Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Thoughts on the US Presidential Candidates

Earlier this year, I took earlier this year at presidentmatch to see which presidential
candidate was best suited to me. The results were:
100% Kerry
99% Lieberman
96% Edwards
92% Sharpton
91% Bush
89% Dean
87% Clark
75% Kucinich
So why do I believe that Bush is the better candidate?

The short answer is that Kerry changed his positions.

The long answer? There are several reasons why I feel Kerry would be a bad president. To provide balance, I will answer many of the common criticisms of Bush and why I do not find them convincing.

His record as a Dove: Throughout his political career, John Kerry opposed the use of military force. He felt Vietnam was a bad war, that Reagan was wrong in his policy towards the Soviets, and that force should not have been used to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait. All three of these positions are now known to have been wrong while I felt that the Kuwaiti war was right at the time. His position on the War in Iraq is, as he would say, "nuanced". At first, he favoured action against Saddam Hussein (as little as two months after 9/11 when the US was still focused on Afghanistan), voted to give George Bush the authority to use force and criticized Howard Dean for opposing the war. Now as the Democratic candidate, he has said that Iraq is the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time. Either he was posturing before or he is posturing now. What is his true position? His record indicates that he still is a Dove. In my opinion, electing a Dove tomorrow would be as big a mistake as electing an Isolationist after Pearl Harbor.

His Senate Record: For a president to be successful, it's a big help to have the ability to persuade Congress to pass contentious legislation. George Bush has a record of doing this but what about John Kerry? If Lyndon Johnson was a arm-twister second to none and if Carol Mosely-Braun was able to thwart Jesse Helms in her first (and only) term, then surely John Kerry with twenty years in the Senate must have some legislative accomplishments that he can be proud of? Unfortunately, no. He's only passed something like eleven bills and resolutions, mostly for trivial things like solidarity with the Sakharov Family and designating a World Population Awareness week. Given that the Republicans are likely to retain control over the Senate and they are definately going to control the House of Representatives after tomorrow, his presidency will be weak.

His problems with the Truth: Whether John Kerry truly deserved all his medals that he was awarded in Vietnam is unknowable. It's also largely irrelevant. What concerns me more is that for one who pledges to always level with the American People and tell the truth, John Kerry has a proven record of doing the opposite. He has embelished his record. His now notorious claim to have spent Christmas in Cambodia of 1968 (which he has repeated several times during his career and once during a Senate Speech) is a good example of this. A lesser known example is his claim of having met with the entire UN Security Council before they passed UNSCR 1441 - no such meeting took place and he only meet with a third of the delegations at most.

Equally concerning to me is his record of hiding events that he finds uncomfortable . For example while he was a member of the Vietnam Veterans against War (VVAW), John Kerry attended a meeting in Kansas in which the assassination of pro-war politicians was debated. John Kerry was opposed and reportedly had a heated argument with the proponent of assassinations and later quit the VVAW. So far, so good. But he did not tell the authorities about the proposal (as an officer in the US Naval Reserve might be expected to do) and for a long time afterwards claimed that he had quit the VVAW before the Kansas meeting. Only this year did he concede that he was there and that only was because the FBI had released reports from informers showing that he had been there. Even now, he states he cannot remember.

Another possible example is his hiding of his other than honorable discharge. Given that it is well known that Chuck Colson at Nixon's behest was sent out to do something nasty to Kerry that he wouldn't later talk about, it should have been simple to admit to this over twenty years ago and portray it as one of Nixon's dirty tricks. But if John Kerry can't level with people and tell the truth about the skeletons in his closet then I have no confidence that he will do so about any difficult subject that his administration has to deal with.

Thus Kerry, what about George Bush?

