How many of you remember your parents talking about the president? I remember as a child I wondered why we elected such terrible presidents. Truman could hardly get anything right, it seemed to me, and Eisenhower was not much better. Why, any one of the adults we knew could've done a better job!! Of course, what I didn't understand at the time was the emotions and exaggerations that are part of politics. Politics can certainly stir the emotions, and it's good that it does. We should care, and care a lot, about the decisions that we as a country make; decisions about sending our young people to war, about caring for our retirees, about preserving the beauty of our country for future generations, about protection of our liberties, our right to speak our minds, to bear arms and to have a fair trial if accused of a crime.
We as Americans share basic values and goals – these common goals are more important than our differences, although we may lose sight of that fact during heated election periods like the present. The man we elect as president has a tremendous impact on how we go about achieving our goals, and on whether we are united behind our national policies.
I will begin by talking about a few issues which concern me, and then about why I think John Kerry is the right man for our country at this time.
I begin with climate change. This is an area where scientific evidence is important. I think that in five minutes I could convince you that the increase in greenhouse gases in our atmosphere is indeed something to be concerned about, but I don't plan to discuss scientific findings here. What I will do is point out that the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, among others, have all agreed to cut back their greenhouse gas emissions by 50% within 50 years. This is not the kind of commitment that countries make lightly.
The US has indeed been studying the issue; in fact, the Environmental Protection Agency had a chapter on climate change in a report it was about to issue, but the White House demanded that that chapter be eliminated from its report. This unfortunately is the kind of response we are becoming accustomed to from this administration when it is presented with facts which are contrary to the position it wishes to take. President Bush goes by his gut, which may make for easier decision-making, but this can also be dangerous. In the case of climate change, the danger may be long-term, but in other cases ignoring the experts can have a terribly high cost in the short-run.
The question about intelligence relating to whether or not there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is an example. Experts warned that the evidence for the existence of weapons of mass destruction was questionable, but this administration chose to use any evidence, no matter how weak, to back up its plans to invade Iraq, plans in the making before 9/11 and largely related to a strategy for the Middle East. The vitally important debate about a pre-emptive attack on another country was itself pre-empted.
Not only experts are ignored when their findings are inconvenient – consider Abu Ghraib. There were several warning of prisoner abuse before the scandal broke, but apparently the routine use of torture had been accepted and no debate about it was wanted. In fact, the Dept of Justice had written a memo on how to defend the use of torture – and the man who wrote the memo was appointed to a federal court by Bush. It is shocking that America would accept the use of torture to question young Iraqi males. Many of these men were put in prison simply because they were near the location where an attack occurred – aren't these the people we are there to help? What kind of message does Abu Ghraib send to the Arab world? How much does this administration care?
Too often, in those areas where the President has broad discretionary power, extreme positions have been taken. Some of the excesses of the Patriot Act have been overturned by the courts – thanks to the checks and balances within our democratic system – but there has been serious erosion of our rights. If Homeland Security says it needs your personal records as part of an investigation of terrorist activity, judges under the Patriot Act are required to approve access to those personal records. This includes what library books you've read, your health records, consultations with counselors, your credit card purchases, banking records. And what is a terrorist threat? Apparently wearing a Kerry button to a rally where the President is speaking may be a terrorist threat. When an event is a public event funded by taxpayer dollars and not a private party, all the law-abiding public should be allowed to enter. They haven't been – there are cases where individuals with a Kerry button have been investigated by Homeland Security when they insisted that it was their right to listen to the President.
As to our actual homeland security here, our chemical and nuclear plants have not yet been secured. There is only one officer patrolling the entire coast of Washington state, according to a 60 minutes report. There is clearly more terrorist activity in Iraq than before, and sentiment against US policy in the Middle East is strong. The color alerts of this department are often a source of jokes for comedians – I must admit that for a while there when Bush was getting low in the polls, I wondered if our level of alert was going to rise.
