Two great pieces by two midwesterners who will not support Bush this year —

The first, by retired Judge Robert Black, writing in the Cincinnati Inquirer (via Truthout). The second, by my good friend (despite his decidedly non-leftward leanings) Thomas J. Harp, who got tired of answering the same question over and over and has written this very thoughtful analysis to his friends and family (and gave me permission to republish it here):

Ladies and Gentlemen:

“The problem with American Politics is we no longer have Statesmen, we only have politicians.” — Patrick Hunter, (1985)

I have included you on my email list because my family forwarded your emails to me, or because you are my personal friend. I appreciate all informative and thoughtful views, pro or con.

I read Newsweek, The Wilson Quarterly, Foreign Affairs, Proceedings (U.S. Naval Institute) and snatches of the Wall Street Journal (when articles are pointed out to me). Unfortunately, my Smithsonian, American Heritage, National Geographic, Aviation History, Naval History, and Air & Space (Smithsonian) magazines are collecting, unread. I watch NBC or ABC Nightly News, and various PBS news programming including Jim Lehrer News Hour. I listen to NPR Radio. As a result, I get less than enough sleep, and, to the consternation of my family, am still addicted to coffee, and separately, to vanilla ice cream topped with salted cashews and chocolate syrup, which frankly does not keep me awake.

I wrestle with great complexity, in a world who in search of simplicity becomes more polar. Every politician, every disease, every cause claims to be “the one true god, while all the others are false gods, deceivers, villains.” I constantly add or detract from either candidate or cause, depending upon to whom I speak, and how extreme, simplified and polar their views.

Election 2004 presents two uninspiring presidential candidates, however, this election is not a contest between parties. This election, as every incumbent election, is a referendum on the success of the current President. Kerry attacks Bush’s presidential record. Bush attacks Kerry’s senate record, attempting to predict Kerry’s presidential potential. Bush and his supporters try to cover Bush failures by attacking Kerry.

After four years of supporting the President, giving him the benefit of the doubt, while remaining critical of Administration decisions, I find Bush simply cannot do the job.

Bush opened a second war in Iraq, without finishing the first in Afghanistan. A “Two-Ocean War”: always a bad idea.

Bush has broken one of the top rules of Foreign Relations, that rule being: Unite your friends, divide your enemies. Bush has divided our friends, and united our enemies.

Bush started war in Iraq by manipulating information. Bush knew the true information about Iraq. All this debate regarding “who knew what” is a smoke screen so the public will think the problem is being addressed, while at the same time, sweeping it under the carpet. Every politician knows, if you give the public an investigation, and televise committee investigations, the public will feel as though “something is being done.” The intelligence community merely takes the blame for the President. As far as congressional support, The President of the United States always has more information than Senate and House Committees.

Bush supporters quote Kerry and other congressmen who called Saddam Hussein dangerous, and Iraq a threat. Hussein and Iraq have been called dangerous even before the first Gulf War. Many congressmen wanted something done in Iraq, but wanted it done in ways different from Bush’s execution.

More importantly, Bush does not take responsibility for the actions of his office. Being President of the United States is a great honor because, not in spite of, the responsibility and risk. “Who gave Bush His Marching Orders” attempts to blame Congress for Presidential decisions. Condemning the press for misrepresenting the truth is unworthy, and extremely questionable. Lost information occurs on both sides, yet balances out. Confidence in the Press results from having many sources. On the whole, I find the press to be complex, investigative, competitive and voluminous. In the end analysis, Bush is President, Bush is ship’s captain, Bush makes the final decision. Bush takes responsibility for his decisions, even if the time comes he is genuinely duped. The White House are his people, his counsel, his Joint Chiefs, his agencies. Creating a reliable foundation of people in his administration is his job. The most successful people, from Presidents to Elementary School Principals, create a sound, responsible foundation of workers. Bush may not have directly caused all mistakes occurring on his watch, but they occur on his watch. Regardless of congressional support and quotes, Congress never, never declared war. Bush chose, Bush acted. As President, Bush must take responsibility for the failures in addition to the successes of his administration.

