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Current Battle: Election 2004

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Monday, October 25, 2004

Battle Election 2004 - Iron Blogger Democrat - Opening Statement

This Iron Blog Battle is the most important Iron Blog Battle of my lifetime!

Okay, that's a little over the top, as most things this election season have been. But I do believe--in fact, said once on national television--that this election actually is the most important of my short life (I was born a few weeks after Nixon resigned). Why? Well, we're at a turning point. The world of today is vastly different from the world of Nixon's time, or a decade ago, or even five years ago. We've reached a crux in history where, as the world's sole superpower, the U.S. will set a course to be followed for decades to come. This election will decide who gets to chart that course, who gets to steer the ship of state, who gets to drive the station wagon we call the United States. And in this election year, we have a clear choice.

It will come as no surprise to anyone here that I, your Iron Blogger Democrat, believe that the best choice is to elect John Forbes Kerry as the 44th President of the United States.

On my own blog, I have not been kind to Bush. (For that matter, I haven't always been kind to Kerry.) This week, though, I will not concentrate on the personal, those things that give me a visceral reaction, make me swear at the radio or throw things at the TV. Instead, I will focus on three things: Bush's dismal record, Kerry's experience, and Kerry's plan (he has one--I don't know if you've heard). I apologize in advance for length, and for the fact that some links require registation.

The Bush Record
In January, 2001, the satirical newspaper The Onion published an article spoofing George W. Bush's impending inaugural speech. "Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Over' " read the fake headline. Now, at that time, I was upset at the way things had turned out, you know, with the whole Florida mess. But I was willing to give the clumsy New Englander-turned-Texan a chance. After all, his platform was not terribly reactionary, and I really liked Colin Powell. But it did not take long before all of the things lampooned in the Onion piece started coming true. It was so deadly accurate, in fact, that some enterprising soul re-printed the thing with links to news articles detailing exactly how Bush has ruined everything, or nearly so. Am I willing to give him a second chance? Should anyone?

Let's look in-depth at five specific important areas, and see what the Bush record really reveals: health care, education, Iraq and the War on Terror, the environment, and jobs and the economy.

Health Care
When George W. Bush took office, there was a health care crisis. Today, four years later, we still have a health care crisis. In fact, it's worse. Since Bush took office, 5.2 million Americans have lost health insurance, meaning we have about 45 million uninsured people in this country. Now, it's not necessarily the president's job to give everyone insurance, but when Bush promised four years ago to "reverse this trend [of insurance loss] by making health insurance affordable for hard-working, low-income families," then we might expect the trend to be, you know, reversed. Instead, it sucks:
In the past four years, Americans have spent an ever-growing portion of their paychecks on health care and for the most part gotten less for their money, forcing millions into the ranks of the uninsured or personal bankruptcy, according to government figures and several independent assessments.

Nationwide, workers' costs for health insurance have risen by 36 percent since 2000, dwarfing the average 12.4 percent increase in earnings since President Bush took office, the liberal consumer group Families USA reports in an analysis scheduled for release today. The number of Americans spending more than a quarter of their income on medical costs climbed from 11.6 million in 2000 to 14.3 million this year, according to the group.

The news comes as many companies are dropping medical coverage entirely or trimming their benefit packages, while taxpayers are subsidizing millions of people below the poverty line who have enrolled in the state-run Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Program, a separate survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found. Hardest hit have been low-income working families, Hispanics and people with chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma or depression.

"The cost of family health insurance is rapidly approaching the gross earnings of a full-time minimum-wage worker," said Drew Altman, president and chief executive of the nonprofit foundation, which compiled the data. "If these trends continue, workers and employers will find it increasingly difficult to pay for family health coverage, and every year the share of Americans who have employer-sponsored health coverage will fall."
This is probably not the first time I will ask this question over the next week: Why, after four years of controlling the executive and the House (not to mention the Senate for two and a half of those years) has there been nothing done? I mean, Bush apparently has a plan, to cite a key phrase from his opponent. Where's the "reformer with results" we were promised four years ago? I do not have the space here to deconstruct that "plan," but suffice it to say that it "seems to fall short."

Beyond the insurance issue, we find that Bush has sided with insurers against patients before the Supreme Court, stopped promising stem-cell research, and lied to congress about the cost of the Medicare bill (a bill which, by the way, lets drug companies jack up prices once seniors are locked into a program). I could go on.

From the way Bush talks about it, his education policy must be his greatest hit. After all, in the third debate this year, "No Child Left Behind" was his answer to off-shoring, unemployment, poverty, and cancer. Well, maybe not cancer. I've written about NCLB often in other places. But I'm not the only one complaining about it.

