24 October 2004

Not just semantics

For readers' convenience, I've created an index of the Kevin letters so you can see the full progress of the dialogue

Thanks for continuing the dialogue, and engaging so seriously. I will endeavor to do the same.

Indulge me for a minute while I get some of my readers up to speed.

A few weeks ago, I posted a long comment about Bush's use of the expression “hard work” in the first debate. You commented on that post, and taking a look at your blog I discovered that you had made a couple of posts to the same point — and came to the opposite conclusion, that President Bush was hardworking and Senator Kerry was not. I posted an open letter to you further outlining some of the reasons why I read things differently. You commented again, puzzled that I couldn't see through Senator Kerry's deceptive “façade,” and made a few specific points about things you didn't like about Kerry ... among them, his “global test” comment in the debate, which you read as him leaving American security up to the whims of other nations. I posted in response to that specific point, saying that it was clear to me that Kerry meant that the US needs not the approval of the world, but credibility in the eyes of the world and the American people, credibility which we sacrificed with the administration's lies about WMDs in Iraq. You commented again, saying that because you know that the administration is honorable, you do not believe that we lied.

In the most recent cycle I pointed to some examples of the Bush administration asserting various untruths, to my reasons specifically for thinking that Colin Powell was being deceitful (rather than misinformed) when he told the UN things that were not true, and to Bush making an obviously untrue statement about weapons inspectors not being allowed into Iraq. Your response is very interesting.

I want to thank you for directing your comments toward the core question that I asked about why you read Bush as credible and honorable and Kerry as the opposite. Since I think we agree that neither one of us will convince the other, I see the point of this dialogue being more about two people coming together in goodwill to better understand their differences, knowing that we will not resolve them. I think your answer takes us one step closer to an understanding of one another, but that there remains a much deeper level at work.

Misuba has already detected my purpose, as he made a comment to my post asking about George Lakoff. I actually alluded to Lakoff in the earlier post from which I recycled the Bush quote about letting Iraq refusing to let weapons inspectors in. Lakoff argues that the deep metaphorical content of political speech is often more powerful than its surface literal content. My core question, about why you read Bush as credible and Kerry as not, is directly about that. And I'd like to continue to try to dig down to that level.

I think that some paradoxes within the key points you make suggest that we're still talking at that surface level, because you make some interpertations that could easily go the other way.

Consider: You suggest that when Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein wouldn't let inspectors into Iraq — when in fact inspectors did enter Iraq — he was speaking metaphorically, that since Saddam was so uncoöperative with inspectors “they were in, but not IN.” I believe that you must have some preëxisting reason for believing that Bush's honesty is unimpeachable if you read him meaning “he wouldn't give inspectors good enough access” when he said “he wouldn't let inspectors in.” If, like me, you didn't already trust Bush, you would have read his statement more directly, and would see your argument as saying, to paraphrase slippery Bill Clinton: “it depends on what your definition of ‘in’ is.”

On the other side, you've identified some of the things that make you distrust Kerry. It's an interesting list, but again, I don't think you're striking at the heart of your judgement.

There are tell-tell signs when people are giving you the business. First of all, they are not forthcoming with information. Senator Kerry says he has a plan, he has presented no plan.

I think you're talking about a plan for Iraq. I don't see how you conclude that Kerry has presented no plan. Fearing that you had a point (horrors!) I paid a visit to JohnKerry.com. The right sidebar contains a link to a book called Plan for America. The left sidebar, under the heading “Plan for America,” has links to summaries on the website for subjects like National Security and Education. If you pay a visit to National Security, you find a description of the four imperatives which would guide Kerry's policy, and the right sidebar, under the heading "National Security Plans," I see links to more supporting pages about Winning the Peace in Iraq, Defeating Global Terrorism, and five other topics.

Yeah, that Kerry, not forthcoming with information. How unlike Bush, who has detailed what he will do in Iraq! Who holds so many press conferences! Who spent an entire hour talking to the 9/11 Commission, in order to be forthcoming with information!

Obviously, I'm teasing a bit — but it's to a purpose. I don't think you've really explained why you trust Bush and don't trust Kerry. Can you? Is it something you can articulate?

I can articulate why I don't trust the Bush administration. They keep saying stuff that isn't true.

But actually, the Bush administration's deceit on the points I've been discussing isn't one of my major reasons for opposing Bush. I have three big reasons, of ascending importance.

Fiscal irresponsibility

Clinton, with a Republican Congress fighting his every move, managed to get the federal budget from deficit to surplus. Under Bush, with a Republican Congress on his side, has put us back into deficit, through a combination of tax cuts and reckless spending. Granted, Clinton was lucky with the economy and Bush hasn't been --- though that's about 50% luck and 50% managing the economy effectively. But the CBO says we're looking at deficits as far as the eye can see even if the economy starts coming up roses under Bush's budget plans.