Bush failed to cement his closest advisors into a cohesive force, not to achieve agreement, but to share information, then argue, debate, wrestle ideas and plans. His people bicker, back-stab, and withhold information from each other. They fight each other more than they fight ideas and plans. The people in his administration cannot communicate. The division evident between the various intelligence agencies is hobbling. A “Coordinator of Information” will be useless, as each agency will merely edit the information given to the “Coordinator.” It is embarrassing how Bush and Bush supporters scramble to blame others for getting into Iraq.

Bush does not question. The Wilson Quarterly, and Foreign Affairs speak of Bush’s lack of curiosity in his political decisions, and his lack of curiosity at large. Bush’s heroes are Churchill, and FDR. Prime Minister Tony Blair of England presented Bush with a bust of Churchill. Bush keeps it in his office. Bush, to his credit, has read the important and scholarly biographies of both Churchill and FDR, but has not learned from them. Bush lacks that innate curiosity, on things political as well as nonpolitical. Churchill and FDR were curious men, on many things. Churchill and FDR constantly ordered their respective staff, “This is my plan; tell me where it will fail.” While still planning the Iraq war, Colin Powell asked Bush if he realized Bush would “own Iraq,” and Bush could only interpret this as “winning the war, and conquering the country.” Powell did not pursue the subject.

Presidents will make national security mistakes. Clinton misjudged the enemy, and Bush continued those misjudgments forward to 9/11. Bush ignored the threat as did Clinton. Recently Kerry said the best we can do is make terrorism manageable. Bush condemned Kerry’s position and countered by demanding the defeat of terrorism. Then — oops — Lehrer News Hour showed an earlier film interview clip with Bush saying terrorism will never be eliminated entirely. Ah, politics. Ah, flip-flopping. Terrorism, in all its forms, will exist as long as humans walk the Earth, and must be watched and addressed.

Most troubling in this election is the “fear” tool. Anxiety has probably, and inexcusably, been a political weapon since the beginning of voting. However, I am shocked that any President would engender fear for life as a reelection tool. America’s Four Freedoms are: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear. Every President of the United States strives to keep America safe, and to warn of impending dangers, but to instill fear in the public as a reelection tool is unforgivable for any candidate. Bush and his supporters routinely preach that “Kerry will leave America open to attack.” No presidential candidate, even those left behind in the primary elections, would leave the United States open to attack. If the most incapable man were elected President, then Congress, the Joint Chiefs, the Pentagon, the web of Washington politics would not allow that administration to overtly leave the country open to attack. It is appalling for any candidate to use such a tactic, but it is unforgivable for the President to instill such fears from the Oval Office, when he should be a symbol of security, encouraging people to move ahead, and build. We have become a country paralyzed by fear, and dominated by what is wrong and impossible. The President should not be a symbol, the President should embody a society where anything is possible. Bush, like all politicians, including Kerry, talk about possible jobs, possible economy, possible healthcare, and the like, but Bush’s “possibility thinking” is limited to insisting that Iraq will work. America is a negative, frightened country.

This military service bickering was started by Bush supporters who posed as an independent political group who called themselves the “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.” They registered themselves as a 527 group thus allowing wealthy Bush supporters to give them unlimited funds for smear campaigns. Kerry put himself in harms way in Vietnam. Bush served in the Air National Guard without seeing action. Both served in the military, however, it is unworthy to argue the severity of Kerry’s wound everyone concedes was received in battle. Kerry, World War II veterans, all war veterans share a common bond, and are honored for fighting the enemy, not for being wounded.

Bush has spent the last several months badgering the public with a tired, and inaccurate, “flip-flop” argument. Regardless how accurate or inaccurate his accusations, Bush sounds, and looks, like a whiny, ten year old child, not like the most powerful political leader in the world. There are advantages and disadvantages to defending an office. Being the incumbent gives the President an advantage of image, public coverage, and resources over the contender, however, it also gives the President the responsibility of maintaining a personal and professional dignity worthy of the office he currently inhabits.