The components of NCLB written by Republicans, notably John "so what if no one's heard of me" Boehner of Ohio, and as opposed to those written by Democrats, including Ted "I am more liberal than Kerry!" Kennedy, were largely based on the "Texas Miracle." One of the major architects of that "miracle" was Rod "the NEA are terrorists" Paige, who went to Washington with Bush to be his education secretary. The problem is, the whole danged "miracle" was just a lie; it didn't really happen:

What's the point? Both RAND reports agree with all the other independent data that

  • [Texas standardized test] scores are untrustworthy
  • In education, which Bush says is the #1 priority in America today, Texas hasn't made any progress relative to the rest of the country (academic proficiency as measured by trusted exams SAT, ACT, NAEP scores) and declined in others (such as the achievement gap, Texas' own TASP scores, etc)
  • Bush continues to avoid confronting the truth about Texas education progress and continues to promote misleading or untrue statistics on his web site not on some small issue, but on what he considers the most important issue of the campaign
  • A lack of results and a lack of integrity.
Now all of America is expected to do what Texas really didn't. I'm not saying some states *cough*Wisconsin*cough* can't do better than Texas. Besides being underfunded, NCLB is widely viewed now as a bill that's just plain flawed, using, as one educator put it, "unsound methods" for testing student achievement. More and more states are complaining about the cumbersome requirements of the law, and earlier this year, the administration was forced into a "softening" of the bill to deal with "mounting opposition from states, school districts, and from Bush's own party." Bush's signature issue is nothing to hang his $1000 cowboy hat on.

And what's with Bush's bragging about Pell grants? Because, you know, he broke his campaign pledge to increase the size of Pell grants. He also froze funding for after school programs (.pdf link), potentially eliminating 50,000 children from after-school programs, not to mention cutting training funds for 30,000 teachers required by his own NCLB bill!

Iraq and the War on Terror
I don't want to rehash too much of the ground I covered in my last Battle, so I'll just hit the highlights:

  • Bush ignored the recommendations of his commanders, such as Eric Shinseki, Anthony Zinni, and Thomas White, that we would need more troops in Iraq than he was politically willing to commit.
  • Bush ignored pre-war intelligence warning of an insurgency.
  • Bush went without a plan for peace; it was literally "to be provided."
  • As a result of these blunders, Iraq has become a mess, and the explosives even now killing Iraqi and coalition forces were left unsecured and stolen.
  • $120 billion of your tax dollars--and likely billions more--have been diverted from fighting actual terrorists to a war that even George "slam dunk" Tenet agrees was wrong

After all of that, are we safer? Let me just say that it seems to be "up in the air." Bush let the guy who attacked us get away to start preparing for the war in Iraq. Nineteen out of the 22 most wanted terrorists identified after 9/11 are still on the lam. Bush covered up Saudi involvement in 9/11, and even let the Saudis know we were attacking Iraq before he told Colin Powell (so says Woodward's book). This is not a record to run on, which is why, I believe, Bush plays on fear that Kerry might make us less safe, when really it's Bush's strategy that's producing "diminishing returns."

In this election season, this single most important issue no one is talking about is the environment. In that spirit, I'll be brief here, too. I kind of think I could sum it up with today's L.A. Times headline: "Recasting Wilderness as Open for Business: A Bush administration policy reversal ends decades of shielding the nation's untamed areas."

But the list goes on. Bush
Jobs and the Economy
You know a Republican, tax-cutting, supply-side president is in trouble when even even the rich are losing confidence in the economy!

The micro-economy sucks. Maybe we're doing better in the macro, but on a personal basis, there's a whole litany of problems:
I've heard the arguments that there's not too much that a president can actually do to affect the economy, and I'm even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt after the bursting of the tech bubble and the attacks of September 11. But in the three years since, his economic policies have really been a disaster. Specifically, the tax cuts of 18 months ago, known as the "Jobs and Growth Plan," have been an utter failure. At the time, Bush promised us 5.5 million jobs by the end of this year. Well, we're about 3 million jobs short. Face it: this economy simply isn't creating jobs at the pace it should be in a normal recession.

Worse, the Bush team bases its economic projections on their over-inflated job protections; it's no wonder we're seeing record budget deficits!

Kerry's Experience
I've already eaten up my 2000 word "soft cap," so this section may get short shrift. In fact, I'll skip over Kerry's heroic Vietnam service, his career as a mob-busting prosecutor, and his time as an acid-rain smiting lieutenant governor, and just jump straight to his two decades in the senate.

Now, my friends on the right may be scratching their heads in wonder at the very thought that I would bring up John Kerry's record in the Senate. As David Mayhew says, "[T]here are three ways for a member of Congress to distinguish himself: as a legislator, as a leader of the public discourse--think Sunday talk regulars like Jesse Helms or Joseph Biden--or as an investigator." Kerry, as you might guess from his prosecuting background, is an investigator.

