Having struggled through the second Presidential debate, listening to the same rhetoric from both candidates, I have to wonder if the U.S. public just doesn’t get it. Both John Kerry and George Bush were predictable in their message. There was nothing new, and reasonably, that’s what should have been expected. George Bush’s message, delivered much better than in the first debate, was that America needs to stay the course; going into Iraq was the correct decision, things are improving (despite what is being reported in the media), and we are winning the war on terror. Kerry’s response is that everything George Bush has done is wrong, everything that happens in the world is George Bush’s fault, and whereas the U.S. is not safer with Saddam Hussain removed from power, the U.S. will certainly be safer if George Bush is.
George Bush’s answers were couched in the rhetoric of what is; John Kerry’s in the rhetoric of “let's pretend”.
On the Economy: George Bush is the first president since Hoover to lose more jobs during his term of office than were created. – John Kerry
Let's pretend the recession he inherited at the start of his term, and the terrorist attacks of 9-11 never occurred. Let's pretend the economy is not now improving. Let's pretend 96,000 new jobs is bad news – because we projected 140,000. Let's pretend oil isn’t at $53 a barrel, causing a drag on the economy (or perhaps we can blame George Bush for that), and keeping it from growing even more.
On Global Warming: George Bush has shown his irresponsibility on the environment by refusing to back the Kyoto Accords.
Let's pretend that the Senate, during President Clinton’s administration, never passed the Byrd/Hagel Resolution in 1997, by a vote of 95 to 0, a resolution against implementing the Kyoto Accord. Oh yes, and let's also pretend that Senator Kerry never voted in favor of the Resolution, which he did.
On Tort Reform: Senator Kerry supports (unspecified) tort reform, but minimizes its impact, claiming that medical liability lawsuits contribute less than 1% of the total rise in health care costs.
Let's pretend that John Kerry’s running mate, Senator Edwards, who made his millions prosecuting medical liability lawsuits, and who has received extensive financial backing by fellow trial lawyers, would really support any responsible legislation to cap awards or lawyer fees in this arena. Let's also pretend that doctors practicing defensive medicine to protect themselves from law suits don’t really increase the cost of health care, and that the massive increase doctors have seen in their medical malpractice insurance rates aren’t really passed along to consumers.
On Stem Cell Research: President Bush is against stem cell research and has stifled all efforts to effect medical cures utilizing this cutting-edge technology. He is allowing his ignorant religious beliefs to get in the way of curing your loved ones, or perhaps even you yourself.
Let's pretend that President Bush has banned and outlawed all stem cell research, when in fact he has not. Federal funding can still be used for adult stem cell research. Let's pretend that President Bush has banned and outlawed all fetal stem cell research, when in fact, he has not. He has only banned federal funding of fetal stem cell research on cell lines other than those already existent when he enacted the ban. In other words, federal dollars will not be spent to kill additional unborn human beings to establish new cell lines. Private funds can still be spent however. However, let's also pretend that only through the involvement of the federal government, and the tax dollars of all Americans, can research truly be funded.
While we are at it, let's pretend that fetal stem cell research is like snake oil and can cure anything under the sun, even maladies that scientists say it is ill suited for. (Who knows until we do the research…it may even promise a cure for liberalism!) Let's also pretend that all the stem cell cures perfected so far have been done with fetal cells, when in fact they have been accomplished using adult stem cells. In fact, let's pretend that adult stem cell cures don’t even exist!
On Taxes: President Bush’s tax cuts benefit only the richest 1% of Americans.
Let's pretend that the 10% tax bracket was never created. Let's pretend that only rich people have kids, or else, how could only they benefit from a $1000/child tax credit. Let's pretend that only the rich own stocks, or else how could only they benefit from lowering the capital gains tax. Let's pretend that taxing two married people more than they would pay if filing single is fair, and that this too, only benefits the rich, as only rich people can afford to get married. Let's pretend that its fair for the government to confiscate 50% or more of your estate after you die, because, of course, you don’t need it any more., and shouldn’t the government (who knows way more what is good for you and the country than your posterity do) get their “fair” piece of the action? They allowed you to live here and enjoy making that bundle in the first place. Remember, only the rich own houses, or property, or anything of value in the United States.
On Taxes, take 2: President Bush screwed America’s fighting men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq out of their tax cut.
Let's pretend that people serving in designated combat zones, like Iraq and Afghanistan, actually pay federal income tax – which they don’t. How, logically, does one get a tax cut on zero tax paid?
On the War on Terror: President Bush acted irresponsibly when he pulled troops out of Afghanistan and sent them into Iraq. He should have sent more troops into Afghanistan to capture Bin Laden; instead he outsourced the job to Afghani warlords who botched it.
