Dear Mr. Kerry,
This is the week of the Republican National Convention in New York. By tradition, this is a week of vacation for you because each party takes the week off campaigning for the other's convention. I think you're going to win in November, and from the conservative way you have been campaigning, I suspect most of your advisors agree. You should use this time to think, not about the campaign, but the future, the challenges you will have to meet as President.
This is your first problem, and a problem that will hang over your
presidency like a bad debt. Which isn't a bad metaphor, because the American people are now faced with a huge bill, whichever way you go.
You voted to authorize the war. Fair enough. Given the way the Bush administration stage-managed the debate voting against the war in 2002 would have taken real courage and vision. You voted to authorize the President to use force in the event Saddam Hussein refused to disarm. You said you'd have done the same later, primarily to avoid further charges of of flip-flopping from an administration that has committed a few—'"if less-publicized—'flip flops' of its own.
That was a mistake. Your answer reinforced the President's contention that the invasion was the right thing to do, when in fact the war is a total disaster. It is perfectly reasonable, and intelligent, to admit that new information can change your mind. Flip-flopping for political expediency is one thing,something to abhor. Changing your mind because of new data indicates you actually care about what reality says.
The data says right now that if we are to leave Iraq a stable, we have a
very difficult problem. Moqtada al-Sadr recently presented the US the choice between letting his rebel troops go and risking a widespread rebellion among the Shia. In Sunni areas like Falludja US troops hunker down inside heavily fortified bases, not daring to patrol at all except in great strength. We don’t control that part of Iraq, neither does the Iraqi government. The oil pipelines get attacked regularly, and top leaders of all ethnic groups and government officials get knocked off more regularly than mobsters in Al Capone's time.
Before the war, the big debate between the Army and the Administration came over what would happen after the war. The Army, who'd actually done some occupation duty in the past, thought the aftermath would be far harder than the war itself. Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld couldn't imagine that the peace would be harder to win than the war. The Army said that 400,000 troops would be required. Wolfowitz argued that the Army was just being too hidebound and conservative, and probably lobbying for more troops.
We all know who got that one right. But there was more to this than a
simple disagreement over troop numbers. A very large force would have been very much more expensive. The Bush administration's tax cuts had already eradicated the surplus and moved the country into the red. That would have raised fiscal red flags when the administration wanted more tax cuts.
Particularly when the Army itself would have to grow before such a force
could be maintained. That would have more than doubled the troops currently in Iraq. Assembling a larger force for occupation duty would have taken years to do properly and cost many billions. It would have raised a red flag before Congress. Democrats would have taken advantage of it. So would have less-ideological Republicans. The fictional links between Saddam and international terrorism would have received the scrutiny they deserved. This war might not have happened.
Had the Army gotten its way, the US would have had the troops to establish firm control of the whole country from Day One. We
could have prevented a lot of the looting that not only cost Iraqi museums, but also its power plants and infrastructure. We would have made establishing the resistance far more difficult. We would have had far fewer problems today.
The simple fact is that America faces a stark and painful course. If we stay the course, we must bring back the draft, pay for these additional troops with spending cuts and/or tax increases, and accept the years it will take to rebuild Iraq. In the short term, it will alienate more Muslims and improve the political image of fanatics like bin-Laden. We avoid these costs with an early withdrawal, but withdrawing will ensure that everyone in the world will see attacking America as cheap and effective. Bugging out will encourage the fanatics and leave the people who supported us out on a limb, notably Tony Blair, the Kurds and moderate Shi'ites. Iran's mullahs will leap with joy. Iraq will end up balkanized. The Shi’ite south will probably become an Iranian satrapy.
If you withdraw, you can expect immediate and harsh attack from conservatives and the conservative media even though many of them will be secretly relieved. If you ask for the draft, you will anger your supporters and be pot-shot by the Republicans, many of whom will also be privately relieved. Certainly southern Iraq will soon resemble theocratic Iran.
I expect you want to finesse this. Find a way to hang on until you can
reasonably declare victory. That"s what the President is doing. It’s a
politician’s answer, hoping that if you can ignore a problem long enough it will go away. Sometimes that works. But not here. Iraq will not go away. NATO will not bail us out. Bush wrote the check and we have to cash it.