Finally we come to the economy. We all know that the federal deficit has ballooned, due in part to the huge tax breaks granted by the Bush administration at the same time that the cost of security and the war in Iraq was rising. Most Americans, it's true, did get something, but most of the money went to the top tax brackets.[an average $93,000+ for million-dollar households, an average of $100 or less for 53% of us]
I am not happy that Halliburton got a no-bid contract for billions of dollars. This sends the wrong message -- it sets a bad tone for businesses who believe in fair competition. I know that most small business owners on the West Coast support Kerry – due to the rising cost of health care and the lack for support for small business by the administration: for example, funds available for small businesses from the Small Business Administration have been reduced.
Kerry's emphasis on more funding for education, on reduction in our dependence on Middle Eastern oil through the development of alternative energies, his support of a higher minimum wage, and other measures all make good sense.
The ability of either party to reduce the deficit without raising taxes is questionable, however. If Congress under Bush opts to increase taxes, it is likely that it is the payroll tax that will again increase – this is a regressive tax, the burden is heaviest on those earning $70,000 or less. Bush's policies have in general favored reducing taxes on corporations and increasing the burdens on workers – for example, through reducing overtime pay and relaxing OSHA regulations. He would be unlikely to raise taxes on corporations or high-income individuals as a group – Kerry and the Democrats on the other hand have emphasized the need to tax based on ability to pay. Any change in taxes, however, will have to make it through a Republican-dominated Congress.
Perhaps the most interesting measure of how businesses view the current Administration is provided by the stock market. Despite strong profits, rising at double-digit rates for several quarters and very strong output growth in the second quarter of this year, the stock market is unsettled. The growing federal deficit along with the rising civil unrest in Iraq and the skyrocketing price of oil are spooking investors.
Kerry, I believe, offers the hope of turning the economy, and the country, around. I personally have heard Kerry speak here at Tougaloo College, and have watched tapes and interviews. I've researched what those who've worked with him think about him. Both Democrats and Republicans in Massachusetts and in Congress find that he is a man of high integrity, who works hard for what he believes in. I've looked at the allegations that he changes his stand too frequently…and have found that it's been a question of his not dealing effectively with the media – of being too wordy in his explanations…This campaign has forced him to value brevity, and the presidential debates showed that he can be brief and clear. As to changing his mind from time to time, as they say, if you can't change your mind, you can't change anything.
He's emerged as the leader who has captured the minds and hearts of Democrats more than his contenders – General Wesley Clark, Dick Gephart, Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean are among those he confronted during the primaries. He speaks from the heart when the subject is the United States and its people. He is a strong defender of civil rights; he has a record of fiscal responsibility (braking with his fellow Democrats on the issue); believes in separation of church and state. He was willing to give his life for his country, and earned the respect of his fellows for his leadership in the war zone of VietNam. He inspires trust and loyalty, and is open to feedback and exchange.
What we need in a president is someone who can indeed be a leader for all Americans and a leader of the free world -- one who believes in spreading the hope of democracy to all countries, who believes in showing by example that we not only preach democracy – we practice it.
It was a difficult decision for my father to vote for JFK instead of Nixon, but in retrospect, he clearly made the right choice. He wanted a man of honor, a strong leader that could inspire and unite our country to tackle the challenges of the era. I think that JF Kerry is also such a man.
As voters, all we can do (as the NY Times points out) is look at the candidates' past, their priorities, and their general character. Bush's record (mistakes, lost opportunities and divisions) speaks for itself. John Kerry offers the hope and promise of a strong, more united country, one that is more fiscally sound, and one that can lead us effectively in addressing the challenges we confront at home and abroad.
Marianne Hill is a long-time political activist, dating back to the 1960s when she picketed the Pentagon because of its practice of providing racially-segregated housing for married couples in the military. She is active in working to improve women's status, to protect the environment and most recently to elect John Kerry president. She has a PhD in economics from Yale University.