Dear Aunt Estelle and Uncle Hobie: [all names are changed, to protect my
Cousin Frank told me that you two are still undecided about your
presidential vote. You're not alone; there are a lot of citizens in the same
boat. Many are turned off by the choices we're given. Many are waiting to
see what the debates yield. Many are just uncertain which way to go, and are
looking for some answers.
So I hope you won't mind if your nephew throws in his two cents. I feel
strongly about this and hope, even though you voted for Bush last time out
and once called me a "wishy-washy liberal," that you'll be open to hearing
my point of view.
I'm guessing you might, since you're obviously conflicted about voting for
Bush again. Even though I don't often agree with your politics, I find your
brand of old-fashioned conservatism honest and admirable. Many other
traditional conservatives likewise are having trouble voting for Bush: He's
not fiscally responsible, he's abandoned the concept of small government,
he's running roughshod over the Constitution (while saying he'd appoint
strict constructionists), he's taking us into dangerous international
adventures for no good reason, he's allowing his fundamentalism to intrude
on his policy -- more on all this below.
I'll look forward to hearing your responses. I think we may agree on more
things than first appears. I'll start with the major issue in the campaign,
then move on to domestic matters.
THE IRAQ "VICTORY"
When we were sitting in your living room the day Bush gave his "Mission
Accomplished" speech on the aircraft carrier, you said Bush was a strong,
forceful, patriotic President who was leading the U.S. to victory; I wonder
if you still feel that way today.
I agree that George Bush is forceful, but acting aggressively and appearing
strong doesn't make a leader's policy correct. It may mean that he's
bull-headedly obstinate and refuses to face the facts on the ground, and
make corrections from earlier mistakes.
But Bush, a man extremely weak in self-esteem, cannot admit mistakes, about
anything, certainly not about the war. If he were to just tell the truth to
the American people, many of us would be open to listening to what he has to
say. But all he does is deny and continue his fantasy that all is going well
in Iraq and that we're about to "turn the corner."
I think "the corner" he's talking about is the November 2 election. If he
can just brazen his way through until then, he believes, the facts won't
But they do matter because our young men and women are being killed and
maimed there every day -- for a war that needn't have happened -- not even
to mention the approximately 15,000 dead Iraqis, most of them innocent women
and children. (Our Marine neighbor's son, Vinny -- remember him? -- is in
Iraq now, and I worry for his safety.)
The truth is that each of the numerous, always-changing reasons Bush has
supplied over the past year-and-a-half to justify our war in Iraq has turned
out to be wrong. Each time another study determines that one of Bush's
reasons is false, he slides to another one, and those newer reasons are
getting ludicrous. (The latest one is because Saddam Hussein was cheating on
the oil-for-food program! -- supposedly a solid reason for Bush to rush to
war, getting 1000+ Americans killed in the process.)
WHY WE OSTENSIBLY WENT TO WAR
You remember how they sold this war to the American people, and to the
Congress: Saddam supposedly had stockpiles of biological and chemical
weapons, and an active nuclear program, and those WMD were going to be
unleashed on the U.S. mainland by missiles and drone planes over the East
Coast, and supplied to terrorists and so on. Saddam had to be taken out NOW.
Couldn't wait another day.
None of it was true. The original chief U.S. inspector, David Kay, was
dispatched and said he expected to find those WMD stockpiles; he found
nothing. The government's suppositions were wrong, he said. An angry Bush
refused to believe those findings and so dispatched another chief inspector,
Charles Duelfer, and a huge team of military experts; they searched and
interviewed and examined documents for many months and just this week
reported back that
no WMD, no active programs to produce any, no nuclear program, nothing,
other than a vague intent to maybe start up some programs years from now.
Why the rush? Why couldn't Bush permit the U.N. inspectors to finish their
work? What was the hurry?
In short, despite Bush and Cheney insinuating that Saddam was part of the
9/11 attack, Iraq was a weak sister who could do little harm to anybody, not
to his neighbors and certainly not to us. The previous U.N. inspections and
the international embargo had done the job in containing Iraq, reducing its
threat to near-zero. The new U.N. inspectors were doing their job and would
have revealed no stockpiles of WMD. Bush raced to war instead.
So we have 135,000 troops on the ground in Iraq for no good reason,
occupying a country that is grateful that Saddam's brutal regime is gone but
does not want to be occupied by us. Virtually all of the insurgents are
Iraqis, anxious to kick out the occupiers.
