Saturday, October 30, 2004

Here’s A Surprise

Petoskey, Michigan, is the most Republican town I’ve ever lived in. Located in tip of the mitten of Michigan’s lower peninsula and 300 miles north of Detriot, it’s a summer resort community for the rich and powerful. In winter it draws skiers from all over the Midwest to the Boyne Country resorts. I learned to ski at Boyne Mountain; our family would take a week of Christmas vacation and drive up to Petoskey and stay at the Hotel Perry. It’s a typical Midwestern small town in its attitudes about family values and government.

In 1990 I moved there with my partner Allen to work for my dad’s company as the office manager, and Allen got a job at the hotel we used to stay in, now known as Stafford’s Perry Hotel, as a clerk. We rented a little house and settled in for a nice quiet life in a small conservative town. And that’s what it was. I would go to Chamber of Commerce events and listen to the rants about big government interference with small business, and when the 1992 election came around I seemed to be the only person in town who wanted Bill Clinton for President. (It took a while, but Allen and I met one or two progressives, and we even found out that there is a pretty sizeable gay community, too – mostly well-off retirees from downstate.) The local paper, the Petoskey News-Review, was reliably Republican; when the 1994 midterm elections came along with the Contract for America they could hardly contain their glee.

We moved from Petoskey to Albuquerque in 1995, so I missed out on what the town and the PNR thought of the Clinton scandals, but I kept in touch with friends back there who said it was the predictable reaction – lots of tut-tutting and finger-wagging. So I had a pretty good idea of who the PNR would endorse in the current presidential election.

Boy, was I wrong.

This year’s election for president offers voters a choice, and our choice is U.S. Senator John Kerry with some mixed feelings and reservations.

It is an endorsement difficult to make, in part because candidate Kerry failed early on to provide a coherent view of who he was, what he stood for, where he’d lead us.

He also does not possess a demonstrated track record of leadership.

After that stumbling in the early part of the campaign, he has pulled together a cohesive view of America that we find more compelling than President George Bush’s skewed view that everything is fine, getting better and will be better if he’s re-elected for four more years.

President Bush did not enter the White House four years ago with a mandate. Indeed, he lost the popular vote and only a Supreme Court decision installed him in office.

“Compassionate conservative” was his watchword during that campaign, an idea that went by the wayside when he entered office.

We supported Bush’s candidacy in 2000, based on promises of lower taxes and fewer government regulations. We felt his foreign policy and governmental experience limitations would be offset with the long-serving Dick Cheney as vice president and Colin Powell as Secretary of State.

What have we gotten from our support?

A president that lowered taxes and increased spending to the point we posted the largest deficit in history this fiscal year, more than $400 billion. He couples that with an insistence that more cuts are needed, as the nation desperately needs additional funds to back our military forces worldwide.

Lowered government regulation to be sure, but disastrous legislation and executive orders where the environment was concerned. Just think of the Healthy Forest Initiative (cut the trees to preserve the forest) or the Clear Skies initiative that many felt was an invitation to pollute, especially by the energy industries. Did we mention those same oil and gas industries were picked by Cheney to help write the nation’s energy policy?

Then there’s the misstep on the invasion of Iraq.

Bush and his inner circle pushed through the invasion of Iraq on bad intelligence that was hyped to the American public as fact. Weapons of mass destruction? Not there. Ties to al-Qaida? Haven’t found them.

And while many feel that we’re safer now than we were when Saddam Hussein was in power, and we should fight terrorism there rather than here, the fact is our invasion and efforts since are filling the ranks of terrorism. Terrorists have flocked to Iraq to fight the “great Satan” – that’s us – and others have joined the ranks of those terrorists.

And if you don’t think terrorists won’t come here to wreak havoc on our shores, think again. Terror of the al-Qaida sort isn’t stopped because the U.S. has invaded Iraq. Saddam Hussein and Iraq were never a credible threat in any way to the United States and our way of life – but the growing anger in the Arab and Muslim world may very well be so in the future.

