First appeared in print in The Rhinoceros Times, Greensboro, NC
Election Guidebook, Kerry's Conscience, and Doomsayers II
Hugh Hewitt has a nationally syndicated radio show that I've never heard. He's an unabashed Republican partisan, and he's written a book called If It's Not Close, They Can't Cheat: Crushing the Democrats in Every Election and Why Your Life Depends On It.
Hewitt doesn't hate Democrats. He just hates it when Democrats are in office. At least now.
As he points out: During the doldrums of the 90s, after the Soviet Union fell and before anybody believed that Islamist terrorists really meant it, we could afford to have an empty presidency like the Clinton years and muddle through with nothing more than embarrassment and annoyance.
But in 2000, though we didn't realize it, we were in a nontrivial election. It mattered who was at the helm in 2001, and it matters all the more in 2004, 2006, and 2008.
Hewitt believes that not only must we have George W. Bush in the presidency for the next four years, but the Democratic Party seems poised to go on, for the foreseeable future, choosing presidential candidates who would be disastrous to our defense against people who want our civilization in ashes and us dead.
He also does a thorough job of pointing out that the Democratic Party has a proud tradition of rather openly stealing elections, like the 1960 election (which Nixon, like a mensch, refused to contest even though it was glaringly obvious that Illinois and Texas probably really voted Republican if you counted only existing, living, eligible voters once each) and the attempt in Florida in 2000 and the attempt in California's recall election last year.
Hence the title of his book.
Those who think that what we need right now is a president who takes war to our enemies instead of letting them bring it to us can't afford to sit back and let others do the voting. Cheating only works when the vote is close, and when you know the other side cheats, you have to make sure the margin of victory is too wide to be overcome that way.
Still, if that were all this book was about, I wouldn't waste time on it in this column.
However, Hewitt offers something much more important. This book, despite its being partisan and disparaging of Democrats, is absolutely accurate about the way American politics function, and what individual voters can and must do to help influence the outcome.
Even if you're a Democrat so loyal that you think Al Franken is sane enough to operate heavy machinery and John Kerry knows how to make facial expressions but merely chooses not to, this book nails exactly what the strengths and weaknesses of both major parties are in coming years; why third-party votes are wasted and harmful; how Democrats have finally succeeded in rigging election funding to benefit them and hurt Republicans, and how Republicans can counter it.
Here's the key point he makes, however -- the point his subtitle is all about.
It's not enough, he says, to reelect President Bush if you don't vote for Republicans in every national race -- Senate and House of Representatives.
His warning is especially to conservative purists who would like to throw out proven vote-getters like Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania because he's "too liberal."
Hewitt's point is this: When the Senate organizes itself at the beginning of each session, there's a head count. People line up as Republicans or Democrats. Whoever has the most, gets to appoint the chairpeople of all the committees, and gets to have a majority on all the committees, and gets to set the calendar and decide which bills make it to the floor.
When that count is taken, Arlen Specter is a Republican. You may not like how he votes on abortion or what-all, but when the key decision about legislative power is made, he's one vote on the side of the aisle that can organize a Senate that will advance President Bush's agenda, instead of one that will obstruct him at every turn.
The time for idealogical purity, in other words, says Hewitt, is not during election season.
The Democrats know this; the Republicans keep forgetting.
Thus Hewitt calls for Americans -- not just Republicans, but all Americans who recognize that only the Republican Party shows the will or the wit to combat our terrorist enemies abroad -- to vote for Republicans all the way up and down the ballot.
Now, as a Democrat, what can I say to that except that, because my party has been taken over by an astonishingly self-destructive bunch of lunatics who are so dazzled by Hollywood that they think their ideas make sense, I have to agree that right now, any President but Bush and any Congress but a Republican-dominated one would be disastrous.
As a Democrat, I would hope that a solid trouncing of our fanatic-ruled party at the polls this November would serve as a wakeup call and remind Democrats that they only get to do the things that the Democrat Party exists to do if they get enough votes to control the White House and Congress. Which requires that you have serious candidates and embrace serious issues that most Americans, not just tiny pressure groups, care about.
And on that day, Democratic moderates can take the party back. And yes, Democratic moderates actually exist. They're all voting for Bush this year, but they'd rather have had a Democratic candidate to vote for.
Here's where I think Hewitt is dead wrong. Voting a straight ticket below the national level makes no sense at all.
For instance, here in Guilford County, I'm casting my vote for any candidate who is running against Sheriff Barnes and any of the Republican cabal that he supported in the Primary elections.
