Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Bush's Deeds, Kerry's Words



September 6, 2004

The political conventions are over and the campaign for the presidency now officially begins.

To make that statement, however, is only to transmit an echo from the past. The words ring hollow today. The conventions are entertainment productions, not serious political events. They are to politics what the morning television "news" programs are to news. And how can we talk of Labor Day as the official beginning of the campaign when by now the two candidates have already spent about $200 million?

The loose use of words and the manufacture of video imagery substitute for quality civic education and genuine political debate. One wonders, what kind of world have we come to inhabit where so much fluff can hide so much reality? In a country where democracy is supposed to mean a great deal but where only half the eligible voters will vote and most voters will base their judgments on video images and sound-byte slogans, does citizenship mean very much at all?

Those who do take government and citizenship seriously may want to consider the following when evaluating George W. Bush and John F. Kerry.

Bush has been president for four years. Therefore, weigh his deeds above all, and take his words into account only to see how adequately they square with what he has done. Kerry has not been president. Weigh his words above all and ask whether they add up to a convincing agenda and argument for a better presidency.

Judging by last week's Republican National Conventertainment, the president is counting on swing voters to base their vote on the positive image he and his handlers create for himself and on the negative image they create of Kerry. The president will repeat again and again from now until November 2 that since 9/11 he has made the country stronger and safer and that the economy is now on an upswing to steady growth. But this is the president whose deeds have generated greater anti-Americanism throughout the world than ever before; whose military budget has reached new heights while stretching the military to its limits; and whose own top officials say that we are in as great, if not greater, a danger of terrorist attacks than we were on 9/11. On the economic front, there is not yet convincing evidence that stable, steady growth is back, but there is plenty of evidence that budget-busting expenditures coupled with massive tax cuts over the last four years may have created more problems than they have solved. And all of this during a time when the Republicans have also controlled Congress as well as the White House.

Do you want to know what kind of president George Bush will be during the next four years? Look at his record; read reality; and then ask how well his words square with that record and reality.

For Senator Kerry one should take a different approach. He has no presidential deeds to evaluate. Listen carefully to his words, his promises, his proposals. If the promises remain general and vague; if the tax-and-spending proposals don't quite add up; if the security and foreign affairs strategies don't seem likely to yield more safety and international justice over the next decade; if he relies as much on Bush-bashing as Bush relies on Kerry-bashing, then assume that Kerry will be that kind of president. At a time when most Americans, according to polls, want a change and are uncertain about President Bush, Kerry has a huge opportunity to lay out a convincing, detailed, alternative course for domestic and foreign affairs. If he can't do that when he bears no presidential responsibility, then that's a good indication of the kind of president he will be.

It's Labor Day, so get to work—the hard work of being a citizen in an uncivic era. Ignore the television ads, the sound bytes, and the slogans. Look behind the media candidates to evaluate reality.

—James W. Skillen,  President
    Center for Public Justice


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”