Bush’s most grievous fault, however, lies in himself. Bush does not bring power to the Oval Office. Bush relies on the power of The Office to make him strong. This was evident before September 11, and has been reinforced since. Bush’s State of the union address after September 11 began with honoring “Freedom’s heroes,” people in the gallery of Congress, including two wounded stewardesses who subdued a highjacker in-flight. This recognition was nothing more than an “opening act.” Bush should have walked into those hallowed halls and from the start owned that podium with his presence. Bush has used September 11 as a personal publicity tool from the day those buildings fell. He relies on September 11 to define his Presidency and himself. Without the New York Attack, Bush is a man without a cause. Bush’s emptiness was further seen at the Republican National Convention when Bush walked out onto his specially made podium: a fortress of wood, built on an enormous platform with the Presidential Seal on the floor, with concentric circles of steps spreading out to the convention floor like a pyramid temple, save for the entrance ramp behind him. The President should have walked out on a bare floor, with a stand small enough to hold his notes. If a teleprompter was necessary, eliminate the podium and have only the teleprompter glass. He should have claimed that stage. More importantly, he should have filled the stage, the auditorium, the people with his presence.

I am at a loss to understand the hollowness of this man, no less the enthusiasm of his supporters. September 11 was Bush’s golden opportunity to shine as a leader. Instead, Bush spoke to the public as a cardboard figure, appearing to read words written for him. Historians record Winston Churchill as a lifetime failure waiting for World War II to make him great. Churchill was the right man at the right time. World War II presented the opportunity, however, Churchill’s character, stature, and confidence, created the greatness. George Bush had the same opportunity, and he squandered it simply because he did not have, nor today has inner substance. Bush relies on the power of the office to make him great. Bush uses his religion as a public image, a defining tool, rather than being President, and allowing his Christianity to reveal itself. He preaches rather than lives his faith. Eleanor Roosevelt publicly said America should demonstrate its democratic principles rather than preach them to the world. Mario Cuomo out-shined Bush on September 11. Cuomo spoke and acted as if each step emanated from his bones rather than from a script.

In the months following September 11, Bush could only feed the American Public craving for physical revenge. The era of fighting evil countries was over long before September 11. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Proceedings (magazine) has continually discussed the complexity of restructuring the American Military, redefining NATO, and redesigning our responses to world aggressors, as we globally face a new age of enemies without countries. Battles now are economic, and military action is surgical, not all out invasion. This has been the direction for a decade; Bush should have known this. Americans wanted a definitive counter offensive. Americans wanted to feel the justice. Bush acquiesced. The Office of Leadership, whether President, Congressman, Governor, School Principal, Parent, is not served by pleasing the public, but by getting the job done, even if it sinks hopes of reelection. I am sure the entire terrorist problem might have been handled in a more effective, and far more clever way.

Someday Presidential candidates will learn:

1. Being elected to the Oval Office does not make one great; it merely gives one the opportunity to earn that greatness over the ensuing four years.

2. The President brings his power to the Oval Office. Any President who relies on the Power of the Office to make him powerful, soon has no power, and whatever power existed from the previous administration, will be drained away.

I have visited Europe several times in the last four years. I stood alone trying to bring objectivity regarding American actions to a continent of equally polar people. This summer I saw Europeans stand on street corners with signs on their necks reading “Bush is a terrorist.” I am sure this was merely an eye-catch political statement, however I wondered if they really remember true terrorism. I discussed ideas with Europeans who viewed Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911, and were judging America based on a film that is emotional hype, and factually flawed.

George Bush is not evil. Bush just cannot do the job. I am not sure Kerry can do the job, but I will give him four years to try. Whether Kerry succeeds or fails does not change the fact that Bush failed. If Kerry fails, then America had two inadequate Presidents, and must find someone new.

