10.03.2004 | Why Kerry Won

In their sparring match Thursday night, George Bush and John Kerry had a chance to prove to the voters that they had the right vision for leading the United States through the war on terror. Neither candidate was completely specific in laying out their plans, but in polls taken after the debate, most voters gave the edge to Kerry.

The reason: Reality bites.

During the debate the facts were on Kerry’s side – and it showed. While Bush stuck to his usual idealism and rhetoric, Kerry pointed out real examples of where Bush had failed and where he could do better, making Bush’s plaintive attempts at repeating campaign-trail slogans sound out of place. The debate was revealed how Bush’s limited rhetorical style was as ineffective in persuading American voters as it was with world opinion when we needed to invade Iraq.

Bush also had difficulty keeping his patience during the debate, as he isn’t used to having his viewpoint challenged. The president has had fewer press conferences than any of his predecessors, and most of them were carefully planned using questions provided him in advance. The same petulance Bush showed during the debate has in the past been directed at members of the media who asked hard questions.

The voters finally got a chance on Thursday to meet the president that had been leading them all this time from a distance, from behind scripted speeches and media appearances.

The question, though, is how they will react.

Republican political adviser Karl Rove said that in Bush, Americans saw “a plain-spoken man committed to winning the war on terror.” But during the debate, Bush looked almost silly trying to describe the role of commander-in-chief, especially when compared to John Kerry, who came across as an articulate statesman.

To limit Kerry’s momentum following the debate, Bush has gone on the attack, criticizing Kerry’s comments that pre-emptive military action from the United States must pass a “global test” of understanding. He accused Kerry of subjecting the U.S. military to “veto power from countries like France.”

But a “global test” is just another way of saying the world needed to understand what we were doing. Just like American voters on Thursday needed to know more from Bush about Iraq than that “it’s hard work,” the world needs to be able to hear from a president who can articulate the case for war.

If you remember Bush’s speech to the United Nations two weeks ago, its main criticism from media pundits and international observers was its lack of realism. The speech failed to recognize the real problems the United States was facing in its largely unilateral effort to bring stability to Iraq.

The speech and its lukewarm reception serve as a stark reminder that our president is supposed to be more than just our commander-in-chief, but our chief diplomat as well. Not only do we rely on our president to defend our interests, but to communicate them to the world so that we aren’t unnecessarily ostracized for our decisions.

Our allies are called our allies for a reason: we share common interests. If Saddam’s Iraq was a threat to America’s national security and world stability as Bush claimed, the president should have had no problem convincing our allies that this was the case. It worked for the first Gulf War; it worked for the Cuban Missile Crisis; there’s no reason why it can’t work today.

As it stands, Kerry has erased President Bush’s earlier perceived advantage when it comes to foreign policy and national security. He articulated the reasons the president hasn’t done everything he could to make the case for war and secure the nation’s borders, while the president offered no new information.

If Kerry can make the same powerful arguments for his domestic agenda in the remaining two debates, he may well seal his victory come November 2nd – and we will have a new occupant in the White House next year. For this reason, the remaining debates hold equally high stakes for the incumbent and the challenger.

I don't know about you, but I'll be watching.


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10.01.2004 | Register to vote - even if you don't

It's been said many times, many ways, but really: you need to vote in this election. Even if you aren't planning on voting, register anyway just in case you change your mind. The deadline in is approaching fast in states around the country to make sure that you can get your vote counted on Election Day. Click here to get all the forms you need for your state.

If you aren't planning on voting, though, here are just three reasons you might want to consider the impact of this election on your future. This isn't exactly a non-partisan voting guide, but it is some of the most compelling reasons I can think of that you'd want to make sure you make your voice heard in this election.

1. Your Personal Freedom

At issue in this election are some pretty serious civil rights issues. While President Bush supports keeping the entire Patriot Act in place and expanding it, Kerry supports revising some of its more invasive parts.

Right now as it stands the government is allowed to spy on your book selections made at your library and bookstore, and your home can be searched without a warrant or your consent. The president also has the power to jail people, even American citizens, for an indefinite amount of time, without access to courts, lawyers or even family members.

The next president will also get to appoint more judges to the federal court system than any president in recent memory, and these judges have a direct impact on our rights because they interpret the laws that guarantee them. They have lifetime appointments, so their decisions will impact our lives for years to come.

A recent study found that so far, Bush has appointed judges who are more conservative than even Republican presidents of the past. Right now the judiciary is split roughly 50-50 liberal and conservative. The next president will probably tip the balance, especially since at least one Supreme Court justice is expected to retire in the next four years.

2. Your Tax Dollars

You may have heard talk about the federal deficit and think it doesn't apply to you. But it really does. From education funding (think student loans) to repair of our roadways and other domestic priorities, the growing national debt will limit our ability in the future to take care of our needs here at home - and abroad.

As our national debt gets bigger, so does the interest we have to pay on it. Most of our debt comes in the form of government bonds, which are mostly owned by wealthy and foreign investors. Neither candidate has a proposal that will completely pay down the national debt like Clinton almost did before he left office, but the difference in cost between the two candidates' spending proposals differ by $1 trillion: 1,000 billion dollars.

It might surprise you to know that Bush's proposals are more expensive over the long term, because they mean keeping in place the tax cuts for the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, which Kerry favors repealing.

3. The Environment

Everyone breathes air. You like air. Air that's clean, and doesn't make you cough or get sick. Asthma rates among children are higher than ever, and pregnant women have been warned against eating too much fish because of the mercury it contains. Both of these are direct consequences of the pollution streaming from the country's smokestacks.

Yet Bush has gutted environmental regulations, or at least tried. He has intervened on behalf of power companies to loosen requirements for modern, cleaner equipment for coal-fired power plants, and he has tried to change the definitions of regulations to render them useless.

Regarding the Clean Water Act, for example, he tried to make it so that it could only be enforced on large bodies of water, when most pollution comes from smaller tributaries. Kerry, meanwhile, has received the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters.

These are just three reasons you could decide to vote. There are many others, like foreign policy and job creation here at home, that could make even more of a difference on your personal life well after the election.

But here's where you come in: be an informed voter. Watch the upcoming presidential debates, the next one coming October 8th. Check the news headlines every now and then, whether it's CNN, Fox News or Yahoo.

Or better yet, all three - just having an overview of what happened will help you make a more informed decision, if not in this election then in the next one.


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