The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, October 22, 2004

The New Republic - John Kerry For President

From the New Republic

Post date 10.21.04 Issue date 11.01.04

John Kerry for President
by the Editors

There was a time, in the aftermath of September 11, when this magazine liked what it heard from George W. Bush. He said America was at war--not merely with an organization, but with a totalitarian ideology. And he pledged to defeat Islamist totalitarianism the same way we defeated European totalitarianism, by spreading democracy. For a publication that has long believed in the marriage of liberalism and American power, this was the right analysis. And its correctness mattered more than the limitations of the man from which it came.
Three years later, it has become tragically clear that the two cannot be separated. The president's war on terrorism, which initially offered a striking contrast to his special interest-driven domestic agenda, has come to resemble it. The common thread is ideological certainty untroubled by empirical evidence, intellectual curiosity, or open debate. The ideology that guides this president's war on terrorism is more appealing than the corporate cronyism that guides his domestic policy. But it has been pursued with the same sectarian, thuggish, and ultimately self-defeating spirit. You cannot lead the world without listening to it. You cannot make the Middle East more democratic while making it more anti-American. You cannot make the United States more secure while using security as a partisan weapon. And you cannot demand accountable government abroad while undermining it at home.

And so a president who promised to make America safer by making the Muslim world more free has failed on both counts. This magazine has had its differences with John Kerry during his career and during this campaign. But he would be a far better president than George W. Bush.

In domestic policy, Bush has been Newt Gingrich without the candor. Like Gingrich, he envisions stripping away many of the welfare-state protections that shield economically vulnerable Americans from the vagaries of the free market (while insulating corporations ever more from those same forces). But, rather than explicitly opposing popular government programs, as Gingrich did, Bush has pursued a more duplicitous strategy: He is eviscerating the government's ability to pay for them. His tax cuts, while sold as short-term measures to revive the economy, actually represent long-term assaults on the progressive tax code. If allowed to fully take effect, they will substantially shift the tax burden from unearned wealth to income, dramatically increasing inequality. And they will produce what Bush's former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, has privately called a "fiscal crisis"--a collapse in government revenue just as the baby-boom retirement sends Medicare and Social Security costs skyrocketing. This crisis will sap America's ability to wage the war on terrorism--since government will lack the funds to adequately safeguard homeland security or expand the military. It will create enormous pressure to eviscerate the government protections that guarantee poor and middle-class Americans even the meager economic security they enjoy today. And it will be entirely by design.

The tax cuts are typical of a president who cloaks a relentlessly ideological domestic agenda in moderate, problem-solving language--and gets away with it by distorting the facts. In 2001, Bush presented his policy on stem cells as a pragmatic compromise--in which research on preexisting stem-cell lines would be funded but research on new ones would not. But the supposed compromise was based on a falsehood. Bush vastly exaggerated the number of viable preexisting stem-cell lines, thus pretending he was facilitating the medical research most Americans support while actually crippling it in obeisance to his conservative Christian base.

On prescription drugs, the story is similar. With elderly Americans demanding that the government cover their prescription-drug costs, Bush endorsed a bill that administered such coverage not through Medicare but through the private sector in which his administration harbors a near-theological faith. Since private insurers had to be lured into the market with large subsidies, Bush's plan offered less coverage, at greater cost, than it would have under Medicare. But, when Medicare's chief actuary tried to estimate the bill's true cost, his superiors threatened to fire him. Only after the legislation passed did the Bush administration admit that it would cost $134 billion more than it had previously acknowledged.

By contrast, John Kerry has a record of fiscal honesty and responsibility that continues the tradition of Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin. Unlike most Democrats, he supported the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit-reduction plan. Unlike most Republicans, he supported Clinton's 1993 deficit-reduction package. And, unlike President Bush, he supports the "pay as you go" rules that, in the 1990s, helped produce a budget surplus.

It is true that, in this campaign, Kerry has proposed more spending than his partial repeal of the Bush tax cut will fund. But he has also said that, if the repeal does not bring in enough revenue, he will scale back his proposals. In fact, one of the virtues of Kerry's health plan is that, unlike Clinton's, it can easily be broken down into modest reforms. Even if Kerry merely makes good on his pledge to dramatically expand Medicaid and schip, programs that offer health coverage to poor children and adults, he will have done more to help struggling Americans than Bush has in his four years.