Access to Information is increasing. Ferdinand Marcos fell from power in the Philippines because he could not hide his corruption from television. Increasing access also requires more responsibility. The internet already is flooded with lies conveniently labeled “Urban Legends.” Contrary to popular belief, pins with aids virus are not left on theater seats; the aids virus dies on contact with air. Equal responsibility should be addressed to political advertising. In summer of 2004 I received a long email letter, forwarded liberally through the internet, regarding a lady who watched Bush pray in church, and deduced Bush is a dedicated, thus great leader. The Bible warns against people who pray loudly either themselves, or as in this case, for someone else. That same summer of 2004 I received another long email letter, equally forwarded through the internet, in which Bush fighting world terrorism was compared to Kerry dividing a pizza on board a private jet. This must have been a joke email. If this was no joke, this email letter was an insult not to Bush or Kerry, but to the valuing system of the public. It is frightening to think some recipients of the email will consider the story when evaluating both men for political office. It is frightening the author thought it worthy of publication. I imagine similar emails are launched from the Kerry camp, which I have not received.

As I watch this election, my concern about who wins gives way to a simultaneous fascination and worry over how people make their decisions, the misrepresentation of information, the dominance of information overload rather than information substance, and the growing absence of Statesmanship.

— Thomas Harp, copyright 2004

Is Lynne Cheney embarrassed by her daughter? —

How else to explain this little post-debate outburst:

As for what was said on Wednesday night, perhaps the most emotional reaction was from Mary Cheney’s mother. “I did have a chance to assess John Kerry once more,” Lynne Cheney said at a post-debate rally in Coraopolis, Pa. “And the only thing I could conclude is this is not a good man. This is not a good man. And of course, I am speaking as a mom and a pretty indignant mom. This is not a good man. What a cheap and tawdry political trick.”

Remember that absurd ‘the W stands for Women’ effort from the Bushies? —

Here’s how they really feel about women.

In John Leo’s small-minded world, mainline churches are “anti-American” —

I stopped reading Leo long ago, when I realized that his bitter brand of nationalism and compassionless conservatism kept surpassing even my worst expectations. But a friend (thanks, AC; thanks a pantload) sent this to me, and this time he’s once again outdone himself. Among the many gems you’ll find there: “Anti-Americanism is an old story in the mainline church bureaucracies.” Then again, consider his SOURCE — The Institute for Religion and Democracy! (Somewhere deep in my archives I have an item about them that characterizes them pretty well. I’ll try to unearth it.) Anyway, the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches has written this response:

Mr. Mortimer B. Zuckerman, Chairman and Editor-in-Chief

U. S. News & World Report

1050 Thomas Jefferson St NW

Washington, DC 20007

Dear Mr. Zuckerman:

We vigorously protest the abuse of journalistic ethics represented in John Leo’s column, “When Churches Head Left,” in the October 18, 2004, edition of U. S. News & World Report. It employs the smear tactics of McCarthy-era propaganda, and contributes to the abuse of religious belief as a tool of partisan politics.

The Institute for Religion and Democracy, your columnist’s source for his attack on the nation’s churches, is known to Christian leaders as a privately controlled political organization, accountable to no constituency other than its deep-pocketed funding sources. It is committed to a systematic campaign of disinformation, distortion and demagoguery that is damaging the ministry of many of America’s Christian faith groups. Your columnist willingly took the IRD’s bait and made their case against the National Council of Churches and several of our member bodies. Speaking for the NCC, I can assert without equivocation that his information was grievously off the mark.

The right and responsibility of our nation’s churches to speak out on issues of national policy is as old as the Constitution, and as vital to our public life as the freedom of the press which you enjoy. Speaking to our government’s policies and actions is a patriotic duty, one we take seriously. As we are an association of American churches, most of our statements on public policy logically deal with the work of our own government. The reach of that government is so broad and powerful that it touches issues of moral and spiritual concern as diverse as the environment, civil liberties, war and peace, poverty, foreign policy, national budget priorities.