Kerry has said he wants to halve the deficit in four years. From what I understand, his tax and spending proposals don't quite add up that way — though they are a lot closer to reality than Bush's budget numbers ever have been. Still, Clinton's budget numbers didn't add up during his campaign either, but Robert Rubin — who became his Treasury Secretary — talked Clinton into the necessary fiscal discipline, and it worked. Guess what? Rubin is Kerry's #1 economic advisor. That's news even a Republican should find reassuring.

Iraq undercuts the War on Terror

Obviously, nothing we can or should do will make Al Qaeda and other political Islamist terrorists hate us any less. But our actions do affect how sympathetic the Arab world is to those terrorists — which determines how much support they get, and how quickly their ranks grow. Whether or not you and I believe that our invasion of Iraq was driven by mistaken intelligence, since it turns out that our justification for invading is weak, it plays right into the hands of the Islamists. Every day, Arabs watch American soldiers walking down Arab streets, killing Arabs, appearing to confirm exactly what the Islamists tell them about America being at war with Islam. It doesn't matter that it isn't true: what matters is that it makes the terrorists stronger, not weaker. For each terrorist we kill, two will take their place.

Neither I nor John Kerry want to see us leave Iraq too soon. You broke it, you bought it. But replacing Bush, and having a new commander-in-chief, is the first step toward showing ordinary Arabs that we don't want to be their enemies, and thus keeping Iraq from being a source of new terrorist recruits.


Most important of all. On Bush's watch, the US has tortured Iraqis at Abu Graib, is still torturing Arabs at Guantanamo, and has deported people from the US to other countries where we knew they would be tortured. The torture has given us no actionable intelligence. The torture has been done to people we know to be innocent. The torture has, again, helped the terrorists make their claims in the Arab world: "look at the evil Americans, how depraved they are, how they lie when they talk about freedom." And most importantly, even if it were helping instead of hindering, torture is wrong.

The Bush administration has entirely failed to take this seriously. Why has no one in a position of authority been held accountable? Not only is this politically unacceptable, it's morally unacceptable.

Do you have something good to say about the Bush administration, or bad to say about Kerry, that outweighs those concerns?

1 comment:

Kevin said...


Well , I am happy that we can debate some of these issues while still being civil.

Of course, I have reservations about Senator Kerry, because we haven't yet seen the real John Kerry. I would think that people expect some changing positions in the political season, but enough is enough.

I had looked over the Kerry/Edwards plan several weeks ago and I must tell you that I don't think much of it. Maybe it is just that I have training in strategic planning that makes me have reservations on the plan. I don't think that a plan is a list of declarative statements. Leadership needs realistic management to be successful.

I do have a comment, just a small one about the whole budget thing. A projected surplus is not a surplus. It is projected. What would be left out, if Senator Kerry was to do the budget?

What makes anyone think that Senator Kerry is actually going to get anything passed in Congress. I would think that we are in for gridlock again.

Speaking of former President Clinton about "balancing the budget," I think that if Alan Greenspan suggested to the administration and congress to do something, it would be in the best interest for them to do it. If you read Bob Woodward's book "Meastro," you would see that Alan Greenspan had much more to do with the economy than any other entity.

I have talked about Iraq, I think that it is the height of arrogance that other people can't have what we have in the United States. In 1789, it would have been easy to shake the yoke as we did, but today they need a little help. Something interesting that I found that you might be interested in, and it is true: http://www.voicesofiraq.com/

Well there is no doubt that torture is bad, but so is terrorism. I don't fall into that the enemy combatants in Gitmo are being tortured. Where would you get that? I also think that we took a big hit with the Abu Garib prison scandal. I think that this reinforces what the terrorists have been saying about our society being immoral. If you will follow this line of reasoning out, then what other things about our society also reinforce this misconception that the terrorists have? Could abortion, gay marriage, drugs, pornography, pop music, and violence on T.V. and cinema also reinforce this notion?

You see, our military is a micrcosm of our society as a whole. I have led young men into dangerous situations. These young men do not have the moral grounding to do all that we ask them. It then becomes my job to babysit them and train them in the areas of hygiene, cleaning their rooms, taking care of their gear, and why it is wrong to steal, fight, and drink, in addition to the normal military subjects.

Those young men and women in Abu Garib are the products of the society that Senator Kerry would have us live in. No concern for duty, only concerned for rights. You can only have your rights, when you are willing to take responsibility, until that time they are meaningless words on a piece of paper.

You see, we all see things through our bias glasses. Just as Hans Blix's report was under his appeasement bias. My bias, toward doing my duty, sees that Senator Kerry is wrong. Freeing Iraq is the right thing to do. I would do it again, I would go to Kosovo again, I would go to Somalia again, I would go to Panama again, and I would go to Bosnia again. You see, I haven't been sitting on the sidelines, making comments. I've been in the game. I will send you something to read, I think you will find it interesting, it is about being a Prisoner of War, I found it a bit inspiring.