I think what you really need to do is begin preparing the American people for that awful choice. Bush will deny the dilemma of course, but he can be attacked on that score. After all, his track record on this topic is lousy.
You don't necessarily have to make a choice today, but you do have to announce that a choice must be made. That will put the war debate on a sober footing, something that should have happened before the war, and would have, had we a responsible President. A sober debate favors you, and not the President. Every point he makes, you can rebut. You can say with a straight face that the President's opinions on Iraq should be discounted because he has been so consistently wrong. You can ask the American people whether they prefer a man who tells them unpleasant truths or one that refuses to tell them until you're already knee-deep in kimchee. You can attack his strength straight on without resorting to your war record.
George W. Bush has been bad for the economy. He is a typical borrow and spend conservative. Like Ronald Reagan and his father before him, he pushed big tax cuts for the wealthy that led directly to record deficits. Like Ronald Reagan and his father before him, his policies have led to tax increases on the poor and working classes, through increased sales, excise taxes, fees, and cuts to government subsidies of such luxuries as education. Like his father and Reagan, he has moved to increase spending, and unfunded mandates to the states. I know people from Ohio who sent their child to Penn because it was cheaper overall than sending their child to Ohio State, even though Penn requires out-of-state tuition.
His policies have wrecked the progress that had been made toward saving Social Security and Medicare. His deficits have attacked the Social Security surplus. Medicare in particular was hard hit by the prescription drug plan for seniors passed by congressional Republicans. First, it increased demands on the system without providing revenues to meet said demands. And it even forbade the government from negotiating prices with drug companies. Perhaps that was to avoid making the private sector look bad. The government often does better at negotiating prices than the private sector, though that never makes the news. Certainly it pleased the drug companies.
He has also greatly expanded corporate welfare in an age when corporate salaries have passed beyond the slightest hint of reason, and these same corporations are exporting jobs at an increasing rate. He held up the CEO as the model of the Ideal American. He had former Enron CEO Kenneth Lay vet many of his political appointees. Until Enronwent belly-up under a sea of fraud, and his friend was implicated in criminal behavior.
Outsourcing and corporate corruption are perhaps the greatest challenges you will face. George Bush did not invent either problem, and though he has little nterest in sub-millionaires, he is not the sole source of America's economic ills.
American labor is actually quite good overall, intelligent, and hard working. We have a solid infrastructure and honest government by international standards. Some of the firms who had moved to Mexico have moved back. Some Mexican firms are moving to Asia, because cheap labor is not the only factor involved in production. Downsizing and outsourcing is also occurring in Europe as merger mania overtakes capitalism.
If this trend continues, at some point the American middle class will simply collapse. There won’t be enough middle class jobs to support the car manufacturers and retailers that provide many of our jobs. You will see deflation. This collapse may happen during your watch.
Your proposal to eliminate tax breaks for firms that outsource jobs will be helpful. You will need to convince the wealthy that investment involves more than buying stocks and mergers, but also means investing in people and facilities. But you also need to take a very hard look at corporate corruption and graft. Enron and Tyco may have been extreme cases, but I doubt ithey are atypical. Anecdotal evidence suggests corruption is more the rule than the exception. Taking it on will make you enemies, and the corporate-controlled media will serve their bidding.
But the alternative is an America of a few super-rich and a lot of desperate poor people. A poor America will be weak, angry and its people will be receptive to demagogues. Weimar Germany was a modern, European state when it went nuts. Don’t assume Americans are any better. We’re people too. Islamic fanatics give the hate-mongers plenty of easy targets.
At the same time, the Bush Administration has ensured that America is mostly hated and feared abroad. All of the good will America has enjoyed from World War II, the Cold War and September 11, Bush cast aside in the name of unilateralism and war against Iraq. His Christian fundamentalism appalls most Europeans, who see it as a form of madness. Your election will do a great deal to stop that, but the damage will not stop. American and European interests do not always coincide. Your challenge is how to remind the American people that co-operation is a two way street and teach them to like it.