Your columnist’s special fury was reserved for our concerns about the Holy Land, and specifically about Israel and Palestine. But the facts will not support his charges, or those of the IRD, his source. Indeed, only two policy statements adopted by the NCC in its entire history deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and both of them are comprehensive and balanced in their approach.

The current policy, forged in 1980 and on which all subsequent resolutions have been based, calls for “cessation of acts of violence in all its forms by all parties; recognition by the Arab states and by the Palestinian Arabs of the state of Israel with secure, defined and recognized borders; and recognition by Israel of the right of national self-determination for the Palestinian Arabs and of their right to select their own representatives and to establish a Palestinian entity, including a sovereign state.”

Of more than 650 resolutions adopted by the National Council of Churches since its founding in 1950, fewer than 40 have dealt with the Middle East, and many of these are not focused on Israel, dealing instead with such matters as conditions affecting Christians in Egypt, hostage situations in Iran and Lebanon, and the Gulf War in Iraq and Kuwait.

How the IRD could construe this public record as obsessed with Israeli policies is a mystery.

In the period covered by the IRD’s analysis (2000 to 2003) the National Council of Churches passed only five resolutions pertaining to Israel.

In 2003, the NCC General Assembly called upon Israel, for the second year in a row, to recognize the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem (a legal necessity for the communion to conduct church business). Another 2003 resolution, which criticized the Separation Wall, made clear that the NCC is equally troubled by systematic violence against Palestinians and by bombing campaigns against Israelis. And it reiterated our long-standing support for the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel; and offered prayers for all people of the region.

In 2002, the NCC passed a resolution that dealt at length with the run-up to the Iraq War and other fallout from September 11–a document that mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Recognizing that peace in the entire Middle East region will not prevail until that conflict is solved, the NCC advocated a peaceful and just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the context of the UN.

In 2000 the NCC deplored the effect on the Palestinian civilian population of the disproportionate used of force by the Israeli military, and among other provisions also called on all parties to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to cease immediately all acts of violence, and again offered prayers for all affected by the violence including the Jewish people of Israel.

This readily available public record, which the writer chose to ignore, hardly represents an “anti-Israel” bias. Indeed, the 1980 NCC policy statement explicitly calls on U.S. Christians to work with Jews and Muslims toward cooperative relationships based on friendship and trust.

In light of the NCC policy’s clear non-partisan balance, the IRD’s attempt to interpret any NCC criticism of Israel’s actions as “anti-Semitic” is particularly disturbing, dangerous and perhaps libelous. Yet Mr. Leo chose to say it anyway.

The editorial staff of U. S. News & World Report, in permitting this slander of U.S. Christians and their church bodies, is participating in a classic case of journalistic malpractice. No one at the National Council of Churches was asked, in advance of publication or since, to confirm, clarify or refute any of the statements or statistics quoted as fact. We expect more of a distinguished national publication.

Commentary has a useful role in a news publication. It is valuable to the public discourse when it is truthful in its content and fair in its assertions. It is corrosive of the public good when, like Mr. Leo’s column, it is neither truthful nor fair. We are keenly disappointed in your failure to exercise good editorial practice in publishing Mr. Leo’s October 18 article. In the spirit of your columnist’s assertions, perhaps this merely represents an “anti-Christian” or “anti-Protestant” bias at your company. We hope not. In any case, your readers deserve better.

Sincerely,

Robert W. Edgar, General Secretary

National Council of Churches USA

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  1. Thanks so much for the very thoughtful essay by Thomas Harp. It reminded me greatly of much of the recent writing of Wendell Berry. I actually felt a rather profound sadness reading it — the sense of loss that we seem not to have many men of such high principle in public life any more. On the other hand, I’m just reading an interview with Barack Obama in the latest Progressive magazine, so perhaps there is hope after all. AC

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