Open Response to the 2004 Presidential Campaign
Last night, with great trepidation, I viewed/listened to the final debate between Senator John Kerry and President George Bush. This was the final installment in what I have viewed as an extremely mediocre presidential race, with no candidate really shining forth and telling the American people something of real value.
There have been many arguments, and claiming of extremist positions, but it has become increasingly apparent to me that no matter how many times Mr. Bush compares the Senator to Ted Kennedy, they are both really so close on policy issues it is very hard to distinguish. I think if you actually imagined a line of moderation which represented the absolute middle of the arena between liberal and conservative, that both candidates are glaring at each other from just barely on the opposite sides of that line.
I suppose if a voter wanted to see the true variations, you should look into some of the other candidates. The Libertarian, Green, and Reform parties are all fielding candidates this campaign. In fact, there are over 70 candidates running who have qualified for the office of President in various states. If you want to take a look at some extremes... read up on the platform of the National Barking Spider Resurgence Party. Or the 21st Century Prohibition Party. Or the Menorah-Thor Party. Or the United Fascist Party. If you want more information on any of these, please go visit http://www.vote-smart.org/. This site contains a wealth of information about ALL the presidential candidates (including those silly "mainstream" parties).
In general, the Republican and Democratic party platforms that each side swears is the polar opposite of their rivals, are really not that different. They may take this personally, but it really is very hard to tell the difference between candidates once they take office. If you listed out things that each president did, actions he made while in office, without knowing their name (aside from well-know wars and such), unless you are an avid student of the process, most voters could not tell the difference. Take this quick quiz:
What was the party affiliation of the President who:
1) Added the Department of Energy to the Federal bureaucracy?
2) set aside some 150 million acres of public lands to protect them from exploitation by private interests?
3) Vetoed over 200 Pension Bills from Congress that would have provided relief for thousands of veterans?
4) Reauthorized an existing Act of Congress to establish higher standards for air quality and required cleaner burning fuels?
5) Spoke out for a single presidential term and moderation of the executive powers?
Can you figure it out? Some of these might surprise you. Answers will be at the bottom of this post.
The point is, a candidate will always seem a lot more away from the line of moderation during the campaign, than when he actually takes office. The reason for this, is it is very easy to make a lot of promises, but a completely different story when you suddenly have to work with a congress who is opposed to your policies, or an electorate who questions the legitimacy of your presidency, or when 3000 citizens are suddenly killed by a terrorist attack when you have not even completed your first year in office. Candidates are very seldom able to fulfill all of their campaign promises.
So, it is up to us to judge their performance on their actual merit. What were they able to accomplish, with the circumstances they were given? Yes, it is very difficult to look at a president who is given a $236 billion governmental surplus (not the $5.1 trillion John Kerry has been quoting, which was a PROJECTED surplus), and understand why he now is in the middle of a $413 billion deficit. I retract that: it is not hard to understand why we are there, all of the governmental spending over the last 4 years is a matter of public record. But could he have made different choices to reduce that level of spending? That is a matter for another post. Maybe after the election I will take on that one.
I have come to a point where I watch the candidates, and listen to them closely, for a defining stand they will take, that shows their integrity as a person, as a leader. Something that stands out to me, and says, this individual may not agree with me on every issue, but I can really respect his opinion, and I think he will have my best interests, and the interests of the American People in mind. Listen to this excerpt from last night's presidential debate (Senator Kerry speaking):
"I believe that I can't legislate or transfer to another American citizen my article of faith. What is an article of faith for me is not something that I can legislate on somebody who doesn't share that article of faith...My faith affects everything that I do, in truth. There's a great passage of the Bible that says, 'What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead.' And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people. That's why I fight against poverty. That's why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That's why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.... But I know this, that President Kennedy in his inaugural address told all of us that here on Earth, God's work must truly be our own. And that's what we have to -- I think that's the test of public service."
Whatever your belief system, you should hold a great deal of respect for this man. If we allow any form of religious expression to influence our system of government over another, we are allowing that one system to become a motivational factor in our government. We tried that before, and the crusades did not go very well. This moment in the debate was one of John Kerry's finest.
President Bush had a moment, during his inaugural speech, that captured my attention, that seemed to be his defining moment:
"The grandest of these ideals is an unfolding American promise: that everyone belongs, that everyone deserves a chance, that no insignificant person was ever born. . . . What you do is as important as anything government does. I ask you to seek a common good beyond your comfort; to defend needed reforms against easy attacks; to serve your nation, beginning with your neighbor. I ask you to be citizens, not spectators. Responsible citizens, building communities of service and a national character."
I have seen in the past year, a very different George W. Bush than this speech portrayed. Much has happened during his administration that I believe he could have never imagined. He is a determined man, and one committed to his causes. Are those causes also your causes? He said "no insignificant person was ever born". Have his policies reflected this belief? Has the general tenor of his administration worked toward "building communities of service and a national character"?
This is a question we must each answer for ourselves in the upcoming election. Please listen to the candidates. All of them will quote and spin facts to their own advantage. Most of the facts that the candidates quote are a matter of public record, and you can easily find out if they are true, false or somewhere in between. And you can usually ignore them when they refer to "misleading", and "lying" of the other parties. Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone. Maybe the candidate from the National Barking Spider Resurgence Party can cast that stone.
Be informed in your decision-making. Do not accept as gospel the party-line, but seek out and learn the truth. And then, and only then, will you be ready to make a good decision.
Answers to the quiz:
1) Democrat - Jimmy Carter
2) Republican - Theodore Roosevelt
3) Democrat - Grover Cleveland
4) Republican - George Herbert Walker Bush
5) Whig - William Henry Harrison
If you don't know or remember what the Whig Party was - perhaps a bit of study of the history of the American political system is in order. All of this information is available in Microsoft Encarta (rights and stuff to Microsoft).