Oct/Nov 2004  •   Salon

Tough Stuff

by Tom Dooley

The following is the author's opinion and does not reflect the views of anybody else associated with this publication. In fact, any similarities between these opinions and those held by other authors is purely coincidence.

It's tough, as George W. Bush pointed out several times during the first presidential debate. Tough to send young soldiers into harm's way, tough to comfort their grieving parents, and tough to build a democracy in a country of over 20 million people who have been savagely brutalized for centuries.

It's also tough to write this essay. Tough to know which inconsistency, untruth, or breach of logic—from either side of the upcoming presidential election—to tackle first. Tough to know how best to address which candidate makes a better choice and why.

Yet, there's no other topic worth discussing when the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.

I can hear the scoffs of people who will say the fate of humanity isn't really hanging in any balance at all, or if so, not in the way I think it is.

They'll say the choice doesn't matter, that Kerry isn't all that different from Bush, except maybe that he's not as good a man, or that he doesn't stay the course. They'll say that the dramas of today are no different from the dramas of yesterday—that humanity has been down this road dozens of times.

They're wrong.

First, any American president impacts this world, tremendously. His policies, his wars, his activist justices and his bully pulpit make him among the most influential human beings alive.

Second, but profoundly important, Kerry is different from Bush, in terms of his ideas, his intellect, and the character he has displayed over the course of his life. Kerry may be maddeningly ineffectual at times at translating his ideas and actions into the spin-driven world of American politics, but he is a markedly better man than Bush. He sees a bigger picture, he makes himself very unpopular to do the right thing, and he avoids the "ends justify the means" mentality driving the Michael Moores and the Karl Roves of American politics.

Third, human existence is completely and profoundly different than it has ever been. In a few minutes, I will press a button and upload this article. Seconds later, someone in Africa, China, or anywhere on the planet will be able to read what I've typed, formulate a response, and email me back. Meanwhile, the technology exists to obliterate the entire city of Los Angeles in the same number of seconds, a capability possibly already be in the hands of terrorists.

My friend Joe believes all presidential candidates are inherently evil. There's a kernel of truth in this idea. Not that I think George Bush or John Kerry are evil in the sense I think terrorists are evil. Egomaniacal, maybe. Ruthless, probably. Ambitious, certainly.

What do we expect? They are political celebrities.

What's frustrating to me is at last count, at least a slim majority of likely voters in this country were still thinking Bush was the lesser of two evils. I can only conclude this is mass misunderstanding. Neither man is evil, but there is only one logical, even essential choice.

Here then, are three reasons why the choice is Kerry:

1. Bush is a divider, not a uniter. He and his administration's dissembling has had an undeniably polarizing effect on the nation, and their influence has expanded to divide the entire globe. Sticking to one's guns and fighting evil is a good idea, but liberals and Muslims and gay people are not the bad guys. They want the same things as good, God-fearing Republicans. What I think we all want, and what we should all demand, is for our leaders to stop misleading us. Kerry began his life in the public eye by eloquently speaking out against the dissembling of the politicians who sent him to Vietnam. No amount of twisting his words can change the fact of Kerry's honesty—from those first days as a political activist to now when he is calling for the current administration to admit its mistakes and be straight with the American people about the Iraq War.

2. George Bush has gone too far in blurring the lines between church and state. The separation of church and state is paramount to the success of this country's government. We should have bumper stickers saying we will give up our separation of church and state when they pry our cold, dead fingers from around it. It's that fundamental, no pun intended. It doesn't mean people can't be religious. I'm not saying religion should be treated like a taboo subject in schools. Faith-based programs can play an important role in our society. We can still have "In God we trust" on our money or say "God bless America" or "One nation under God." We should all believe what we want to believe, and we should be able to do so openly and respectfully. But the separation of church and state, the way the framers of the Constitution envisioned it, should, forgive the term, be sacred. Kerry, a devout Catholic, refuses to let religious beliefs guide his policy decisions (e.g., stem cell research, planned parenthood, gay marriage). The fact that he's able to discern the complexities of these issues further illustrates how superior a choice he is to lead a country made up of people with such divergent beliefs.

3. Bush has no credibility on the world stage, and while he's fond of trying to paint Kerry's criticisms of the war as making him less capable of assuming the title of Commander in Chief, his own dismissal of world opinion and the United Nations all but guarantees he will continue to lead a "coalition of the willing" rather than participate in a global community. This fact impacts both the war in Iraq and the War on Terror, and it holds ramifications for everything from global warming to nuclear non-proliferation to economic and trade issues. Bush talks about the leaders of other countries as though they're alternately a group of frat brothers or a pack of ignorant dogs—in the latter case, that they'll only respond to a president who carries a big stick and speaks in simple, imperative sentences. I don't think that's true, but even if it is, it's pretty damned stupid to announce it, especially when doing so serves no purpose but to foment fear that voting for Kerry means being less safe. The reality is Kerry projects strength without cynicism or fear. That's not just something the rest of the world can appreciate, but something we can use a whole lot more of here at home.

More that ever, I've come to realize the world, with regards to human existence, is much more complicated than I'd previously thought. It appears Bush keeps heading toward the opposite conclusion. But paradoxically, as simple as Bush sees the issues to be, he claims it's so tough. I'm just hoping a vast majority of American voters will reject his cynicism, dissembling, and oversimplifications and come to appreciate the good in John Kerry.


There are a number of people whose political beliefs often clash with mine, and whose arguments ended up informing, shaping, and in some cases inhabiting this editorial. I appreciate their patience and willingness to keep up the discourse.