Let's pretend that General Tommy Franks, the commander on the ground, hasn’t stated that this is an absolute fabrication. Let's pretend that troop strength in Afghanistan didn’t actually increase by 500, rather than decrease, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Let's pretend that adding more ground troops to do a job requiring special forces would actually help. Let's pretend that we really knew where Bin Laden was (we didn’t) or that he is even actually still alive (we don’t know). Besides, one could make the argument that Kerry himself is in favor of outsourcing U.S. security – to France, to Germany, and to the UN.
On the War on Terror take 2: President Bush sent troops to war without the body armor they needed.
Let's pretend this is true – when it is not. U.S. troops had body armor, the same body armor they had for the past several years. It so happens that better body armor was being produced, and not all units had yet been equipped with the upgraded armor. While it would be nice if everyone had the very best, would anyone seriously suggest that the U.S. should wait to go to war until everyone had the very best of everything? There are always upgrades to various weapons systems occurring in the military. If we waited until everything was up to the very latest standards, we would never go anywhere. And while we are at it, let's pretend that Senator Kerry didn’t vote against the spending bill that, among other things, would fund the improved body armor for our troops. Of course, since he also voted for it (before he voted against it) perhaps we can pretend…
On the War in Iraq: The war in Iraq is an illegal unilateral action taken by the Bush Administration with a total disregard for the will of the world community.
Let's pretend there were no UN resolutions on Iraq. Let's pretend that Saddam Hussain hadn’t flouted them since Desert Storm. Let's pretend that we haven’t been flying missions over the north and south no-fly zones in Iraq for 10 years. Let's pretend that the Iraqis haven’t been shooting at our aircraft and we haven’t been dropping bombs on them in response during this time. Let's pretend this wasn’t going to continue indefinitely into the future. And while we are pretending, let's pretend that someone other than the United States was footing the bill for all of this.
Let's pretend that we actually don’t have allies in this fight (just not the ones Kerry thinks are “legitimate”, such as France, Germany, and Russia). Let's pretend Great Britain, Australia, and Poland (among others) don’t exist. Let's pretend that the will of the world community actually means anything when it comes to defending the United States.
War in Iraq take 2: Wrong war, wrong place, wrong time.
Let's pretend that Saddam Hussain never supported terrorists. Let's pretend he didn’t pay $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers who killed innocents in Israel. (And let's pretend that the number of suicide bombers in Israel hasn’t decreased since he was removed from power). Let's pretend that while it mattered that Slobodan Milosevic practiced “genocide” in Kosovo, it doesn’t matter that Saddam Hussain did the same in Iraq. Let's pretend that the report stating that Hussain had the ability to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction program and intended to do so once sanctions were lifted really never said that; let's only look at the part that says he didn’t have them when we went in. Let's pretend that the sanctions would have stayed in place indefinitely, when in fact, our “legitimate allies” France, Germany, and Russia were actively undermining them and lobbying hard to have them removed.
While we are at it, let's pretend that our allies in this effort will be willing to support a President Kerry’s “wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Or is he simply going to pull out if elected?
War in Iraq take 3: Senator Kerry says he would have built a “real” coalition (including France, Germany, and Russia) and through his superior leadership skills, would have obtained UN approval before going in.
Let's pretend that President Bush didn’t try to include France, Germany, and Russia. Let's pretend the Oil for Food corruption scheme never happened. Let's pretend that France and Germany didn’t unequivocally state that they would veto any resolution calling for war against Iraq. Let's pretend that the French and Germans weren’t getting oil kickbacks from Saddam Hussain under the table. Let's pretend that they didn’t have billions in secret contracts with Hussain. Let's pretend UN approval was actually possible with what we now know. That’s fair, isn’t it? After all, Senator Kerry thinks its fair to bash President Bush’s decision to go to war based on what we know now, rather than what we knew then.
Let's also pretend that it is possible to build a coalition that Senator Kerry would find legitimate, and would back. He points to the 1990 coalition that ousted Hussain from Kuwait as an example of a “legitimate” coalition, backed by UN approval. However, he voted against the Gulf War. What are we supposed to conclude from that? Should we pretend that he actually voted for it? Or that if elected President, he would back such a coalition in such a situation today?
War in Iraq take 4: President Bush rushed to war. When the UN inspectors said that Hussain had just agreed to let them resume inspections, President Bush ordered them out and started the war anyway.
Let's pretend that President Bush didn’t spend 18 months prior to the attack trying to get UN approval to act and Saddam’s acquiescence to inspections. Let's pretend that there weren’t 17 previous UN resolutions that Saddam had ignored. And finally, let's pretend that we actually could wait a few more months “just to be sure”.
