America's last three elections were dominated by the unlikely combination of Karl Rove and Osama bin Laden. Their string is running out and President George W. Bush is emerging as the king without any clothes. Nov. 7 is the voters' last chance to conduct a referendum on the Bush White House and Congress.
Rove's clever exploitation of the religious right put Bush in office in 2000, for what would likely have been a single term without bin Laden. Bush and Rove exploited bin Laden's attack on Sept. 11, 2001, to increase the Republican majority in Congress in 2002 and launch an unwarranted war in Iraq. Their tactics of fear and religiosity worked one more time, in 2004.
Even barring a last-minute terrorist "event" — God forbid — fear is not driving this election. Bush's six disastrous years are the issue for most Americans and neither Rove nor bin Laden can salvage this presidency. Even if he hangs on by a thread in the Senate, Bush has lost his ability to control his own destiny.
Iraq is an unmitigated disaster, by any common definition a religious civil war. The infrastructure — from bridges to electricity — is in worse shape than before our invasion, and tens of thousands of Iraqis have been killed, more wounded. Much of the country is a no-go zone for Americans, and surveys show overwhelming majorities of Iraqis want us to just go home. More than a million refugees have fled the killing zones.
America is fighting a $320 billion war with 24,000 killed or wounded without the sacrifices made in past wars: no draft to spread the terrible burden of loss of life and limb, no general tax or war-profits tax. To the contrary, we've cut taxes for the wealthy and given Bush's cronies no-bid contracts.
The young warriors who have served so bravely will, along with others their age, pay for this war for generations because the White House and Congress put it on their credit card.
Bush's presidency has had three major accomplishments, all in danger of being lost or reversed.
The most serious danger is Afghanistan, perhaps the only Bush action supported by most Americans and other nations as well (correctly, in my opinion). But we are failing the follow-through, largely because of our rush into Iraq. Reports from Afghanistan are the most discouraging since we routed the Taliban and bin Laden. The country remains an economic basket case, riddled with corruption and degenerating into tribal warfare. The Taliban are back.
Bush's two other accomplishments are his tax cuts and the Medicare drug law, both of which should be cleaned up by a Congress less in thrall to the wealthy and the drug industry.
The tax cuts, disproportionately benefiting the wealthy, are largely responsible for appalling federal deficits and have widened the unconscionable gap between rich and poor.
The complicated Medicare drug law serves primarily as a windfall for the powerful pharmaceutical industry.
The president's policies on domestic affairs, from global warming to energy to forestry, benefit a core constituency of wealthy businesses. His sop to the religious right — the veto of stem-cell research — will delay cures or treatment for millions who suffer from serious disease.
What hurts the most about this presidency, however, is not only the policies cited above, but also the way 9/11 has been cynically exploited to accrue greater power in the executive branch and suspend basic American civil liberties and decency in the name of fighting terror.
Terror is a tactic, not a foe against which a nation properly declares war. By declaring "war" on a tactic, Bush launched a "war" that can never be over, for the tactic of terror has centuries of inglorious tradition.
Yet, under the rubric of a "war," we suspended civil liberties for Americans as well as foreign suspects, and violated the Geneva Conventions on treatment of prisoners. We continue to hold, five years later, men scooped up in Afghanistan and imprisoned incommunicado years after any intelligence value they might have had has run out. Under the same rationale, we averted our eyes from torture in Iraq and Afghanistan, and "black cells" in unnamed countries. "Extraordinary rendition" became a fancy term for torture.
We have earned the scorn of longtime allies and much of the world believes we are a greater threat to peace than Iran or North Korea, both of which have been badly misplayed by this administration.
If the result of this election is a standoff in Washington, it will be worlds better than what we've had the past six years.
Floyd J. McKay, a journalism professor emeritus at Western Washington University, is a regular contributor to Times editorial pages. E-mail him at email@example.com
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