President Bush and his advisers lacked a plan for the aftermath of the invasion. “Mission accomplished” should have given way to “what next for this mission,” but there is one thing this president isn’t, and that’s introspective.

What his supporters view as “stay the course” and “hanging tough” is in reality an inability to take opposing views and better information and come up with changes that would be good for the country.

It is, in fact, this “my way or the highway” attitude that’s most unsettling about President Bush. He trucks no opposition in his views by those surrounding him, and outside that rarefied circle there’s a pandering to the extreme right of the party where moderates are shunned and taunted.

As former Michigan Gov. William Milliken put it, as he came out in support of John Kerry:

“My Republican Party is the party of Gerald R. Ford, Michigan’s only president, who reached across partisan lines to become a unifying force during a time of great turmoil in our nation’s history. This president has pursued policies pandering to the extreme right wing across a wide variety of issues and has exacerbated the polarization and the strident, uncivil tone of much of what passes for political discourse in this country today.

“Women’s rights, civil liberties, the separation of church and state, the funding of family planning efforts worldwide – all have suffered grievously under this president and his administration.”

It is, in short, the sort of politics not where men and women of good faith and intelligence may disagree, but where if you disagree with the Bush Administration you are destroyed, labeled a traitor, unpatriotic, un-American.

Where did the America go where we can stand up and say, Mr. President, you’re not doing a good job here? That America has been co-opted by Mr. Bush’s handlers, who view nothing short of total fealty to the Bush vision as an invitation to destroy.

So what does Mr. Kerry bring to the table?

First, a capacity and willingness to look for bipartisanship in government. He brings energy and intelligence to the table.

He has a record of support of civil rights and a woman’s right to choose. He understands the concept of separation of church and state, an understanding that President Bush is lacking.

He brings a long tenure of service to his constituents and the country. We also believe he would be much more adept than President Bush on the world stage, if for no other reason than he’s willing to hear what other world leaders have to say. Alas, the current inhabitant of the White House doesn’t appear to care what the world thinks.

We don’t subscribe to his view that bigger government will solve the nation’s ills, but feel he has a better handle on the issues that affect the average American – keeping their job, getting health care, hoping to have Social Security secure upon retirement.

We believe he will look for solutions to those problems, rather than offering more tax cuts that we doubt will ever produce the jobs President Bush promised.

Is John Kerry the perfect candidate? No, he’s not. We have not found a credible leadership record during his 20-year tenure in the U.S. Senate, and unlike his opponent, he has not had to be in charge at either the national or state level of government.

It’s a lot different to be part of a collective voice with 99 others than to have to be on top and offer one voice leading the charge.

But the misguided actions of the current resident of the White House in Iraq, his deaf ear when it comes to those who question his administration and his pandering to the worst parts of his party cost him the endorsement we were willing to give four years ago.

When you vote Tuesday, Nov. 2, we recommend you cast your ballot for John Kerry for that top post.

Okay, so it’s not a ringing endorsement. But considering the location and the readership of the paper, it’s enough of a shock that it may indicate that northern Michigan, long a Republican stronghold, may be shifting. And it’s things like this that make you think that perhaps those polls may not be as accurate as they – and we – think they are.

Update: I dropped a note to the editor of the PNR in order to be at least one voice in support of their endorsement. (I also know at least one other person who will probably write in as well…won’t you, John?)

To The Editor:

I’m impressed that the Petoskey News-Review would endorse Senator John Kerry for President. In the short time I lived in Petoskey, I thought that the paper reflected the conservative views of the majority of the area’s residents, and while I sometimes disagreed with that point of view, I respected the paper’s common sense approach to life and times in Northern Michigan. Therefore the endorsement of Senator Kerry – albeit with reservations – speaks to the true conservative values that the paper has endorsed in contrast to the radical and arrogant temper of Mr. Bush and his minions. I congratulate you.

I also know you will get a torrent of letters from readers who will disagree with you. I hope they cherish their right to protest your message and that they realize that it is truly what makes America great and that another four years of Mr. Bush’s administration could undermine our rights and safety of the America we love.

Thank you for your patriotism…and your bravery.