WHY WE REALLY WENT TO WAR
What were the real reasons for Bush's rush to war, and to occupying the
country in the first place? It certainly wasn't WMD. Deputy Secretary of
Defense Paul Wolfowitz later admitted that the Bush Administration chose WMD
as the reason for the war because they could sell that one to the American
public. The true reasons were too controversial: controlling the oil,
establishing military bases in the Middle East region in order to alter the
geopolitical map of that area, to use Iraq as an object lesson for other
leaders who might want to object to American policy.
Now you may not like many of the Arab nations in that area, or the extreme
religious zealotry of some of the branches of Islam, but the result of our
invading Iraq has been to unite the Iraqi population against us, unite the
various political and religious factions within Iraq against us, unite a
good share of the Muslim world against us, unite a good share of Western
Europe against us, and, perhaps worst of all, help provide more recruits for
Osama bin Laden and other jihadist leaders.
In short, we are more isolated in the world -- regarded as a pariah nation
by many -- and more insecure now against terrorism than we were before the
In addition, Bush has botched the post-"Mission Accomplished" phase of the
war. He disbanded the Iraqi army, he permitted widespread looting to occur
(except, of course, at the Oil Ministry), he didn't guard the huge ammo
dumps, he asked our warriors to become peace-keepers and nation-builders, he
didn't properly supply our troops with body armor or with armored vehicles,
he didn't let the Iraqis be responsible for their country's reconstruction
but foisted huge American corporations on them, he didn't get the
electricity and water supply working well. In short, in the rush to war, he
had no plan for winning the peace, and our young men and women on the ground
are paying the ultimate price for his failed policy. (Many of these charges
come from conservative Republicans, such as Senators Richard Lugar and Chuck
Hagel and John McCain.)
Probably in order to win the November 2 election, Bush proclaims that there
will be democratic balloting in Iraq in January. But in order to meet that
rushed timetable, Rumsfeld says we may have to leave out certain major
population centers -- perhaps a quarter of the population -- because of lack
of security. A recipe for a disastrous civil war.
IT'S DEJA VIETNAM ALL OVER AGAIN
In sum, the whole Iraq adventure reeks of Vietnam all over again. We'll be
stuck there for years. For what? So that our troops can die for a mistake,
or for more of Bush's "preventive" wars? No, thank you. I won't risk Bush
putting our sons, your grandsons, into harm's way because of his desire to
exercise "benevolent global hegemony." (See "How
We Got Into This Imperial Pickle: A PNAC Primer.")
I know that you want to support your government and that you believe that
presidents do the right thing. But surely by now you've noticed that Bush
and Cheney are unabashed liars. For example, their lies suggesting that Iraq
was somehow tied in to the 9/11 attacks, which even the bipartisan 9/11
Commission said was untrue. In fact, in an unguarded moment,
himself admitted as much. Cheney has been incorrigible for many
months in his constant refrain insinuating a connection between Iraq and
9/11 -- and then he had the audacity to lie about it at his debate, saying
he'd never made such suggestions. (Except this time the press published his
numerous quotes to the contrary.)
John Kerry is willing to face up to the realities of what's really going on
in Iraq, and to make sure nothing like that happens again. Bush and Cheney
continue to rely on their fantasy vision that the situation there is rosy
and all will be well if we just trust them. We trusted them before and
they're the ones who got us into this mess. They exacerbated it when
Rumsfeld authorized "harsh interrogation methods" (read: torture) of Iraqi
detainees in our care. So why should we trust them again? No, thank you.
I will be voting enthusiastically for Kerry -- even though there are aspects
of his programs and policies I disagree with -- because as patriots who love
our country, we must do all in our power to get it back on track, to change
course in Iraq and at home.
Which brings us to Bush's domestic policies. I'll just mention a few
* Bush does not bear the total blame for the stagnant economy and the
loss of nearly two million jobs during his tenure, but he bears the
overwhelming responsibility for wrong decisions that have made the situation
even worse. One such is his constant cutting of taxes -- mostly for the
already wealthy -- during wartime, when Iraq and Afghanistan are costing us
nearly $200 Billion.
The result of this wrong-headedness is two-fold: no money to pay for
necessary infrastructure upkeep and popular programs -- therefore forcing
the states and cities to use limited funds to pay for them, which means
fewer governmental services, and increases in local taxes. It also means a
humongous deficit, in the trillions already, which will place an expensive
burden on the upcoming generation to pay the interest on those debts for
decades, fewer government services, privatization moves on Social Security
* Our Founding Fathers, in their wisdom, seeing how a leader easily
can become an authoritarian bully, made sure to divide up power between the
three branches of government -- to make it difficult to get anything done
quickly, thus putting impediments in the way of misrule. The Fourth Estate
of journalism, they expected, would provide an extra block on runaway rule,
by speaking truth to power.