In foreign policy, Kerry's record is less impressive. His vote against the 1991 Gulf war suggested a tendency to see all American military action through the distorting prism of Vietnam. And his behavior in the current Iraq debate has not been exemplary. To be fair, his position has been more consistent than his detractors give him credit for. Republicans mock him for "voting for the war" before opposing it. But Bush himself urged congressional authorization for war as a way to force U.N. inspectors back into Iraq and to disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully. It was reasonable to believe that only a credible U.S. threat of force would produce an intrusive new inspections regime (which it did). And Kerry is right that, if Bush had allowed those inspections to continue, they would have eventually revealed that Saddam lacked weapons of mass destruction and eviscerated the rationale for war.

Kerry's greater failure was his vote against the $87 billion supplemental to equip American troops and rebuild Iraq. He was right to support funding the supplemental by repealing part of the tax cut (particularly since Bush officials like Paul Wolfowitz had shamelessly suggested that the war would cost America virtually nothing). But, once that effort failed, he should have supported the legislation anyway, as Senator Joseph Biden did. Building "firehouses in Baghdad"--a notion Kerry has repeatedly mocked--is not only something we owe the Iraqi people, it stems from the fundamentally liberal premise that social development can help defeat fanaticism. Abandoning that principle under pressure from Howard Dean is the most disturbing thing Kerry has done in this campaign.

But Kerry's critics are wrong to cite his opposition to the Gulf war--and his criticism of the current Iraq war--as evidence of his supposed reluctance to forcefully wage the war on terrorism. It is conceivable that, in the coming years, the United States might need to launch military action against another Muslim regime (though, given how greatly Bush has overextended the military, it is hard to see how we would do so). But the war on terrorism is far more likely to require military action within states, to secure lawless areas that terrorists have exploited.

The Bush administration's misguided tendency to see Al Qaeda as the instrument of rogue governments made it more willing to use force against Iraq but less willing to use force in Afghanistan after the Taliban fell. Kerry, by contrast, seems inclined to use American power where it could genuinely damage Al Qaeda. Even during the Democratic primaries, he attacked the Bush administration for not sending U.S. troops into Tora Bora to destroy Al Qaeda and Taliban remnants in the waning days of the Afghan war. He has proposed doubling U.S. Special Forces for operations just like that. And he has proposed strengthening America's capacity to act--including even militarily--to prevent nuclear proliferation, an issue on which the Bush administration has proved astonishingly passive.

Kerry's apparent willingness to act within states is particularly important because the U.N.'s obsession with sovereignty renders it impotent in such circumstances. His support for the Kosovo war, waged without U.N. approval, is encouraging in this regard, as is his openness to using U.S. troops--presumably without the Security Council's blessing--in Darfur, Sudan. These encouraging signs counterbalance his worrying tendency to describe multilateralism--and U.N. support--as an end in itself rather than instrument of American power. If elected, this tension will likely be a theme of his presidency, as it was of Clinton's.

Critics also call Kerry a narrow realist uninterested in battling Al Qaeda in the realm of ideas. But he has suggested an ambitious effort to support democratic civil society in the Muslim world. And, while we don't know whether Kerry would actually carry out such a campaign, we know that Bush--for all his grand rhetoric--has not. The administration's Greater Middle East Initiative, supposedly its signature effort to promote democracy in the Muslim world, was gutted after protests from the very autocracies President Bush pledged to reform. And, while the Iraq war was supposed to inspire liberals throughout the region, it may be doing the opposite. Anti-Americanism has reached such toxic levels that dissidents in Muslim countries seem increasingly fearful of any association with the United States. This is the bitter fruit of an occupation conducted with such shocking arrogance and carelessness that it calls into question whether the Bush administration's pledge to turn Iraq into a model democracy was ever really sincere.

But the war against Islamist totalitarianism is not merely a struggle for Muslim minds; it is a struggle for American ones as well. In the weeks after September 11, Bush presided over a country more united--with more faith in its government--than at any other time in recent memory. He has squandered that unity and trust for the cheapest of reasons. His administration has used the war on terrorism as a bludgeon against congressional Democrats and has implied that its critics are aiding the enemy. And it has repeatedly misled the public--touting supposed evidence of Iraq's nuclear program that American intelligence analysts knew was highly dubious, rebuking General Eric Shinseki for telling the truth about how many troops it would take to occupy Iraq successfully, and firing Lawrence Lindsey for saying how much it would cost.

The result is a country bitterly divided, distrustful of its government, and weaker as a result. The next time an American president tries to use force in the war on terrorism, he will not merely lack the world's trust, he will lack much of the American people's as well. That may be Bush's most damning legacy of all. He has failed the challenge of these momentous times. John Kerry deserves a chance to do better.


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