North Korea might eventually develop missiles able to reach the United States. This seems nothing more than an extraordinary boondoggle for U.S. aerospace industries, and undoubtedly with huge kickbacks in political donations. The technology involved leaves much to be desired, and its funding could be spent on any number of programs that have been gutted during the Bush administration. Also, one cannot ignore the likelihood that the current threat of an atomic attack against the U.S. is not by rockets launched over the Arctic region, but by land and sea transportation, for example with the use of container ships. Weapons of mass destruction would then be trucked to the cities of choice.
No less disturbing has been Bush’s refusal to participate in the passage of at least a half dozen international treaties inclusive of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Kyoto Global Warming Accord, and the International Criminal Court for prosecuting war crimes. Bush also terminated U.S. participation in the Human Rights Commission and the World Court of Law. Hostile foreign public opinion polls against the Bush administration should therefore be no surprise. In Great Britain, our closest ally, 60% of the public (77% of those under twenty-five) have indicated their dislike for Bush himself. Elsewhere percentages are higher, well beyond 90 percent in most Arab nations. 71% of Europeans recently polled consider Bush’s presidency to be the single biggest threat to world peace and security.
Regarding President Bush’s domestic policy, those opposed to his reelection are disturbed by his tax reductions while engaged in war, the first time this has ever happened, as well as his emphasis on excessive tax relief for the wealthiest one (and five) percent of the American public, his extravagant corporate tax breaks, his unprecedented conversion of former President Clinton’s $236 billion budget surplus into a $415 billion-plus deficit in less than three years, his intention to cannibalize Social Security by supposedly privatizing it, his 17% Medicare reductions, his use of the Medicare Drug bill to augment the already excessive profits of pharmaceutical industries at the expense of the American public, his veterans benefits reductions, and his reduction of the No Child Left Behind Act by $200 million without curtailing its elaborate testing program that causes more problems than it solves.
Likewise unacceptable are Bush’s record trade imbalances, his persistent anti-environmental policies, his support of lumber and utility companies through weakened environmental regulations, his inability to control unprecedented oil, gasoline, and heating oil prices despite his close connection with the oil industry, his willingness to let the dollar float downward without any apparent limit against foreign currencies, and his letting corporations outsource labor to foreign subsidiaries to such an extent that our recovery from the recession has had little beneficial impact on unemployment levels. Since Bush became president, between 600,000 and 800,000 jobs have been lost according to the standard payroll survey, and wage and salary income adjusted for inflation has increased only 0.6 percent compared to a 2.7 percent increase in real GDP. In other words, average Americans participate far less in the current economic rebound than industry and the upper and upper-middle classes. Of course this lag effect is typical of economic cycles, but it seems more pronounced this time than ever before.
The Bush administration has introduced accelerated depreciation for corporations that lets them pay much less than their share of federal taxes, for example with as many as 28 corporations having paid no taxes whatsoever between 2001 and 2003 despite profits of nearly $45 billion. Just last week, Bush signed into law a nearly $140 billion tax cut for U.S. corporations to offset the loss of their export subsidies, including $10 billion to tobacco farmers, large tax breaks for U.S. multinational corporations, and a one-year “tax holiday” for multinationals that seek to return profits to the U.S. It may be conceded that a Democratic president would have implemented a comparable arrangement to offset the elimination of export subsidies, but nothing quite so lavish in its generosity to U.S. corporations. At the stroke of a pen, $20 billion was subtracted from the federal budget, exceeding the cost of the Iraq boondoggle since it began.
No less disturbing is Bush’s relentless effort to merge church and state in the governance of our nation, and his equally relentless effort to stack the U.S. judiciary with arch-conservatives who would be able and willing to reverse decades of progress in civil rights, women’s choice, and environmental, health, and safety standards. Bush claims he simply want to install competent justices, but his recent appointment to a federal appeals court of Jay Bybee, a justice department lawyer who recently advocated torture in a legal brief, is frightening. If Bush is reelected, he might be able to appoint four new Supreme Court Justices, imposing an entirely new majority with an ideological mission that would be disastrous to our nation.
