Some Thoughts For and About the Kerry Campaign, VI

Column No. 25 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - August 12, 2004

Note to the reader: This is now the last of the series of columns that I prepared before I left on a three-week vacation trip to Japan in July. The Democratic National Convention has now of course concluded, quite successfully by most accounts (except those of angry left-wingers who do not realize that the enemy now is Bush, not right-wing Democrats.  If we are going to have the luxury of engaging in policy debates at all, and have the privilege of being to wrest control of the Democratic Party once and for all from the Democratic rightists, first we have to make sure that open fascism, brought by the Georgites, does not devour the Constitution and make the whole subject moot.)

This column is thus the last in the series that has been devoted to what are primarily campaign matters, rather than the more historical and theoretical issues I usually deal with.  It is possible that some of what I have said here has been overtaken by events.  But hopefully, whether or not that happens, you will find these thoughts to be of use as our attention turns to the principal challenge facing the pro-democracy forces, not in Iraq, but here at home: how to defeat George Bush and assure the election of John Kerry.

I should note that some of these thoughts have appeared in one form or another in past columns.  If that be the case, obviously I like them a lot.  So please bear with me.

Bush's International “Achievement”

One of the amazing aspects of Bush policy and Bush himself is that they have achieved something that no previous American President has come close to: receiving almost universal condemnation from both governments (to a greater or lesser extent depending upon their state of dependency on the US) and people from around the world.

On Dealing With Terrorism and the Georgite Approach to It

I previously quoted UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on "Terrorism," at some length.  Here is an excerpt from that quote: "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....”

What has happened to civil liberties, in Iraq itself since the first heady days following the ouster of the Saddam Hussein regime and in our country, of course, speaks volumes to the Secretary General’s concerns.

And then consider that: “The State Department’s top counter terrorism expert, J. Cofer Black, recently acknowledged that the [Iraq] war has created exactly that which it was launched to prevent [sic] – greater cooperation between Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups in the Middle East” (Ted Widmer, review of Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, New York Times Book Review, May 9, 2004).

Further, Georgite policy has actually managed to create in Iraq a new, non-al Qaeda terrorist grouping that did not previously exist: the Taliban/Wahhabist organization bent on Jihad led by the newly emerged Abu Mousab a-Zarqawi (see Michael Ware, “Meet the New Jihad,” Time, July 5, 2004, p. 24).  Quite a Georgite achievement, at a cost of $200 billion, and counting, 928 American and countless Iraqi lives, and counting, and the long-term potential wrecking of the American economy, an event which, were it to occur, would not do much to help the world’s economy either, come to think of it.

On the Religion Issue

The Georgites and their journalistic allies like David Brooks of the New York Times are going about setting a "religion trap" for Kerry.  Let's hope that he doesn't fall into it.  The Georgites would like nothing better than to see him suddenly become "religious" in the way they prescribe (a way, by the way, that many of the Georgite leadership doesn't itself practice.  I wonder when Cheney or Rumsfeld last went to church, and I wonder if the totally amoral Wolfowitz even believes in God.)  The whole point about religion in the US, for most of us, believers or not, is that we observe in our own way, not some prescribed way as the Christian Right would have it.

Kerry happens to be a practicing Catholic who happens to take communion.  You can't be more of a believer than that, even if, like many, many Catholics in the US, he doesn't buy certain Church teachings on matters relating to sex and procreation.  I'm sure his approach will sit just fine with his voters and potential voters of a religious persuasion other than Christian Rightist.  Speaking as a secular humanistic Jew, I find Kerry's religiosity genuine and, therefore, not a turnoff in any way. To do something false would alienate many genuinely religious voters, to be sure, as well as turn off many other potential voters who don't worry about religion but would like a President whose principal foci are jobs, peace, and the preservation of Constitution Democracy (as well as the environment).

People like Brooks would have it that Kerry’s low-key approach (which happens to be honest, of course) turns off certain religious “moderates.”  I think that just by being who he is religiously, Kerry builds bridges to the religious.  Religious people who are truly moderate aren't going to vote for the Armageddonist in the White House anyway.

