The race for president inevitably becomes a referendum on the incumbent, and George W. Bush has proved to be one of the most divisive U.S. leaders in decades. Maclean’s asked two columnists—one liberal, one conservative—from small Middle American towns, for their takes on Bush and his challenger, John Kerry.
Jane Flink, Republican-turned-Democrat, former editor and publisher of the Boone County Journal of Ashland, Mo., now its columnist.
GIVEN HIS PERFORMANCE in the debates, not to mention his record in the White House, logic says George W. Bush’s goose ought to be cooked. But a hefty portion of American voters support the President, even defend him. A Republican friend told me she thinks it’s shameful the way the news media make fun of Bush because he talks funny. “I don’t talk so well myself,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not smart.”
What keeps the Bush bandwagon rolling? Never mind that he’s a rich man and a rich man’s son (like his father, “born with a silver foot in his mouth,” as former Texas governor Ann Richards said of George the Elder). Many voters find common ground with this president. He thinks in black and white. He shows up in jeans and cowboy boots. He has the John Wayne swagger down pat. He used to drink a lot. He’s one of us.
I favour John Kerry, for word and deed. As a senator he was a fiscal hawk who fought “borrow and spend” Republicans. He wants a fair shake for American workers losing jobs to Third World nations, reasonable regulations on corporate excesses, tax breaks for the middle class. He wants to stop the growth of a permanent underclass in the richest nation on earth. With battleground experience in Vietnam, he bests Bush as commander-in-chief. He views his country as a force for good in the world, not as the new Rome imposing its will by force of arms.
Still, it’s hard to sell Kerry in the small town in mid-Missouri where I live. Republicans here fall into four groups: all farmers; anybody making more than $100,000 a year; the Christian Right; and the good ol’
boys who want their women submissive, their steak sliced thin and fried hard, the flag draped on the radiator of the pickup and their guns handy. Democrats are what’s left over—teachers, librarians, college professors, a handful of columnists.
Talk about Kerry at the coffee shop downtown and the locals will bet you he reads big books, talks foreign languages, drinks red wine, eats snails and goes to la-di-da art shows and concerts with a clutch of queer painters and violin players. American hero? No, they buy Swift Boat revisionism. It’s my guess Missouri will go Republican.
Democrats ruled rural Missouri when people turned to government to protect them from corporate malfeasance. Today, rural Americans put their trust in corporations they see as bastions of free enterprise and keepers of the American Way. Forget Enron. At least the corporate world isn’t socialist. They’re not so sure about government. Or government taxes: Bush scores with voters who turn blue at the thought of the 1RS. It doesn’t register that in four years he turned a hefty budget surplus into the largest deficit in history. He cut taxes for the wealthy and ignored the millions of Americans who can’t find jobs or afford basic health care. And what of his costly no-win war in Iraq and the rubber cheques we’re using to pay for it?
Historians wax frantic over American imperialism under the Bush regime, yet on the street you hear, “Geez, we sent our boys to Iraq to kill Saddam, to die for them. You’d think they’d be grateful.” See, the war isn’t Bush’s fault. The Iraqis just don’t get it. In fact, polls show Americans trust Bush to fight terrorism more than they do Kerry. Four years of failure still don’t register, and neither unfounded Republican optimism nor the Democrats’ call for a global summit
offer a solution, a way to usher the U.S. army, heads high, out of Iraq.
In the mid-1970s, I could still call myself a liberal Republican. When the GOP began its move to the right, moderates were told to go along or get out. I got out. Welfare reform and NAFTA, hardly classic Democratic issues, were born on Bill Clinton’s watch. Yet at the polls, partisan politics has never been stronger—and, whoever wins this election, the aftermath won’t be pretty. If it’s
Kerry, he’ll have the fight of his life with a cabal of well-funded neo-cons with a strong sense of entitlement. If it’s Bush, he’ll endure the ceaseless battering of a frenzied and irate Democratic party. It could be the Greatest Show on Earth. Get your tickets early.
Nate LaMar, West Point grad, international sales manager for a U.S. manufacturer, contributor to the Palladium-Item of Richmond, Ind.
GEORGE W. BUSH is a straight shooter. He hasn’t fallen victim to 20 years of Senatespeak, as has John Kerry. Like Ronald
Reagan, Bush may not be the most intellectual president we’ve ever had, but he’s surrounded himself with some of the brightest minds around, and he’s sticking to his guns. Vietnam-era defence secretary Robert McNamara learned the hard way that no war can be managed. Winning takes leadership. Bush has shown that in the face of criticism from Kerry, a majority of the United Nations, and a minority of our NATO allies, including Canada.
On domestic policy, Bush has been a consensus-builder, co-opting ideas from others, even of different ideologies. He signed into law campaign finance reform legislation and the No Child Left Behind Act, which was co-authored by left-wing Senator Ted Kennedy. He has called for compensatory time and flexible time to make workplaces more family-friendly and pushed faith-based programs to combat societal ills. This is compassionate conservatism.
By comparison, Senator Kerry is a limousine liberal whose stump speeches are short on substance, like his record. Despite two decades in the Senate, Kerry has very little to show in terms of legislative accomplishments. Rather, he has voted against most weapons systems, even against body armour—just part of his left-wing record. Hillary Clinton’s push for socialized medicine died 11 years ago, but Kerry is still calling for it. In Iraq, he doesn’t seem to understand that an ounce of preventionpre-emption by offensive warfare—is worth more than a pound of cure.
Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger embodied the “pragmatic faction” of Republican foreign policy, which placed a priority on doing what’s best for U.S. national selfinterest. This meant toleration of authoritarian regimes. The late president Ronald Reagan embodied the “human rights faction” of GOP policy, which meant trying to bring down Communism by forcing Iron Curtain countries into a massive military buildup. Some called this impractical, but it worked. What’s unique about the Bush II
administration is that it’s merged the Kissinger and Reagan factions. Invading Iraq was in our national self-interest, as well as that of our sometimes ungrateful European “friends,” whose oil supply we are protecting, and our Middle Eastern allies, who feared Saddam Hussein. It was also for the cause of human rights that we invaded Iraq, to prevent further atrocities.
Yes, the war is difficult. But in Dubai, where I travelled recently on business, a newspaper article reminded me of the fact that Saddam emptied his prisons before the U.S. invaded. Much of the so-called political insurgency is nothing more than common criminals on the loose, settling old scores. (I’ve also learned that even educated Arabs blame Israel for all the problems of the region, never mind the World Trade Center attacks.) Too often we forget that pacifying a defeated country takes time, as it did in Japan and Germany after the Second World War.
President Bush did not knowingly lie about weapons of mass destruction. He was misled. In addition to gassing his own people, among the few “successes” of Saddam’s weapons program was enough bluff to fool even the CIA. We became too reliant on electronic intelligence at the expense of human intelligence, which can never be replaced and which is now being beefed up.
Even without the WMD pretext, our invasion of Iraq was justified, as it can help bring democracy to the Middle East. It took the U.S. to lead two coalitions to finally enforce the UN’s toothless edicts against Iraq in 1991 and again in 2003. Indeed, we should have finished the job by removing Saddam in the first Gulf War. Every time history repeats itself, the price goes up.
Leaders, like Bush, persevere in the face of criticism. Nation-building also takes leadership, not merely management. The fact is, since Sept. 11,2001,50 million people have been liberated from dictatorships, thanks to the President. Let’s extend the frontiers of freedom further. fl1]
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