But the extremist rightwing crew that has taken over the Republican Party is
not especially interested in the centuries-old limitations on power, even
though the traditional Republican party long had been opposed to oppressive
federal rule. And, since the Hard-Right GOP now controls the House and the
Senate and the White House and increasingly in the federal courts -- while
the conglomerate-owned mass media serves as a cheerleader for this crew --
the entire checks-and-balances system is not working the way it was
The only check we still have is an election that can make a change at the
It's possible that you agree with what the current Republican leadership is
doing, so why would you want to change things?
The answer is that the Republicans in control are going WAY beyond what even
traditional conservatives find reasonable. Bush&Co. are proposing scary,
extremist grabs at power that would take America into a quasi-dictatorship.
You may think I'm exaggerating just to help remove Bush from office. What
I'm about to cite is from official government documents. I didn't make this
stuff up. Were it not for various Bush scandals in recent months, we mostly
likely would never have heard of any of this -- until it was too late. So,
here's what I'm talking about:
A. The captured Iraqis and Afghans weren't talking, so the Bush
Administration came up with ways to justify torturing them that, they claimed, would be legal.
Lawyers in the White House and Ashcroft's Justice Department and Rumsfeld's
Pentagon devised the following rationalization: When the President is acting
as Commander-in-Chief during "wartime," he can order whatever is necessary
and cannot be challenged. In other words, whatever a President says and does
as Commander-in-Chief is, ipso facto, legal. If that's not a definition of a
kind of dictatorship, what is? (The GOP also is pushing bills in the
Congress that would take certain cases out of the purview of the courts --
in other words, to denude the Judicial Branch of its essential power to
interpret the Constitution.)
B. Some of the same lawyers came up with what they claimed were legal
total "postponement" of elections, even though the U.S. has never
postponed a national election, not even during the Civil War. How it would
work: If a President decided that the "national security" situation was
severely endangered due, say, to a terrorist attack or a "credible" threat
of a terrorist attack the election could be postponed. Or, if those threats
were specific to certain cities or regions, those areas could be locked down
and the elections there postponed -- though the elections would go on
elsewhere and the winner could be decided based on those truncated results.
A perfect invitation for electoral mischief, probably by an incumbent
President who believed he is about to lose an election.
C. More than 300 municipalities and several states have looked at the
way John Ashcroft has used the Patriot Act to shred constitutional
protections and the Bill of Rights and have said they won't cooperate with
the federal government in those violations. These are not wild-eyed liberal
fanatics; these are normal Americans terrified at how, using the fear of
terrorism, the Bush Administration has gone way beyond the pale to enact and
propose laws that give WAY too much power to snoop and pry into our homes,
our computers, our emails, our library habits. Bush and Ashcroft say we need
to EXPAND the
Patriot Act, to give the government even more police powers.
* Bush, in a recent debate, claims he is "good steward" of the
environment. Next to his claims about how well he's handling the situation
in Iraq, this is one of his most egregious lies. He basically has turned the
rule-making authority to protect our air and water over to the industrial
giants who do most of the polluting. He comes up with grand-sounding titles
for his laws and executive orders -- "Clean Air Act," "Healthy Forest
Initiative" and so on -- but they mask the largest rollback of environmental
protections in modern times. Up is down, black is white, war is peace --
reality in this, and all other matters, is what Bush&Co. says it is, so
* Most true conservatives want to limit the size and intrusiveness of
the federal government; even Clinton and Gore cut the bureaucracy. Under
Bush, it has grown tremendously, especially in areas related to controlling
citizens' views (see Patriot Act discussion above). In addition, GOP
legislators used to constantly criticize the Democrats as "tax&spenders" for
their pork-laden bills; once the GOP took control, they forgot their
principles and jumped on the gravy-train themselves, big time, and the GOP's
pork-filled bills are bigger then ever, driving up the deficit even more.
This is traditional conservative fiscal responsibility?
Well, that's enough from me, Aunt Estelle and Uncle Hobie. By and large,
most of the charges I'm making in this list can't be ascribed just to us
"liberal Democrats." Often, the most vociferous objections are coming from
libertarians and conservative Republicans, horrified at how their party has
been hijacked by extremists, incompetent at that, who are doing great damage
to our institutions, economy and reputation in the world.
I urge you to spend some time talking about some of the issues I've raised
here -- and, again, feel free to come at me with questions or objections --
during the next three weeks. I think, I hope, you'll come to the decision
that even if you don't like everything about John Kerry and his positions,
the alternative of four more years under this Bush crew is much, much worse.
Kerry clearly offers a smarter, more hopeful alternative.
Thanks for listening. Let me know if you need a ride to the polls.
Your loving nephew, Bernie.
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