Why? Because Barnes went after and defeated one of the best people in local government, Mary Rakestraw, and the reason he did it was because she refused to go along with his plan for extra-legally increasing the budget of the sheriff's department.
It's not just that he's a sore loser. It's that he has figured out a way to create machine politics in Guilford County.
Not party politics: Machine politics, where you do what the boss says, or you lose your office, even if you're in his party. No room for anyone else to have a conscience. No room for anyone else to respect the law more than they respect the boss's authority.
And the only way to get rid of a tinhorn dictator like that is to vote against him and everybody he nominates, until the regular, honest party takes back control of their candidate-selection process.
B.J. Barnes is the most dangerous man in Guilford County, because he thinks he's above the law, and he thinks that all Republicans need to obey him, and the Republican Party should be working as hard as they can to get rid of this man and restore democracy within the Guilford County Republican Party.
But since they won't, it's up to Democrats like me, and independents who care about things like freedom and conscience, to show him that he can't carry a general election using the same tactics that won the primaries for him and his minions.
Read Hewitt's book ... learn the civics lessons he teaches ... and then make sure you're well-enough informed to make smart decisions in every contest you vote in.
Kerry feels fine about accepting money and sharing a podium with Hollywood fanatics who hurl vile and baseless charges against the President, but when the Swift Boat Veterans lay far more serious -- and far more substantiated -- charges against him, then like a crybaby he says, "No fair!"
The fact is, Kerry tries to have it both ways on everything. Slanderers on his side have nothing to do with him; but if supporters of President Bush make accusations against Kerry, then that's dirty politics and President Bush must be behind it.
The "Bush campaign and its allies have turned to the tactics of fear and smear," said Kerry at the Cooper Union school in New York. Isn't that hilarious, coming from a man who embraces the support of slanderers like Michael Moore and Al Franken?
But this is nothing new. Remember how the "vast right-wing conspiracy" played out for the Clintons. Remember how the would-be election thieves in the Democratic Party were able to charge the Republicans with having stolen the election.
Accuse your accusers of your own bad acts, that's the method -- but will it work again? Are the American people that slow at learning when they're being scammed?
Maybe when it comes to the war in Vietnam, Kerry cannot have it all. Maybe he -- and the American people -- are beginning to realize it.
"John Kerry reporting for duty," he said at the Democratic convention, insisting that America view him as a heroic soldier ready to lead us through our war on terrorists.
But when we find out that one of the Purple Hearts he used to get out of the war early may well have been an accidentally self-inflicted wound, it's harder to understand how his conscience allowed him to use those "wounds" to get out of Vietnam early, when other men stayed to do their duty.
So Kerry has flipped to the other side of the coin. It's not his war record he wants to be judged on now, it's his anti-war record.
The Swift Boat Veterans' second ad points out that his false charges that American soldiers regularly committed atrocities gave the North Vietnamese exactly what they were torturing American POWs to try to them to say.
At a fund-raiser in Philadelphia, Kerry defended those false statements by saying they were "an act of conscience" and adding "You can judge my character, incidentally, by that."
Well, Mr. Kerry, we will.
You did some brave things in Vietnam. But afterward, you said terrible things about your fellow soldiers -- things that clearly were not true, and that you either knew were not true when you said them, or at least knew you had no evidence for.
Let's see ... you'll make false accusations against American soldiers for your own political advantage. And we should vote for you as our commander-in-chief, to decide when American soldiers should lay their lives on the line.
Speaking as an embarrassed and fed-up Democrat, I have to say to the national leaders of my own party: What were you thinking when you nominated this man!
Is there really no one better than this that the Democratic Party can offer to the American people to lead us in time of war?
Well, yes, there is. The Democratic Party could have nominated Joe Lieberman. The Democratic Party could have chosen a candidate who would help unite the country in the prosecution of a war forced on us by cruel and ambitious enemies -- and then put forward the Democratic program for keeping America a decent place for people who haven't got great stock options.
Instead, the Democratic Party has nominated a man who has spent his whole career attacking Americans who actually fight for their country, provoking divisiveness during wartime for his own political gain, and voting with absolute consistency to strip America of the means of defending ourselves against our enemies.
What were the Democratic Party leaders thinking?
Not of America's good, that's for sure.
As it seems right now, the Democratic Party has apparently nominated three habitual, self-serving liars in a row. The guy who has his own definition of "is," the guy who invented the Internet, and now the guy who spent Christmas in Cambodia.