Contrary to Bush’s election promise four years ago to reunite America, he has produced by far the biggest political split since Vietnam. If anything, the animosity between his critics and supporters is even greater than under Johnson and Nixon. From Bangor, Maine, to San Diego, friends, relatives, and fellow employees either avoid each other or get into nasty arguments regarding Bush’s leadership (or lack thereof)--or, almost as bad, endure each other’s presence in uncomfortable silence. This alone is sufficient reason to vote Bush out of office. But why does half the electorate still support his candidacy? How, possibly, can they find him acceptable? Two of the most often cited reasons are Bush’s indisputable Christian faith and what seems the likelihood that his administration would be better able to defend our nation from terrorists. Both of these arguments may be challenged.
Granted, Bush’s Christian faith is unprecedented in the history of the U.S. presidency, but it should also be recognized that he becomes dangerous if and when he considers his policies to be an immutable expression of God’s will--as if everything he says or does is sanctioned by the very highest authority. According to a recent Sunday New York Times article by Ron Suskind, Bush actually seems to believe in his unique status as a messenger of God able to implement a “faith-based agenda” both at home and abroad. The Iraq invasion can accordingly be understood to have been an “exemplary action” to illustrate our nation’s divine mission to the rest of the world. This is dangerous stuff, reminiscent of the Middle Ages and Seventeenth Century religious wars. To what extent is it true? Suskind indicates that individuals personally acquainted with Bush say he has recently become far more obsessed with his Messianic destiny than he himself is willing to admit except when alone with fundamentalist Christian supporters. When a devout Republican tells Bush of his delight that God is finally in the White House, Bush’s simple reply is a pious “thank you,” without making any effort to differentiate his authority from that of God.
As for the argument that Bush can better protect the U.S. from terrorists than Kerry, his past track record would suggest otherwise. Bush seems to have totally ignored President Clinton’s warning about al-Qaida at the White House on the day of his inauguration. Also, Bush’s effort to subsidize a nuclear missile shield crowded anti-terrorism from his agenda, and Ashcroft’s request on 9-10, just one day before the attack, would have increased the FBI budget in all its departments excluding anti-terrorism.
No less symptomatic of this lack of concern was Richard Clarke, the U.S. Counter Terrorism Coordinator, having been deprived of direct access to Bush as a result of the reorganization of the executive branch. Clarke had visited Clinton in the White House on a weekly basis to discuss terrorism, but Bush’s administration replaced him in this capacity by George Tenet, who necessarily featured many additional issues in their weekly meetings. In fact, Clarke had no official contact with Bush until the day after 9-11, when Bush suddenly accosted him in a White House hallway, demanding that he dig up the necessary evidence to prove that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the attack. Clarke replied that an exhaustive search had already been conducted and there was no such evidence. Bush thereupon exited just as quickly, his final words emphasizing his demand. In retrospect it would seem that Bush subordinated terrorism to a nuclear shield up until 9-11, and one day later, starting on 9-12, he subordinated anti-terrorism to the need to invade Iraq. For the intermediate thirty-six hours, he was mostly in the air, waiting until it was safe to return to Washington.
It turns out that there were many warnings of an impending air attack by al-Qaida for several months before 9-11, all of which were ignored. Most notably Bush attended a meeting to consider such a possibility at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, approximately a month before the 9-11 attack. The topic of discussion was the title of a single-page memo, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” Unlike most of his predecessors in the White House, Bush demands that all daily briefs relevant to particular issues to be limited to a single page, and his month-long vacation at Crawford, Texas, discouraged consultation with experts to confirm and elaborate the information under discussion. Nevertheless, the brief included enough information to suggest the likelihood of an imminent air attack by al Qaida. And what was Bush’s response? Amazingly, he is reported to have brought the meeting to a close early in order to proceed with his fishing expedition for the rest of the day. And he does not seem to have issued any directives to deal with the threat. How could Kerry, or anybody else, have been any less effective in defending America against terrorism?