On the Stem Cell Issue: Tactics

For most readers of this column, I don’t have to discuss the substance of the stem cell research issue.  I here want to address briefly tactics in dealing with it.  What follows is a short report on the Senator’s first comment on the matter.  It followed “Reagan Week.”

“‘Kerry Calls on Bush to Reverse Stem Cell Policy’” by Patricia Wilson, Reuters, Pittsburgh (June 12): “After a week of political silence to honor Ronald Reagan, Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry called on Saturday for a White House policy change to allow more research into Alzheimer's, the brain-wasting disease that afflicted the former president. … The senator from Massachusetts joined a growing chorus, including the voice of Reagan's widow, Nancy, in urging President Bush to remove restrictions on embryonic stem cell research that could help combat Alzheimer's.”

Wrong Answer, or rather Wrong Statement.  Bush’s stem cell research policy reflects for sure a major demand of his very vocal, although relatively small minority base (small in terms of the actual percentage of eligible voters who adhere to it), the Christian Right.  It also may well reflect a strongly held personal belief of Bush himself.  Thus, the chance of getting him to reverse his position, for both political and personal ideological reasons, is slim.  But more important politically, taking the position of asking/demanding a change in his policy puts Kerry in the position of supplicant, not co-equal in an electoral battle.  Such a demand also makes Kerry look like he is just out to score political points.  Now that is fine, when the points mean something.  But since Bush would never change on this one, it just looks cheap and weak.

Better is the position that the Senator took 10 days later (AOL News: Elections 2004, Nedra Pickler, AP, Denver, June 21, “Kerry Urges Lifting Stem Cell Ban”): “Democrat John Kerry, backed by 48 Nobel Prize winners, on Monday criticized President Bush for allowing ideology rather than facts to determine science policies and repeated his pledge to overturn the ban on federal funding of research on new stem cell line.”

In this statement Sen. Kerry criticized Bush for making policy based on “ideology,” here a code word for “religious doctrine.”  He also criticizes the abandonment of science in general, with the backing of a large group of very prestigious scientists.  He is no longer asking Bush to change his policy, but telling the voters what he, Kerry, would do, as President.

Going one step further, Kerry could use the issue to illustrate how Bush makes many policy decisions, from supporting the denial of choice in the outcome of pregnancy to the proposal to make homosexuals second-class citizens through the “Same Sex Marriage” amendment.  One doesn’t have to support same-sex marriage to be opposed to ensconcing in the Constitution the policy of singling-out one particular group of people for discrimination by who they are, not anything they have done.

When the Kerry-is-Hitler Republican ad came out, once again the supplicant position was taken, this time by the DNC.  The demand was made to Bush to withdraw it.  Why, when he or his people approved it to begin with?  How much better to say something like, “This is what my opponent stands for.  Is this the kind of person, a person who would stoop to such depths of political despair even to think of making such a comparison, who the American people (to say nothing of the free world) should have as their leader in the White House?”

One Current Note

On the flap over the anti-Kerry Vietnam Vets and their charges that he didn’t deserve his medals.  The answer to this one should not be of the "oh yes he did deserve the medals" ilk.  The gets quickly into the totally distractive “yes he did/no he didn’t” kinds of arguments the Georgites just love, because it takes one’s attention away from what really counts.

In my view, the response should be along the following lines:

A)      Kerry didn't award himself the medals; the Navy did.  Why don't these guys take it up with the Navy?

B)      Whatever the merits of the medals argument, Kerry was in Vietnam, with his own life on the line, while the President first dodged the draft by getting into a closed National Guard unit, and then he was at least AWOL from part of his obligation to it (if not an actual deserter).

C)      Is this all the Georgites have?  Pretty weak stuff when the future of the Nation is on the line.  But then again it's typical of the Republicans, who will do just about anything to avoid the principal issue of this campaign: George Bush’s record in office.