And he's a good one: Kerry was responsible for bringing down BCCI and exposing the Nicuraguan Contra cocaine scandal in the 1980s, and worked with John McCain to "more than just debunk the myth of living POWs; they opened the door to normalizing relations with Vietnam" in the 1990s. In short, while his name may not be on a lot of fancy legislation, John Kerry's time in the Senate was anything but empty.

Kerry's Plan
There are five specific areas I want to mention wherein I think a John Kerry presidency will surpass what we have seen from Bush and his Republican-controlled Congress: health care, education, Iraq and the War on Terror, the environment, and jobs and the economy (sound familiar? It's only fair to compare apples to apples).

Health Care
Kerry has three key elements to his health care plan, among other components. All three are important and would work to ease the problems of health care access in this country.

If you believe that frivolous malpractice suits are a cause of high health care costs (even though tort reform efforts to date don't succeed in lowering premiums), then it seems like the obvious answer is to discourage frivolous lawsuits. Bush wants to cap the damages on all lawsuits, frivolous or not, which does little to stop the frivolous ones and only hurts those whose lives have already been thrown into turmoil. Right now, medical malpractice is responsible for a quarter million deaths every year. Those families deserve recourse. The Kerry plan, aside from making it more difficult for insurance companies to engage in collusion, requires that lawsuits be certified before they proceed, and puts the onus on unethical attorneys trying to sneak in cases that are truly frivolous to pay court costs incurred in defending against them.

Plus, Kerry's plan to pool catastrophic claims will also save you and me and our bosses on premiums; Kerry's plan to open Congress's insurance plans to everyone to buy into will also ease premiums.

Education is something I know a little bit about. No Child Left Behind, from where I sit in my classroom, is all stick. The Kerry plan has some carrot. We all know, and study after study shows, teacher quality is the most important factor in student achievement. Unlike Bush, who cut teacher training funds at the same time he made "highly qualified teachers" mandatory in the classroom, Kerry's plan actually has positive steps for attracting and retaining quality teachers in the public schools. Kerry's also committed to fully funding NCLB.

Iraq and the War on Terror
I must be honest here: I have almost as little faith in Kerry's ability to extricate us safely from Iraq as I do in Bush. That's primarily because the hole is so deep now. But Kerry does have good ideas, toward internationalizing the occupation, notably by bringing in NATO and such.

What I am more hopeful about, though, is Kerry's instincts and prospects for prosecuting--and I don't use that word lightly--the war on terror. We know that Bush and the Republicans have wasted time they should have spent securing Russia nuclear material; Bush lost Iraq's nukes, too. Plus, Bush is pursuing a policy of reproliferation that seriously threatens our credibility when it comes to WMDs. Kerry wants to change all that. Plus, Kerry's plan to go after the terrorists, rather than chase moustachioed geese around Iraq.

This is Kerry's milieu. While Dick Cheney's repetition of that old National Journal canard doesn't make it true, it is true that Kerry actually has had a 100% rating from the League of Conservation Voters, and a Senate record deserving of the honor. Kerry's environmental plan starts with undoing the damage Bush has done to air, water, and forest regulations. After that, there's more, from adding environmental protections to trade treaties to his 20% by 2020 alternative energy plan.

Jobs and the Economy
What Bush doesn't seem to understand about tax cuts is that by themselves they don't create jobs. If your tax cuts lets small businesses write off a Hummer, then the small business buys a Hummer. John Kerry believes that if you give a small business a tax credit for creating a job, the small business will create jobs. Simple, isn't it?

Kerry doesn't just want to help small businesses; he's also out to help those of us in the shrinking middle class (described here by Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders). He'll do it byincreasing the child tax credit, tuition credit, and more.

And yes, Kerry's plans add up:
I’ve made this pledge: We’ve got to be fiscally responsible, we’ve got to cut the deficit.

I am going to put pay-as-you-go back in place, folks; that’s the beginning rule. That said, my health care plan is entirely paid for, and my funding of education, special needs and No Child Left Behind is paid for. And my manufacturing tax credit (and) my college credit are paid for.

And I show where they come from. I get over $860 billion from the roll-back of the tax over the $200,000.

John McCain and I identified about $60 billion (from) our commission on corporate welfare that we think is just pork and lobbyist-driven throw-away. I’m going to close the loopholes.

If George Bush had just not given the top 1% (income bracket) what they got, we’d have saved Social Security until the year 2075. That’s the difference.

A Brief Conclusion
I'm sorry I'm light on the snark tonight. I'm sure that when I scroll down to the Challenger's post, I'll get my RDA of snark. Beyond that, I believe that the number of undecideds dropping by Blogger Stadium this week will be small, almost nil. If you are undecided, I hope to sway you. I don't expect to change the minds of Bush voters, though you are welcome to flip-flop if you wish. At any rate, I do hope that you all keep your minds open and the comments civil. Most of all, enjoy the fireworks.

Respectfully submitted,
Jay Bullock, Iron Blogger Democrat

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