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Elections In Your Country:

Whatever their political orientation, I salute American voters Being an informed voter in the age of the information superhighway is hard enough but to be ‘informed’ by the current inundation of partisan trash talk by the two parties in the fray simply makes a bad situation worse. To ease the pain of deliberating over the choices available, here’s a bit of space for a nonpartisan presentation of the two campaigns, Bush-Cheney & Kerry-Edwards:

The Promised Ends Are The Same…
Now, more than ever, the concerns at the forefront of the presidential race focus on domestic issues that are interlocked with international relations. The websites of both the Bush-Cheney and Kerry-Edwards campaigns reflect this reality with their strikingly similar slogans, which are, respectively, “Building a safer world and more hopeful America” and “Stronger at home and more respected in the world.” Safety, spirit, and respect are the running themes in this first presidential race following the tragedy of 9/11, but the means by which the candidates will achieve these ends differ substantially.

…But The Means Differ…
For George Bush, the catchphrase of his 2000 race was “compassionate conservatism,” and the last four years have been the stage for its policy implications.

Domestically, tax cuts and privatization – of homes, healthcare, Social Security, and education, to name a few – have been delivered in attempt to revive a lagging economy. Control over citizens’ well-being has been shifting to private hands, whether in the form of school vouchers to send children to private schools, or attempts to transfer Social Security funds to the market. Protected public properties like land, water, and air have been opened up to state or private (corporate) regulation. Economic regulation has been rolled back, as free-market principles have again gained ground, and outsourcing is fast becoming a corporate reality. At the same time, the PATRIOT Act has emphasized the watchdog role that the federal government plays in private citizens’ activities such as travel and library book viewing.

Savings obtained by privatization have been eclipsed by spending increases in foreign affairs. The United States’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (in conjunction with cuts in tax revenue) have largely contributed to the current $422 billion budget deficit. As no major funds have materialized from other sources to help pay for nation-building in the Middle East, the United States has footed nearly the entire bill. As nation-building efforts continue, the impact of foreign spending is likely to remain substantial. Domestic policies are likely to continue as before, with additional privatization measures and expanded tax cuts-most notably for wealthy inheritances.

John Kerry’s best-known lines have been “Let America be America again” and “Hope is on the way,” among more short-lived phrases. Kerry proposes that the federal government retake the guardian role held during the Clinton era, reversing the privatization trend of the Bush 43 years and moving to protect public spaces – land, water, and air – and public funds like Social Security from private influence or market economics. Kerry also proposes that tax cuts be reversed for wealthy Americans, and extended to middle class Americans and businesses. Job creation for the middle class is a major emphasis of the Kerry campaign, and the challenger proposes to achieve job growth by investing in new technologies, reducing the cost of worker healthcare, and developing sources of renewable energy. Kerry has not taken a clear position on outsourcing, as support for it alienates the labor base of the Democratic Party, and opposition to it alienates the business support he has gained over the past few months.

In foreign affairs, Kerry supports international organizations such as the United Nations and international treaties such as the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, and, as a result, is the preferred candidate of European and Asian allies. While he has been critical of the Bush administration’s policies on Afghanistan, Iraq, and terrorism, however, he has yet to put forth a strategic vision for dealing with these foreign policy issues. Rather, the contrast that he has drawn between his proposed policies and those of the Bush administration has been ideological, with him emphasizing collaborative leadership over leadership with the possibility of forced collaboration.

…And The Fight So Far…
The fear of another large terror attack on the United States has spurred both sides to emphasize the messages of safety and strength but their words have had the effect of accentuating the urgency of the times without having enhanced the debate as to how best the American people can help resolve the post-9/11 terror crisis. Recent allegations by Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney that a vote for Kerry-Edwards is a vote for terrorism have been met with harsh repudiation from the Kerry camp as well as from some mainstream news sources. Democrats have also raised their objections to the current campaign, questioning why the Kerry campaign has not been more “aggressive” in dealing with Republican attacks such as this.

While it is difficult to gauge how a Kerry administration would differ in its policies – domestic or foreign – from the enacted policies of the Bush administration, it is clear that the conceptual leanings of the two candidates’ platforms divide along the usual lines (Bush versus Kerry): privatization versus public ownership; preference for the wealthy versus preference for the middle class; engagement by force versus engagement by diplomacy; deregulation versus regulation.

The conceptual differences in this year’s election issues, however, have been frequently overshadowed by the religious overtones of the race, as the Christian right belt has emerged from the Bible belt (Southern Baptist states such as Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi) as a key Bush base, pushing public debate towards moral concerns such as abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research, all of which it strongly opposes. Fringe groups have also emerged as key players in this election, pushing public attention towards past events such as candidates’ actions during the Vietnam War, and the actions of candidates’ family members throughout the campaign. Finally, numerous multimedia exhibits attesting to each candidate’s purported merits and demerits are widely available. (Just type in “George Bush” or “John Kerry” on any search engine on the internet)

The resources are many, and the opinions, even more so. But everyone gets one vote, and everyone must vote for him or herself. So good luck to all of you as you slog through the riches of resources and opinions in this election & make your vote count!

September 20, 2004
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