Of course Bush changed his attitude after 9-11, but his administration failed to take the necessary steps to capture Osama bin Laden when he was trapped in Tora Bora on the border with Afghanistan. And soon enough there was a sudden switch in strategy to attack Saddam Hussein, who had absolutely nothing to do with the 9-11 debacle, contrary to misinformation by Fox News and Vice President Cheney. As a result, most, if not all, U.S. translators essential to the capture of Osama bin Laden were transferred to the Persian Gulf in order to be used in the war against Hussein. Bin-Laden was neither killed nor captured, and without the use of translators the effort to make this has been pretty much left on a back burner.
An anthrax attack that occurred just a couple days after 9-11 has also been almost totally forgotten. At the time, the two attacks seemed linked with each other, but the anthrax killer(s) ceased to be pursued once Arabs were eliminated from suspicion because the type of anthrax used was exclusively the product of U.S. government laboratories. Aside from their status as government employees, the identity of the individual(s) responsible for the attack remains a mystery, perhaps because their exposure would somehow turn out to be an embarrassment to the administration--one can’t be sure.
Even today there are major problems with homeland security that could have been prevented. Our borders continue to be porous, for example with 90% of the cargo brought into U.S. ports without inspection, thus providing ready access for terrorists. In his second debate with Kerry, Bush explained that this remarkable vulnerability persists because of federal budget constraints. Presumably the federal government cannot afford to conduct inspections because of the costs involved. However, adequate funding would be no problem except for the recent $140 billion corporate tax cut, excessive tax cuts to the wealthy, the high cost of the Alaskan missile shield, and of course the $120 billion that has already been spent in Iraq, soon to be augmented by a further appropriation of $80 billion. In other words, plenty of funding would be available if Bush were to put homeland security higher on his list of priorities. But he doesn’t.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration seems to be cultivating fear and excessive patriotism in order to justify its agenda. The Patriot Act includes a number of unconstitutional anti-terror provisions to expedite both surveillance and prosecution, but to date its “rough justice” policies have not led to a single conviction. Moreover, the privacy of American citizens is now subject to invasion at unprecedented levels at the same time as government secrecy is emphasized, also at unprecedented levels, one suspects as much as anything to prevent the disclosure of White House embarrassments. The classification of documents has been practiced by the Bush administration to a greater extent than ever before, justified by Executive Order 13233 drafted by Gonzales, by an Oct. 12, 2001, memo by Ashcroft, and by several provisions in the Homeland Security Act. Last but not least, Bush did everything in his power to stonewall the 9-11 Commission in its investigation of the failure of U.S. intelligence, though he gave the impression he had always supported the project when mounting public pressure necessitated hearings and a final report. But of course the most sensitive (i.e., embarrassing) documents were kept classified, inaccessible to public examination.
Add it all up, and the Bush administration has abysmally failed in its effort to protect the American public from terrorist attacks: (1) neither bin Laden nor the anthrax killer(s) have been caught; (2) the unnecessary Iraq invasion has been totally botched, if anything serving to recruit and train a large international army of Muslim terrorists who can be expected to pose serious difficulties in the future; and (3) not least, our borders have gone almost totally unprotected because of budget constraints necessitated by irresponsible fiscal policies. Kerry might be just as bad as Bush in defending America, but one fails to see how he could be any worse.
Miraculously, President Bush is still neck-in-neck in the presidential race, and in fact chances are excellent he might actually win reelection. However, this is not comforting to those of us who are familiar with his record. For, as already indicated, Bush is very likely the most radical president in recent history--also the most reckless. His thoughtless audacity was evident two decades ago, when he helped to bankrupt three small oil corporations without having been charged with stock manipulation thanks to his father’s connections--also when his tax reductions gutted the budget for the State of Texas. Now he duplicates this ineptitude at the White House on a global scale, and with the threat that with his reelection there would be even fewer constraints. All in all, Bush’s foreign policy is a national disgrace, his domestic policy is an exercise in unrestrained class warfare, and his grasp of his appropriate responsibility to our nation as a whole is dubious at best. Four more years of his presidency just might be more than the American people can risk. And thus the necessity of voting for Kerry.
Edward Jayne is a retired English professor with experience as a '60s activist. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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