October 31, 2004

Enblogment

It should come as no surprise that this blog supports John Kerry.

At this late date, pretty much everything worth saying about either candidate has been said already. Writing an enblogment now just gives me the chance to emphasize those reasons why I think we should give George W. Bush the heave-ho. Yes, my vote for Kerry is also very much an emphatic vote against Bush. In my lifetime, there's never been a worse President. John Kerry was not my preferred candidate for the Democratic nomination, but he has demonstrated that he will be a far more competent, creative, and resourceful President than George W. Bush. We should give him the chance.

This administration can be faulted for many things, but the most damning for me has been its obsession with secrecy. Well before the attacks of September 11, George W. Bush made several decisions that limited the public's access to important information concerning the workings of the government, and that demonstrated Bush's disdain for the concept of public accountability. Bush delayed releasing former president Reagan's papers three times after they became available to the public in January of 2000 under the Presidential Records Act. On November 11, 2001, Bush signed an executive order allowing former Presidents to hide their executive papers indefinitely. Bush cited "security concerns," but national security documents were already protected from disclosure; Bush's order was simply an attempt to keep secret what should be public knowledge in a well-functioning democracy.

A similar preference for secrecy and privilege over open government is evident in the Bush administration's refusal to reveal the names of Vice President Cheney's energy task force. My criticism of this decision is not with its legal grounds--as a political decision it reveals a commitment to using every means available to shield the governing process from the eyes of the public. As a matter of politics, if the President chooses to use every available legal weapon to shield the workings of his administration from me, I'm going to express my displeasure with his decision at the ballot box.

With plenty of evidence that Bush was unwilling to trust the American people before September 11, it's harder for the American public to trust Bush after the attacks. Bush tells us that the Patriot Act's most onerous provisions, including secret searches of library and medical records, are being used judiciously. Can we trust him? Bush tells us that there are no human rights abuses going on in the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. Can we trust him? Since Bush won't allow even minimal public scrutiny (and only permits minimal judicial scrutiny) of either operation, our judgments of both will have to depend entirely upon trust.

Ultimately, trust is a very personal thing. Some people will choose to trust that Bush is doing the right thing--or at least that he isn't doing anything too evil. For several reasons, I cannot will myself to trust George W. Bush.

The most important of these reasons is Bush's campaign to convince the American people of the necessity of the war in Iraq. I'm not concerned here with whether the invasion was or was not justified. I recognize that our President can and should act to protect the nation against imminent threats, and I recognize that there will rarely be "slam dunk" intelligence that any threat is 100% certain. But George W. Bush actively misled the American people about the certainty of the Iraq threat. As the Senate committee investigating pre-war intelligence has found, the intelligence community doubted that Iraq represented an imminent threat. But Bush told the American people that the threat was imminent, without a doubt.

Even if this can't be characterized as a "lie," it is at minimum an aggressive "spin" of the available intelligence. Bush could have chosen a different course; he could have acknowledged that nothing was certain but that he nevertheless believed the risks were too great to ignore. He could have taken responsibility for his judgment call in Iraq by acknowledging that it was just that: a judgment call. But Bush didn't just defend his judgment; he backed it up with questionable evidence that Bush characterized as certain when it wasn't.

Reports from people like former antiterrorism czar Richard Clarke suggest that Bush and his cronies may have set their sights on Iraq first and then tried to drum up evidence of a connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. This "connection" was highlighted by the Bush administration as another reason for the invasion, but it now appears to have been even more tenuous than any evidence of Iraq's nonexistent WMDs. How much weight should we give to Clarke's account? That, too, depends on how much you're willing to trust George W. Bush. Trusting Bush would entail not only disbelieving Clarke, but also disbelieving much of what the Senate committee's report on pre-war Iraq intelligence revealed about the evidence of an Iraq-al Qaeda link. For myself, I think Clarke is far more credible than George W. Bush. If the Senate committee chooses to release "phase II" of its report analyzing the role of the Bush administration in pressuring the intelligence community to produce reports supportive of its Iraq stance, Bush's credibility might fall even farther. By then, though, I hope that Bush will no longer be the President.

There have been many other episodes of this administration's unwarranted obsession with secrecy, both momentous and petty. John Ashcroft's directive that all Freedom of Information Act requests be resisted to the full extent of the law, and Thomas Scully's ordering Medicare chief actuary Richard Foster to withhold cost estimates of a Medicare drug benefit from Congress, are just two episodes that leap to mind.

Attempts to limit the public's voice as well as its information are also characteristic of this administration. The Energy Task Force is perhaps the best example from early in Bush's term; limiting regulatory rule appeal rights to hydroelectric dam owners while excluding the public is a good recent example.

For these reasons as well as many others, I support John Kerry for President. He gives every indication of respecting open government more than George W. Bush.

Posted by Carey at October 31, 2004 09:47 PM
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