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In 2004, Anybody But Bush

Ted Rall
Ted Rall

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NEW YORK--I don't regret voting for Ralph Nader (news - web sites) in 2000. Given the information we had at the time, Al Gore (news - web sites) looked like a lukewarm version of Bill Clinton (news - web sites): another southern New Democrat into free trade and welfare reform, albeit with a genuine passion for long-ignored environmental issues. I figured George W. Bush for a meaner, stupider version of his dad, another linguistically challenged, harmless centrist with little agenda aside from paying off his contributors with, say, a cut in the capital gains tax.

Boy, was I wrong. To paraphrase National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice, who could have imagined back then that a dozen maniacs would hijack our democracy, bankrupt the treasury and subvert our basic values?

Heretofore I have opposed strategic voting tactics. When citizens vote for candidates because they seem likely to win, it creates a winner-takes-all aggregation of support. That subverts democracy's underlying assumption: that people vote for the man or woman they'd most like to see win. At its worst, pick-the-winner voting elevates any candidate lucky enough to enjoy an early jump in the polls to premature, and possibly undeserved victory. Let the electorate vote for politicians whose ideas they like best and let the chads hang where they may.

This year is different.

Even if his only crime had been the despicable way he seized power, using a rogue Supreme Court to have himself appointed to office, Bush would be the most poisonous leader in U.S. history. He treasonously undermined the constitutional separation of powers, savaged the right of the states to conduct elections, and brutalized faith in the principle that, rich or poor, black or white, every vote counts.

Only after 9/11, however, did Bush begin acting like a dictator: jailing innocent people solely because they were Muslim, authorizing the FBI (news - web sites) and CIA (news - web sites) to spy on political opponents, converting Guantánamo Bay into a concentration camp for 12-year-old prisoners seized in Afghanistan (news - web sites). Thanks to tax cuts diabolically devised to minimize the possibility of economic stimulus, a ten-year $4 trillion surplus has become a $6 trillion deficit. Now he has us stuck in a unilateral, losing war in Iraq (news - web sites), a vicious quagmire that has given us neither preemption from WMDs nor cheap oil--just $500 billion wasted along with 350 dead soldiers and more than a thousand who will never walk again. Bush is nothing like his dad, except in his casual disregard for the problems of the unemployed.

America is under attack, and Bush is enemy number one.

When you're at war for your future, you can no longer enjoy the luxury of picking the ideal candidate or the perfect party. Under normal circumstances, third parties like the Greens and Libertarians deserve the support of like-minded voters. But, the fact is, only the Democratic Party can defeat Bush next year. Democratic contenders like Dennis Kucinich (news - web sites), Carol Moseley Braun and Al Sharpton have brought common sense, progressive perspectives on the war in Iraq and what we should expect from government into the conversation, but they suffer from, respectively, lack of money and lack of melanin. They won't win the Democratic nomination.

I'm a charter member of the 2004 ABB (Anybody But Bush) society. Whether the nominee turns out to be a right-winger (Clark, Lieberman) or a colorless bore (Edwards, Kerry, Gephardt), I'll vote for him over Bush, in the same spirit with which the late Afghan warlord Ahmed Shah Massoud reportedly toasted a meeting of anti-Soviet factions during the '80s occupation: "First we kill the Russians. Then we kill each other." But I have a preferance:

Howard Dean (news - web sites) has the best chance to beat Bush.

Brilliant, aggressive and moneyed (that's Dean Witter to you, pal), Dr. Dean has a corner on the single most important issue to Americans: health care. His politics are surprisingly centrist, in both the refreshing sense (he's pro-Second Amendment and he came out for class-, rather than race-based affirmative action) and in the disappointing, Clintonian sense (he opposed invading Iraq, but not Afghanistan). He's got traditional Democratic constituents (he just stole the biggest AFL-CIO union's endorsement away from Gephardt) and fresh new ones (twentysomething bloggers have mailed him $25 million in crisp twenties).

Dean's got lots more going for him, not the least of which is running as an insurgent small-state governor disliked by his own party's top leaders (the ex-governor thing casts him as even more of an outsider). Polls show Dean leading his nearest rival, John Kerry (news - web sites), 33 percent to 19 percent in the crucial New Hampshire primary. Coming out early and hard against the war in Iraq wins him major props with the liberal base and makes him seem ahead-of-the-curve to everyone else. Most importantly, he's his own man. "He doesn't really owe his current standing to any of them, not to labor, not to minority groups, not environmental organizations, so he'll have more leeway as a nominee to follow his own course," says Darrel West, a political science professor at Cornell.

But the rubber would really tear up the road at the presidential debates, where Dean's dry, sardonic Long Island wit would devastate the hapless Bush--and charm television viewers. His natural pugnacity could help Dems deal more aggressively than usual with the nasty attack ads they can expect in the campaign ahead. Frankly, the other Democratic contenders don't have what it takes to stand up to Karl Rove's brutal war machine.

Maybe it's premature to endorse Gov. Dean. But right now, given the information we have available, he's the preferred candidate of us Anybody But Bushies.

(Ted Rall is the author of the graphic travelogue "To Afghanistan and Back," an award-winning recounting of his experiences covering the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. It is now available in a revised and updated paperback edition containing new material. Ordering information is available at amazon.com.)


last updated: 11.22.2003