Brief Essays

Column No. 5 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH – March 25, 2004

On occasion, in my column I am going to post a set of brief essays that are somewhat related, primarily reflecting thoughts on current issues.  To some of the subjects, I may return in some detail at some time in the future.

Controlling the Agenda

This election, as with virtually every one (see my book, The New Americanism, chap. 16, esp. pp. 287-289), will be won by he who controls the agenda.  If the agenda is Kerry and what he did and did not do in Vietnam and whether he threw his medals or someone else's or ribbons over the White House fence, and how he voted one way on a bill and then another after it was amended, Bush wins.  If the agenda is George W.M.D. (War/ More Deficits) Bush and what he has done with the presidency and the nation, Kerry wins.  As Lee Atwater preached, always attack; never defend, just as the Georgites are doing now.  If anybody needs defending, it's Bush, but you will hardly ever hear any of that from the Georgite camp, unless and until they are really cornered.

The Georgites realize this very well. Notice that there are very few elements of defense of the Bush record (indefensible of course) in their current campaign-initiating broadsides.  That says a whole lot.  They know very well that if they can continue to make Kerry the agenda, they win. There is only one man who can beat George Bush in this election, and it's not John Kerry; it's George Bush. The Georgites know this very well, and their whole campaign strategy is designed around that knowledge.

On the other hand, if Kerry simply concentrates on attracting as many ABB (anybody but Bush), as well as the regular Democratic, votes as he can, and forgets about the rapidly-dwindling marginal “middle, if Kerry can just put Bush and all his many defects out there and keep them out there, he wins. It's as simple as that: the Gospel according to Lee Atwater. In the campaign against the last Bush, the motto was "It's the economy, stupid."  This time around it must be, "It's Bush, stupid!" for if it isn't, that's really stupid.

"There is no 'Middle Ground“

One of the liberals' main faults is that they think continually that there is some "middle ground" that can be gotten to if only reasonable people will get together. That position was well expressed by the DLCers Joe Lieberman and Joe Biden who actually came to Bush’s defense over the charges by former Bush advisor Richard Clarke that the Georgites totally ignored the very clear warnings on the dangers that a-Qaeda presented.

Well, there is no "middle ground" on whether the rich should pay less and less their deserved share of taxes, or whether we should have gone to war on Iraq unilaterally with lies as the rationale, or whether the health care delivery system should first and foremost be a profit center for the pharmaceutical and insurance industries, or whether Social Security as we have known since the New Deal should survive or become a profit center for the securities industry, or whether energy policy should be designed first and foremost for the present profit of the oil companies, or whether global warming is real, and so on and so forth.  These are all questions that have two distinct sides, and all the talk from people like the DLCers who "deplore the present situation" and ask people to reason together and find that "middle ground" will not change that reality.

Bush's International 'Achievement’

One of the amazing aspects of Bush policy is that it has achieved something that even Hitler never did (that is up until, for Europe, Sept. 1, 1939, and for the US, Dec. 8, 1941): receive almost universal condemnation from both governments (to a greater or lesser extent depending upon their state of dependency on the US) and people from all around the world.  Very few remember that the pre-war Hitler had many admirers, or at least "tolerators," in the major pre-war "Western democracies," that is the UK, France, and the US, many more in the UK and France surely than Bush has now.

Kofi Annan on "Terrorism"

From UN Sec Gen. Kofi Annan's address of January 21, 2004 to the UN Security Council.

"Internationally, we are seeing an increasing use of what I call the "T' word -- "terrorism" -- to demonize political opponents, to throttle freedom of speech and the press and to delegitimize political grievances. Any sacrifice of freedom or the rule of law within states -- or any generation of new disputes between states in the name of anti-terrorism -- is to hand the terrorists a victory that no act of theirs could possibly bring....

"Important and urgent questions are being asked about the collateral damage from the 'war on terrorism' -- damage to the presumption of innocence, to precious human rights, to the rule of law and to the very fabric of democratic governance.... There is a danger that, in pursuit of security, we end up sacrificing crucial liberties, thereby weakening our common security, not strengthening it, and thereby corroding the vessel of democratic government from within....

"Just as terrorism must never be excused, so must genuine grievances never be ignored.... We must act with determination to address, indeed solve, the political disputes and long-standing conflicts which underlie, fuel and generate support for terrorism."

Wouldn't it be nice if from time to time John Kerry used the same speechwriter as the Secretary General does?

On "throwing money at a problem"

Republicans love to accuse Democrats of always attempting to solve problems "simply by throw money at them"  The truth is that both parties (the Dems. up to the right-wing DLCer Clinton, of course) like to throw money at things when they can get their hands on some, although they haven't really had that option since the time of LBJ.  Republican targets for large direct payments and/or the removal of obligations? Wealthy taxpayers, the military-industrial complex, the space exploration industry, the petroleum industry, the wealthy farmers, the logging industry, religiously correct charities, the "Drug War," to name a few.

On the Nixon years:

I am a registered Nixon-hater from way back.  Coming from the home I did, at the age of eleven, I was aware of him when he ran his first red-baiting campaign for the House against the main-stream Democrat Jerry Vorhees in California in 1948, two years before he ran his more famous “Pink Lady” Senate campaign against Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950.  But compared with the Georgites, on certain major aspects of domestic policy, Nixon actually looks good, and his nefariousness looks quite petty.

The best environmental legislation we have ever had passed under Nixon (and the Republican Right has spent the time since then chopping away at it).  In the spring of 1973, Nixon introduced into Congress a National Health Insurance Plan that had the same central financing feature that the Clinton Plan did: employer participation and payment mandated.  Interestingly enough the strong speech made introducing it into the Senate was made by none other than Bob Dole, who (now how did that happen?) was of course the principal Republican attacker of the similar-in-many-ways Clinton Plan of 1993.  Nixon’s proposal was a victim of Watergate.  It is a measure of just how bad the Georgites are that even I can look back at the old red-baiter with some fondness!

On George McGovern and George Bush:

Kerry is being compared with Sen. McGovern because of his anti-Vietnam War stance.  Of course there are many differences between Kerry and McGovern.  But if I were Kerry, in responding to such a question, I wouldn't get into them.  I would put the question into the context of military policy and say something like the following.

"You know, I am happy to be compared with George McGovern.  During World War II, a war that we fought with the broadest coalition of allies ever assembled in any war, George McGovern was a pilot of a B-24 Liberator bomber.  Unlike the fabled B-17, which could fly on one engine and with its tail shot off, the B-24 was known by the men who flew it as 'The Flying Coffin.'  Yet the Senator flew 35 combat missions, 10 more than the required number for strategic bomber pilots.  Just compare that record with the Air National Guard record of the current White House incumbent during the Viet Nam War.  George McGovern, like the tens of thousands of surviving World War II airmen like him whose VA benefits are being cut by the current incumbent, was a true hero, unlike others one could mention."