|Tom Hull: Personal Stuff
I wrote the following letter to send to family and friends as my little contribution to the 2004 U.S. Presidential election:
I've long viewed politics as a spectator sport. I've usually managed to keep detached, recognizing that all politicians are flawed, often wrong, but rarely disastrous. But after four years of bad news that George W. Bush has often made worse, I feel like I have to get off the sidelines. The following is a letter where I try to explain why I believe it is so important that we all vote for John Kerry and put Bush behind us. This election is a test of what America stands for. Jack Germond finished a recent book about American politics with these lines: "We get about what we deserve. So I guess we deserve George W. Bush." We have one more chance to show that we deserve better. Please vote for John Kerry. And please feel free to pass this on to anyone you think this might help. We all do what we can do.
In August of this year the U.S. government released a series of reports, which showed that during the three-plus years that George W. Bush has been President we have lost jobs, the jobs that we still have pay less, the number of people living under the official definition of poverty has increased, the cost of health care has risen dramatically, and millions more Americans do not have health insurance. These are statistics, but it's easy to translate them to real people. For example, my brother was laid off after working 23 years at Boeing. He got another lower pay job and was laid off from that. He's still unemployed, 51, a diabetic with no health insurance. So these are serious problems. We can argue whether Bush is responsible for them, but the most telling thing is how Bush reacted to the bad news: he ignored the reports and insisted that his policies and leadership were working. Even if you knew nothing else about Bush, you'd have to wonder about a President who can't recognize that such basic problems are problems worthy of his attention.
The August list only details some of the problems we face today. On September 11, 2001, nine months into the Bush presidency, four airliners were hijacked and crashed spectacularly into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, killing nearly 3,000 people. Nobody blames Bush for this, even though we now know that it wasn't just bad luck that his administration wasn't able to detect and thwart the attack: they had other priorities, like turning the budget surplus into a tax windfall for their richest backers, building an anti-missile defense system, and dismantling government regulations meant to protect us from hazards like arsenic and salmonella. But September 11 was so shocking that even Bush had to pay attention. The attacks were linked to Osama Bin Laden, a Saudi jihadist who lived as a guest of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. So Bush plunged the U.S. into war to capture or kill Bin Laden, but settled for driving the Taliban from Afghanistan's cities. Then, with Afghanistan still unstable and Bin Laden still at large, he launched a second war in Iraq.
Those wars have cost the U.S. well over a thousand additional lives, something approaching $200 billion, and much of the sympathy and respect that we had enjoyed around the world ever since WWII. Meanwhile, Bin Laden's allies have multiplied, striking dozens of times from Indonesia to Morocco and Spain, from Kenya to Turkey. Some claim, citing the sports cliche "the best defense is a strong offense," that we are safer at home fighting the "war on terrorism" abroad, but the indiscriminate nature of armed conflict has much expanded the conflict. But then the "hearts and minds" Bush seeks to win with American military might aren't in Iraq. They're part of his re-election campaign.
Just as Bush sees no problem in lost jobs, more citizens under the poverty line, fewer citizens with health insurance, he also cannot admit that he has made any mistakes during his march to war, nor by how those wars have been handled. Bush had a broad (I think naive), consensus to go to war in Afghanistan, but he had no such mandate for Iraq. The decision to invade and occupy Iraq was made in secret by the Bush administration, then marketed to America and (for the most part unsuccessfully) the world. An argument was fabricated that Iraq had WMD and that Saddam Hussein would turn those WMD over to terrorists to attack the United States. When renewed on-the-ground inspections correctly showed that Iraq had no such weapons, Bush rejected the findings and invaded. Only when the invasion was launched did Bush add a new rationale: to liberate the Iraqi people, spreading democracy and freedom. That didn't happen: Bush brought in favored exiles like Ahmed Chalabi to hand power to, found they had no local support, postponed elections until after the U.S. election. But then why should we be surprised? When Bush plays democracy winning is the only thing.
It is clear now that Bush and his party will say anything to get their way. Their 2001 tax cut was initially marketed as needed to return a tax surplus to the people, then when the economy tanked and the tax cut promised to throw the government back into deficits the tax cut was sold as a stimulus. Bush's tax cut was extremely biased to favor the very rich, and much of it only kicks in up to ten years down the road, where it looms like an IED threatening to derail some future government. The only parts of the tax cut that can be thought of as stimulating were rebates tacked on by opportunistic Democrats working under the cover of Bush's rhetoric. But in the third Bush-Kerry debate, Bush repeatedly talked about his "middle class tax cut," how he "cut taxes for all Americans," about the 10% tax bracket for the lowest income group -- without ever mentioning that the poorest Americans still pay 10% more (not to mention their payroll taxes and sales taxes) than the richest Americans pay on their tax-free dividends.
Bush's relentless tax cutting is one of several fronts in his war on government. This matters because Republicans fear that a government which reflected the interests of the vast majority of Americans could turn on the rich. Republican strategists point to the differences between states like New York and Alabama: the more a government does to help ordinary citizens, the more voters are willing to tax the rich; conversely, governments that do little for most citizens are distrusted by voters, who see no value in them. The Republican solution to this is to cripple government, and they do this in several ways: they starve programs by reducing revenues; they put mismanagers in charge to undermine programs they don't like; they outsource government jobs to private contractors, who provide political kickbacks in a new patronage system; they create diversions to spend unproductively, especially through the military; they constantly ridicule "tax and spend liberals" and "big government running our lives." The idea here isn't to destroy government; just to keep it weak, dominated by private interests, and useless to support ordinary people.
