Menu

Chumps Deluxe : Debate ’04 as Lame as the Choice

Steven Wishnia Oct 6, 2004

If the presidential debate of Sept. 30 were an intellectual boxing match, John Kerry won easily. George Bush was on the ropes by its second half. He froze up noticeably answering questions, hesitating and stalling until his brain revved up enough to start spitting buzzwords like “free Iraq,” “democracy,” and “mixed messages.” He hung on to these stock phrases like they were life preservers, even when he seemed to have little idea of what they actually meant, as in one exchange where he spoke of showing Russia “the benefits of democracy… uh… that democracy will best… uh… that democracy helps the people realize their hopes and aspirations and dreams.” Meanwhile, Kerry spoke with more clarity than expected, hammering Bush for waging a full-on war in Iraq after having “outsourced” the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Afghani mercenaries.

Yet neither candidate talked about bringing peace to Israel and the Palestinians, the torture of Iraqi prisoners, or the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians. If this debate was supposed to be about the best way to protect America from the fascist fringes of fundamentalist Islam, that was a titanic omission. Bush uses “terrorism” as a propaganda word to invoke fear of an undefined but purely evil enemy, but the struggle to defeat Islamic fascist groups who plot to kill Western civilians at random is as much a political campaign as a military effort. Absent the belief that the United States is on a crusade to dominate the Muslim world – a belief strengthened by the images from Abu Ghraib prison and the 22-foot concrete behemoth walling off large chunks of the West Bank – most Muslims would reject al-Qaeda as murderous fanatics.

Kerry’s position on the war in Iraq is untenable. Bush’s is a delusional disaster. Kerry argues that the war was a mistake, but we’re going to win it, and we’re going to do that by attracting more allies. He might have a case if he said that we need to establish some semblance of stability in Iraq before pulling out (though you could also claim that continuing the occupation will only make things worse), but does he really believe that other countries are going to ship thousands of troops off to die in a U.S.-made quagmire? Bush’s position is that even the slightest criticism of his policies is undermining the troops, and we’re establishing freedom, stability and democracy in Iraq. Yes, and several winged rhesus monkeys were recently sighted flapping their way out of the presidential posterior.

As the two candidates bickered over who was less likely to “wilt,” U.S. and Iraqi government forces were attacking the city of Samarra. Military spokespeople claimed that 109 “insurgents” were killed. That definition of “insurgent” is loose enough to include many women and children, according to Associated Press reports from area hospitals. Still, the debate was more of a direct confrontation between Bush and Kerry than one would have expected from its bizarre rules, such as the one barring the candidates from asking each other direct questions. One of the most distressing things about current American politics is that debate has been largely reduced to a contest of five-word advertising slogans – “George Bush. Tough on Terrorism.” That benefits Bush’s buzzword- ruled style, as it’s hard for the average American to argue with the concept of “bringing freedom to Afghanistan.” In this context, Bush sounds like a visionary to people who share his far-right religion or don’t realize what a phony he is.

This is a president who pretends to be a hero by dressing in military-realness drag on an aircraft carrier. He brags about bringing democracy to Iraq, while he owes his presidency to denying black people the right to vote in Florida. He talks about women’s rights in Afghanistan, but the core of his political support comes from people who denounce feminists as godless lesbians.

The Bush regime’s ruling philosophy is simple: The sole purpose of government is to make the rich richer, and every country in the world must go along. Limiting pollution or protecting workers’ safety is “intrusive big government,” but the voiding of the sodomy
laws was a crime against nature. And anyone who disagrees with them is a traitor. They’ve been running the country like a bunch of junior-high bullies; the essence of much of their campaign boils down to “John Kerry’s a faggot.” But what do Kerry and the Democrats stand for? So far, they’ve failed to articulate a clear challenge to this plutocratic near-fascist agenda. They speak incessantly about fighting for the “middle class,” appearing congenitally incapable of saying “working class” or “poor,” as if no one who makes less than $40,000 a year has any political significance. Who do they think is voting for them?

Part of the reason the “flip-flopper” label has stuck to Kerry is because the Democrats have failed to articulate an alternative set of values to free-market fundamentalism. When
the Republicans lie that privatizing Medicare would “enable you to make choices about your health care,” the Democrats don’t respond by advocating a Canadian-style system in which everyone is guaranteed health care and you get to choose your own doctor. Instead, they offer minor proposals in deeply bureaucratic language.

Still, there’s not much choice but to vote for Kerry. His corporate centrism is a quantum level milder than Bush’s mad-cowboy fanaticism. If Bush wins the election legitimately, it will be a popular affirmation of his far-right lunacy and slime. Commentary.