Why hasn't Michael Moore made a movie about that? If, as Linda Ronstadt says, Moore's a great American who exposes liars and hypocrites, then surely we should be seeing the documentary Christmas in Cambodia in all the theaters.
But of course we never will. Because members of the Liars Club never rat each other out. There is, apparently, honor among mudslingers.
I've heard from some readers of last week's column the response that "Not everybody who cries doom is right." Well, that's certainly true. Remember the eschatalogical warnings we had about the Y2K calamities that were sure to befall us? What nobody took into account was the fact that those very warnings caused people to make the necessary changes so that Y2K passed with scarcely a hitch.
The world always has its irrational cranks, crying doom based on arbitrary turns of the calendar, confluences of planets, or sightings of Elvis's image on rusting refrigerator doors. I am firmly of the opinion that such doomsayers can be safely ignored; and if they do turn out to be right, it would prove the universe to be so irrational that I'm probably better off dead anyway.
The point of my column is that when someone who is very, very bright, like Jane Jacobs or Winston Churchill, gives warning of grave dangers and backs up the warning with serious references to current trends and analogous events in history, then only a fool dismisses their warnings out of hand.
There are disasters that certainly will happen.
For instance, Balboa Island just off the coast of Newport Beach in southern California is going to be the site of thousands of tragic, needless deaths, when the inevitable earthquake causes the inevitable tsunami that sweeps across the densely populated island with little warning and long before even a tiny percentage of the inhabitants can escape across the single narrow bridge to the mainland. This is obvious, unavoidable, and those who choose to live there are merely betting that they'll be away on that day -- or are announcing their preferred method of death.
On a grander scale, it is absolutely certain that sometime in the future, Earth will be struck by a meteor large enough to cause widespread devastation, climate change, and vast losses of life. The trouble is, we don't know when it will happen. It's hard to work up much of a budget urgency about something that might not happen for three hundred thousand years.
Yet as the movie Deep Impact and its trashy cousin, Armageddon, anticipated, when such a meteor is spotted out in space (if it is spotted; horrible devastation could be caused by a meteor too small to see until it was virtually upon us), we will wish we had prudently invested in spacecraft and other devices that could be employed to turn such a meteor out of its course (we don't care if it passes us by and lands on Venus).
A President who seriously campaigned on a promise to spend billions to stop meteors from wiping out life on Earth would be, quite properly I think, regarded as being somewhat out of the intellectual mainstream. (Sort of like Howard Dean or Al Gore would be, if America's intellectual mainstream were actually moored somewhere near reality.)
Yet it should be done, don't you think? Because it could also happen next year, and wouldn't we all feel stupid if we had had the technology but not the will to build such a meteor-collision-avoidance system when we had the chance?
Still, anyone who says that he knows when the meteor is coming -- well, give him a buck and move on down the sidewalk. (Unless there is scientific evidence, like proof of a past, periodic meteor shower that has caused devastation on a regular basis in past epochs.)
And then we have the problem of doomsayers who were right, but not right enough. For instance, we found plenty of evidence of Saddam's ongoing will to create weapons of mass destruction, but no workable nukes, and somehow that seems to be the only evidence that would satisfy the smug critics who mock President Bush for not knowing what no one knew.
Already people are gearing up to oppose President Bush if he decides to take action against North Korean or Iranian nuclear programs; but those very people would be the first to charge him with every vile crime imaginable if an Iranian or North Korean nuke blew up a city somewhere. Especially here.
Then Bush would be cursed for being short-sighted and weak-willed. Maureen Dowd would explain why Bush actually meant for the nuke to explode, and Michael Moore would show footage of Bush eating a really thick sandwich when he should have been blowing up Iran's nuclear weapon assembly plant.
The fact is, we've already traveled far down some terrible roads that, if followed to their end, will put period to our civilization. But good, smart people can still disagree about the degree of danger or the preferred solution. Good, smart people can be wrong, and they're still good, and still smart -- just human.
But people who were warned and answered the warning, not with serious evidence and reasoning, but with dismissive name-calling -- like that which Churchill faced for so long -- they are fully to blame for their own fate. For they answered reason with scorn, facts with name-calling. Which makes them truly, deeply, stupid.
Please, let us not be governed by those people.
Oh, wait. Both teams in our electoral system are absolutely packed with people who are "wise" about the warnings they believe in, but stupid and scornful about the warnings that don't come from their own team.
Does that mean we're doomed?
Just remember that old saying: "God protects fools, drunks, and the United States."
Let's hope it keeps on being just true enough to get us by.
Copyright © 2004 by Orson Scott Card.
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