His lies to the American People: For George Bush to have lied, he must not only have said something that was untrue but also either a) either known that it was untrue or b) known that it was highly unlikely to be true. In the case of the War with Iraq, he has not lied. Should George Bush apologize for being wrong about what his intelligence services have told him? There is a good case to be made for that. But strangely many of the people making it do not seem to be applying the standards they demand of George Bush to themselves. For instance, Joe Wilson's accusations that George Bush lied about the Iraqis seeking yellowcake from Niger was widely reported in the media. When the Senate Intelligence Report came out and found that it was Joe Wilson who was lying, no apology was tendered by the media to their consumers for having misled them. Moreover I don't see an apology forthcoming from the Germans for having misled the Americans and the British about the biological trailers.

His inability to admit to mistakes: This means different things to different people. For people opposed to the war, they consider the Iraq War to have been a mistake because no stockpiles of WMDs have been found. They are wrong because the War was not just about WMDs. For Kerry supporters who supported the War, Bush's mistakes relate to the rebuilding of Iraq, namely the lack of a plan, the sending of too few troops to Baghdad to prevent looting, the disbanding of the Iraqi military and the abandonment of the Siege of Fallujah back in April. Each of these is not a mistake. It was impossible to plan for the Occupation of Iraq because nobody could knew how Iraq would turn out. Too few troops were sent because the Turks refused permission for the Fourth Infantry Division to invade Iraq from its territory. The Iraqi military was dissolved because it was an arm of a brutal totalitarian state and its elements were either brutal incompetents (like some Russian Army Units in Chechnya) or evil bastards (like the Waffen S.S.). If they hadn't been dissolved then the news would be full of the latest atrocity committed by the Iraqi army in peacekeeping operations or that an Iraqi general has set himself up as a Warlord. As for abandoning Fallujah back in April, the choice was either a pacified Fallujah or an Iraqi interim government. The better decision was made.

His contempt for human rights: Basically this comes down to two things - the Patriot Act and the detention of Terrorists at Guantanamo Bay. Abu Ghraib, while revolting, was not a product of US policy towards its captives and hence not applicable. So much rubbish has been written about the Patriot Act setting up a police state while there are real reasons for detaining people at Guantanamo Bay. Some of the people released have gone on to commit terrorist offences so there is a case for detention. What the Bush Adminstration has problems with is finding an acceptable legal method for keeping them detained. While legitimate criticism may be leveled against them for not having sorted it out after three years, I have yet to see an reasonable alternative for dealing with the Guantanamo detainees.

His domestic policy: After seeing people rant and rave about how evil Bush is for invading Iraq etc., I find great difficulty in summoning any emotion in dealing with Bush's policies that I disagree with. I support abortion, stem cell research and civil unions. But I also know that when John Ashcroft went to the Senate for the confirmation hearings, he accepted that Roe versus Wade couldn't be thrown out unless the Constitution was changed. Stem Cell Research? George Bush has federally funded research into pre-existing stem cell lines. If people want funds to research brand-new stem cell lines, they could probably ask the State of California after tomorrow. In any case, it's not a magic bullet that is going to cure paralysis within four years as John Edwards claimed. Civil Unions? George Bush is in favour that being decided on a state by state basis.

His economic policy: The four main topics are job losses, huge deficits, tax cuts and outsourcing. As for job losses, this is hardly Bush's fault. The economy was starting to recess as soon as he entered office and 9/11 exacerbated that trend. There is a case to answer for huge deficits but I fail to see how John Kerry can do better if he sticks to his promise of a $5 trillion plan to extend Senator-level to everyone and not raising taxes on anybody earning less than $200,000/year. Considering that his wife finds it easy to pay a tax of 12.5 cents to the dollar, he's either going to have to break his promises or to make his wife very unhappy. Tax cuts? There is ample argument for too much tax cuts being given to the rich as opposed to the middle class but strangely it does not seem to be given much publicity. Lastly outsourcing is good as even Paul Krugman once wrote although that was in the days before Bush was elected and Paul became a Bush-hater.

As a result of this, I have no hesitation thinking Bush the better candidate.