Social policy should come easier. It’s fairly easy to stay on the good side
when your opponents are fanatics. Bush and his cronies can say what they wish, but at the end of the day America is pro-choice, supports women’s liberation, likes sex and doesn’t support open hatred toward homosexuals. The Christian Fundamentalist movement has neared its political peak. Soon they will offend the apolitical mainstream sufficiently to provoke a powerful backlash. The Republican party is well aware of this, which is why they nibble around the issue of abortion rather than take it head on, why they verbally attack Howard Stern but do nothing to shut him down directly. They know that if they move openly they will only make a lot of Democrats.
But Republicans cannot delay forever. In a way, your election will be good for them. You will give the GOP someone they can blame for their inability to pass anti-abortion and anti-pornography legislation. They may risk introducing some extreme legislation, knowing you will veto it. They may have to because religious conservatives are becoming impatient with the GOP. They’ve enjoyed four years of a Republican Congress whose top leadership is composed entirely of social conservatives and a born-again President. They are rightly asking, if not now, when? Sooner or later they will abandon the GOP, and perhaps the political system itself. Conservative Cal Thomas has already made arguments suggesting just that.
The corollary to their withdrawal is a probable rise in conservative terrorism. Or a regional theocratic party centered in the Bible Belt.
A big problem you will have is replacing judiciary. Hundreds of seats remain unfilled at the moment. Several Supreme Court Justices are expected to retire. Republicans gave Bill Clinton a very hard time on this one. Arch-conservative Orrin Hatch Odidn admitted the GOP didn't give these people the hearings they deserved. George Bush has nominated a number of right wing extremists primarily to please the Christian Right. However the Republicans and White House tried to paint these people as moderate and responsible, Bush didn't have trouble with his centrist nominees, only with the extremists. Many conservatives are angry that Democrats did to them what
they did to Bill Clinton. Expect bitter, brutal and dishonest attacks on your nominees, and these attacks will distract you. You need to find outstanding charismatic jurists to base your early nominations on.
Keep in mind that conservatives have done a fine job of portraying themselves as moderates when they are not. Spin is the one thing they are good at. The Democratic convention speeches of John Edwards and Barack Obama in particular were effective opening salvos in the battle over real values. We need to concentrate on uniting America. As Edwards so well put it, George Bush needs a divided America, but we do not. We need to talk about universal values Why not teach the values we do agree on? Social conservatives are dominated primarily by fear. The declining economy and international terrorism offer conservatives scapegoats that allow them to avoid actual issues Scapegoating needs to be confronted directly.
The best solution for you is to work directly and openly with the moderate, mainstream churches: Lutherans, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ, moderate Catholics, reform Jews, Methodists. Churches that don't have conniptions every time you say the word 'evolution'. You need to put these people out front on social issues. You want them to talk about their Christian values. That ought to goad the fanatics into attacking yourpeople for not being Christian enough. Such attacks will help isolate social conservatives from the center.
Your Presidency may well rest on what the Congress permits. The Republicans in Congress won't give you a honeymoon. I would assume war from Day One and fight it that way, because whatever language you hear, war is what you will get. The challenge for you will be to tie the Bill Frists and Dick Armeys directly to Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Neither Robertson nor Falwell is capable of behaving like a moderate. Congressional Republicans can often pretend moderation. The challenge for you is to force them to act like themselves in public. If moderate Republicans become frightened for themselves in 2006 you may be able to pry enough from right-wing domination to form a working coalition. If you can get Republicans fighting among themselves in public, you may be able to get something done.
I wish you luck. You have a hard row to hoe. In a way, it might be better if you lost in November, because four more years of George Bush and a Republican Congress will lead to a stunning defeat in 2008. They are simply too ideological to succeed. Four more years of Republican leadership will make 'compassionate conservative" and fair and balanced into terms of abuse.
The political impulse is always to try to be all things to all people. Mr. Kerry, you cannot do that. The simple fact is that you already have enemies, people who will tell any lie that suits their interests. America is divided in very fundamental ways. You must oppose something. My suggestion is that you must oppose the Christian right, and that you answer ideology with plain speech and common sense.