Military actions are predicated on a number of factors; you don’t necessarily just kick one off whenever you like. Historically, things like the time of year, and weather conditions have played a large role in when military campaigns began. The same is true here. Believing that Saddam Hussain had stockpiles of chemical and possibly biological weapons, and that, based on past actions, he would be willing to use them, our troops had to go in wearing full chemical protection gear. For anyone who has never worn a chemical ensemble, they are very bulky, very hot, and seriously degrade your ability to do anything. You do not want to be wearing this when it is hot out, or even somewhat warm). This placed significant restrictions on how long we could wait. Had Saddam been able to stall us for an additional month or so, we would then have had to wait until the following winter. Not a viable solution when you, as President, perceive a clear and present danger to your country, and you want to protect your troops.
War in Iraq take 5: If elected, Senator Kerry claims that he will hold a summit, and enlist the aid of France and Germany in cleaning up George Bush’s mess in Iraq. His solution also includes training Iraqis to handle their own defense, turning the government over to them, and having free elections as soon as possible
Let's pretend that France and Germany both have not unequivocally stated that they will not, under any circumstances, become involved in Iraq, even if Kerry is elected. Let's pretend that the Bush Administration is not already proceeding with training Iraqi troops (and police, and teachers, and administrators). Let's pretend that we haven’t already turned the government over to the Iraqis, and that elections aren’t already planned for 31 Jan 05.
The Draft: Senator Kerry insists that the Administration has plans to reinstate the draft, and he is very vocal on college campuses in making sure that those voters who would be most affected understand this.
Let's pretend the military wants a draft. (They don’t). Let's pretend the Administration has called for a draft. (They haven’t) Let's pretend that the Congress would vote for a draft. (They won’t, in fact they just voted 402-2 against reinstating a draft.)
Still, both Kerry and Edwards insist that the administration has a “secret plan” to reinstate the draft. Can they produce such a plan? No. Can they prove such a plan? No. Is there any way, other than by their pronouncements, that such a plan can be verified? No. Is there any way that the Administration can “prove” that they don’t have such a plan? No. It is impossible to prove a negative. The evidence says this issue is bogus, and is being used by the Kerry campaign to scare those potentially affected into voting for them, in a manner similar to the way that they scare older voters by telling them that the Republicans want to strip them of their Social Security.
Removing troops from Europe and South Korea: Senator Kerry deems this irresponsible; that these troops are needed where they are and that the President shouldn’t move them simply so he can increase troop strength in Iraq.
Let's pretend that the cold war is still on, and that Russian troops may cross over the border into Europe at any moment. Let's pretend that, in today’s world, Europe and South Korea are incapable of seeing to their own defense. Let's pretend that these troop movements haven’t been under discussion already for years. And finally, let's pretend that Senator Kerry himself wasn’t an advocate for this prior to President Bush actually giving the order.
More recently, it has been reported that the U.S. will experience a shortage of flu vaccine, primarily due to problems at a British company where it is produced. This too, is President Bush’s fault according to Senator Kerry, and simply highlights the President’s inability to properly plan for things going wrong, and his unwillingness to “play straight with the American people”. Perhaps now we should pretend that President Bush is all-seeing and all-knowing. Anything that goes wrong is his fault because he knew about it beforehand and was simply unwilling to share that knowledge with the American people. But if in fact, President Bush is all-seeing and all-knowing, wouldn’t that be a good reason to vote for him?
So far I can find nothing that Senator Kerry thinks that President Bush has done right. Nothing that he could not, given the opportunity and benefit of hindsight, have done better. Even if it is something with which Senator Kerry once did agree, or which is coincidental with a position that Senator Kerry did at one time take (and what position, in the past 20 years, has Senator Kerry not taken), even then, if it has Bush support, it is now wrong in Senator Kerry’s eyes. Bush is a complete and utter bumbling idiot. The only reason he doesn’t drool on camera during the debates is because his saliva glands have been surgically removed. If the sun rises a minute late tomorrow, that too, will be Bush’s fault. And the fact that he didn’t warn us ahead of time that it was going to happen will simply be indicative of his innate inability to be truthful with the American people.
I could go on and on.
I like reading alternate history. Some of my favorite authors are Eric Flint, SM Stirling, Newt Gingrich and Robert Forstchen (their recent alternate history of the Civil War is an excellent read, and their previous alternate WW II series, although incomplete, is good as well), and of course, the master of the genre, Harry Turtledove. However theirs are works of fiction. They are written to entertain, to enlighten, and to perhaps shed some insight on what might have been had things gone differently, and what might be the possible subsequent repercussions of these changed events. Such stories allow one to look at things from different perspectives than one might ordinarily, and provide interesting social commentary on different aspects of our society.
When it comes to electing a President of the United States, however, particularly in time of war, I prefer cold hard fact, grounded in the here and now and based on reality, to the murky alternatives of “let's pretend”.