For a party so quick to wrap itself up in the flag, it is shocking how little commitment Bush's party actually has to America's citizens and their welfare. Bush makes no effort to stop multinational corporations from avoiding U.S. taxes. Bush refuses to subject us to the World Criminal Court, but he has no qualms about the WTO rewriting U.S. law where it doesn't satisfy foreign capitalists. Bush promotes the loss of American jobs under the guise of free trade, encouraging companies here to reduce wages here by outsourcing or by negotiating under threat. For jobs that cannot be exported, Bush has proposed a "guest worker" program to import cheaper labor "for jobs Americans don't want to do." The U.S. effectively subsidizes other nations' economies by running huge trade deficits -- a sacrifice no other nation makes, but then the U.S. is governed less by workers' votes than by lobbyists' money. And the money Americans spend to buy Saudi oil gets reinvested in global capitalism, some of which trickles back to operatives of the Bush party. Bush has been similarly accommodating to polluters, for that matter to businesses of all kinds.
Bush was born and bred to serve the very rich, as was his father and his grandfather before him -- three generations of Yale Skull and Bonesmen, rich but never moneyed enough, skilled at plying their connections. He identifies not with a nation but with a class. Why anyone excluded from that class -- depending on your standards for association, somewhere between 90 and 98% of all Americans -- would support a politician with those allegiances is a mystery. The Republicans have become expert at exploiting wedge issues (abortion, guns), at codifying hatred and resentment (race, gays, liberals, the government), at confusing patriotism with a huge military meant to protect capitalism worldwide, at signifying religion. They have trained us to expect little, to accept that poverty is our failing -- not theirs. And they have made us fearful that those they have injured all around the world hate and lash out not at them but at us. They reinforce these messages over and over: they have obscene amounts of money, they control most of our sources of news and opinion, they have an endless supply of apologists, and they craft their messages using the scientific tools of advertising.
But Bush has a big problem this year: reality. In less than four years Bush has taken us from relative peace and prosperity to a disastrous war and an economy which exposes the fundamental problems of a government which favors the rich at the expense of everyone else. A good part of this problem is systemic -- the decline of real wages for the workers who built America has been going on for thirty years, as the gulf between rich and poor has been broadening, concentrating power for the rich and reducing opportunity and a sense of fairness for everyone else. But much of the problem is due to the arrogance, ignorance and incompetence of the Bush administration.
Bush has been so out of touch that even some of the very rich feel the pain. He has an opponent in John Kerry who is every bit as deeply rooted in the upper class as Bush -- even to the point of being another Yale Skull and Bonesman, quite a coincidence. But Kerry comes from a different strand: less arrogant, less ignorant, Kerry recognizes that America is more than just a government of, by and for the rich. Moreover, Kerry realizes that contempt for the poor, workers, scientists, the rest of the world is not just bad in some soft-headed liberal ethics sense. He understands that it doesn't work -- it makes enemies where one desperately needs friends. I have never seen a presidential election where the choice was so clear.
But as I write this polls report that Bush and Kerry are in a dead heat. And there is plenty reason to worry that Bush, as the one in power, will pull out all the stops in trying to wedge the election his way. (For example, he can raise the official terror alert level, which has in the past correlated favorably with his polls. He can launch a major offensive in Falluja, which lets him him play to the hilt the role of Commander in Chief. He might luck out and produce some "high value" Al Qaeda target, as they more/less did during the DNC.) The polls translate to some fifty million voters for Bush, a staggering sum given his record. If Bush does somehow manage to win it will be a sad time for America. Not only would it expose us to four more years of depredations and mismanagement, it plainly broadcasts to us and the world that the citizens of the United States just don't get how far their country has decayed from the ideals of freedom, equality, opportunity, and justice that we grew up believing in. A victory for Bush would show us to be extraordinarily gullible, or downright vile.
I want to add a postscript on Ralph Nader. I know a lot of people who voted for Nader in 2000. I was one of them. I was thoroughly disgusted with the way that Clinton and Gore had handled foreign policy, especially Iraq, and the Republicans in Congress were even worse. The dangers inherent in those policies, including terrorist attacks such as 9/11 and the bitter anti-American resistance in Iraq, were evident even then. When Gore and Bush debated foreign policy in 2000 they agreed on virtually every point. In that context Nader and the Green Party seemed to be an alternative -- as it turned out, a very costly one. But this year is different. For one thing we now know that the moderation Bush campaigned on was fraudulent. He is the most extreme right-winger ever elected President. We now have the beginnings of an accounting of what Bush has cost us, and that has shocked most Democrats into trying to distance themselves from the Republicans, whereas even when Gore ran they had tried to split the difference. Kerry is not merely much different from Bush; his whole party has seen the danger and moved pragmatically to correct it. On the other hand, Nader sees nothing, and offers nothing. It is a pathetic end to his career that most of his supporters this year are Republicans who hope that antiwar people will waste their votes on Nader instead of doing the one thing that has to be done before anything gets better: defeat George W. Bush.
This has been a difficult letter to write -- the main problem is that I have much too much material to present succinctly. Since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, I have read over 100 books on history, economics, and politics, trying to understand this world and how it's gone so wrong. Only a tiny bit of what I've learned appears below. I keep turning over in my mind a book I should write some day that might put this learning into some usable form. Perhaps I'll use a title that Rush Limbaugh once abused, "The Way Things Ought to Be." If this doesn't convince you, please respond and I'll try harder.
On Oct. 21, 2004 I began mailing this letter to a couple hundred email addresses which I have culled from my email files -- mostly people I know personally or have corresponded with. I've also posted this letter at: http://notesoneverydaylife.com/node/view/115. As I get feedback (write me: thull2 [at] cox.net) I'll add more comments to the web page.