Making the right choice


It could not be more important

Last week, Vice President Cheney put into words what the Republican campaign machine has been implying all along: If you vote for Kerry, the terrorists are gonna git ya!'s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice. Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again.
Transcript: Vice President Cheney's Remarks in Des Moines, Iowa (Washington Post, 8-Sep-04)

Since then the SpinMeisters have been working overtime to "clarify" what Vice meant. Except we all know exactly what he meant, and what he said is what he meant. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous.

On the one hand, this should be a comfort to us: After all, every other Cheney prediction has been wildly wrong. For example, he famously predicted that the US would be regarded by Iraqis as liberators and would strew flowers in the path of our soldiers.

On the other hand, we shouldn't get our knickers too much in a twist over the comment. Electioneering has always been thus. After all, the other George W (Washington, that is) and Thomas Jefferson fell out over Tom starting a rumor that George was senile because of his support for a treaty that Tom opposed.

Editorialists and the chattering classes tut, tut about not addressing issues (I myself may have tutted once or twice), but there's a good reason campaigns descend into the muck and mire — it works. If you slime your opponent enough, people's opinion of him/her will go down. There is, of course, a side effect, which is that people become disgusted and alienated from the political process, but hey, if you win...!

Gary Markstein, in Time (Click picture to enlarge.)

Actually, in this instance I agree with Vice: If we don't make the right choice we are likely to get hit by another terrorist attack. Truth is, we are likely to get hit by another terrorist attack no matter what choice we make. Cheney now says that's what he meant all along. Yeah, right!

Here's the deal; it's simple. It is to W's advantage to keep people scared spitless between now and November. It's their one hope of countering the uneasy feeling shared by more than half the people (according to most polls), that the country is headed in the wrong direction. What W is counting on when people walk into their polling place is that they will choose the devil they know.

Wrong choice. The wrong choice is clear: George W Bush / Dick Cheney is the wrong choice.

W is reckless and engages in high-risk policies.

W and his henchmen are fond of talking about "bold moves" and "bold leadership." But too many of these involve shifting risk from the collective "we the people" to the individual. Privatizing social security and health-care savings accounts, for example, are really all about shifting responsibility — and risk — to individuals. Many people will make good choices and do quite fine, but a great many others will not, either because they lack the skill or the wherewithall to manage their affairs. When they fail, when the markets go bust, are we to stand by and watch them suffer?

W is incautious because he has spent his whole life being protected from risk and the consequences of bad decisions. Daddy and his friends have always been there to pull his chestnuts from the fire when his businesses went bust, so naturally he lacks a healthy respect for risk. (I'm indebted to Harold Meyerson, writing in the Washington Post for this insight into W's character.)

John Kerry may be too risk-averse. If so, I would prefer that to the recklessness of W.

W cannot be counted on to tell the truth.

Dervish For more on dervishes, see sidebar.

Good leaders change course when circumstances change or when their strategy isn't working. W just changes the marketing message, but continues to do exactly the same thing. George W is the king of spin. When it comes to spin, he is a veritable whirling dervish.

The Iraq war is an excellent example: In the beginning, W said the war was necessary because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was preparing to use them against the US and its allies. When the stockpiles of weapons turned out not to exist, then the war was because Saddam Hussein had the capacity to develop weapons of mass destruction. In the latest State of the Union speech it was because of weapons of mass destruction program related activities. At other times the war was said to be to enforce the will of the United Nations or because Saddam Hussein was a bad guy or because it would cause democracy to flower in the Middle East.

The "coalition." When Iraq invaded Kuwait in the early 1990s, W's Daddy assembled a genuine coalition of world powers that contributed fighting forces and money to repulse the invasion. About 90% of the cost of the Gulf War was born by other countries, including many of the neighboring Arab countries. W's "coalition of the willing" consisted mostly of world powers like Eritrea, Palau, and Tonga, all fine countries, but hardly credible enforcers. For W's war, the US is footing 90% of the bill and suffering 90% of the casualties.

When W was running for office and there was a budget surplus, W claimed we had to cut taxes because the government didn't need to collect so much of the people's money. After W was elected and budget shortfalls began to loom, W still said we needed the tax cut but now it's purpose was to create jobs. Same policy, just repackaged.

John Kerry may spin just as much, but he's not as good at it and it's easier to tell when you're being spun.

W has inflicted great damage on the US and its place in the world.

The moral standing of the US has never been lower. Even people in countries that have traditionally been our staunch allies now view the US with distrust and some fear. The torture and abuse of prisoners in Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, and in Iraq (and who knows where else) is shameful and is clearly the result of a massive failure of civilian and military leadership.

On the domestic front, budget surpluses have been turned into massive deficits. There are millions fewer jobs today than when W took office. Yes, the unemployment rate is low, but mostly because so many people have left the workforce. More people — many of them children — live in poverty today than when W took office. More people are without health insurance today than when W took office.

There has been a breath-taking assault on civil liberties and individual rights in the name of a "war on terror." The attorney general, who is supposed to uphold the law, is a chief architect of disabling the law.

Fixing this mess is going to be a challenge for anybody. Kerry has no magic wand. But lordy, he won't make things worse. W could and probably would.

In short, W has gotten us into a fine mess, and it is time to cut our losses and elect a new leader.