What if Kerry had won: A message from the world of wishful thinking
Carlton M. Caves
2004 November 22

I hoped for a Kerry victory and expected it enough to prepare this commentary in advance of the election. I would have posted it on November 3 had Kerry won and post it now to complete the record.

One of my PhD students hosted an election-night vigil last night. As the results became clear early this morning, the vigil became the party we had all hoped for. We danced in the streets, marching around the neighborhood near the University of New Mexico, shouting "No more years!"

We were right to celebrate because---dare I say it---the real axis of evil was sent packing. This is an accomplishment of the first magnitude. The worst President in my lifetime---reckless, uninformed, incompetent, secretive, and thoroughly mendacious---has been retired to Crawford, Texas. Let's hope he rots there.

A manipulative and even more secretive and duplicitous Vice President, who promoted the manipulation of intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq and who oversaw the process that led to the new kind of "military justice" that has stained America's reputation, has been sent packing to Wyoming. Though you don't rot in Jackson Hole, let's hope he finds plenty of opportunity there for cultivating his penchant for secrecy and disappears from public life as effectively as he often did as Vice President.

A witless and ineffectual national security advisor, who seemed to see her role as acting as a cheerleader for her boss's delusions, can resume her academic career. Woe to the university that attracts her.

A thoroughly odious Secretary of Defense, who assembled the largest group of neocons in Washington and who, joined at the hip to the Vice President, did the most damage to American interests of any member of the gang, can retire to a quiet life at his home in northern New Mexico. Getting him out of Washington is worth putting up with him as a neighbor.

A completely unsuitable Attorney General, who forgot his duty to protect constitutional liberties in an ineffective, but dangerous rush to put terrorists behind bars, can retire to being a deacon in his local church in Missouri.

Then there's the one sad case. A good man, but an ineffectual Secretary of State, who made the awful decision to serve the neocons at the cost of destroying his own credibility, is headed home to Virginia. He should have resigned and exposed the neocons' game, instead of letting them use his credibility as a substitute for their own.

This contemptible crew did more in four years to destroy the reputation and credibility of the United States than one would have thought possible in a lifetime. Who will ever believe us when we say there is an imminent threat, when the Bush gang trashed our credibility on that score? Who will ever believe that we have any intention of promoting democracy around the world when the Bush gang has done such an incompetent job in Iraq? Who will ever believe American claims of respect for human rights after what has happened at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, something that was promoted from the highest levels of the Bush administration, but for which they take credit in Guantanamo and no blame in Abu Ghraib? Who will ever believe our protestations of pure intentions when the Bush gang wanted to leave behind major permanent military installations in Iraq and rewrote Iraq's laws to be consistent with a neocon's ideas of the good society? Their actions abroad have been marked by arrogance, incompetence, and irresponsibility. With a new administration, we can start to rebuild our reputation and credibility, but it will take years to repair the damage done by the Bush gang.

This recitation of failure abroad ignores entirely the domestic record, with its catastrophic fiscal irresponsibility, contempt for the environment, and duplicity on education reform. On every issue the Bush gang lies and distorts to cover up its true intentions and dismal record.

So, yes, we should celebrate. Four more years of the Bush gang would likely have set our country irreversibly on the wrong path or, at best, would have made such a mess of things that it would require decades to clean up. The celebration is, oh, so sweet---sweet in the way of watching the Red Sox beat the Evil Empire---but it is far more than just sweet. At the very least, we will have the opportunity to draw back the veil of secrecy that hides the Bush administration's operations and determine what they've really been doing for the last four years. That by itself is justification for celebration. Far more important, we have a chance to halt and maybe even turn around our country's slide toward the Bush precipice. In the sober light of dawn on November 3, however, with the initial celebration only just over, one's chief impression is how difficult it will be to get things righted. The Bush gang has done its best to run our country into the ground, and they've created an utterly poisonous situation in Iraq. On January 20, the new President Kerry will own it all. It's not an inviting prospect.

The first cautionary sign is that the election was close. Given this administration's demonstrable record of wrong choices, utter incompetence, failure in everything they touch, and duplicity in talking about all of it, the election should have been an overwhelming repudiation of the Bush gang, with Kerry winning in a landslide and the Republicans swept out of control in the Congress and invited to reconstruct their party along less radical lines. But that didn't happen. Many of our fellow citizens bought the Administration's lies and scare tactics. This is both very disappointing and a sign of serious difficulties ahead.

It's nice to dream that these guys we just kicked out really will retire and butt out of the national debate, at least for a while, but dreams don't get you very far. The Bush gang, the GOP majority in Congress, and their allies in the right-wing media and think tanks---all the right-wing attack dogs---will be sniping at the new President Kerry five minutes after he takes office, conveniently forgetting that they made the mess that his administration must deal with. And it is a real mess. It will take at least four years even to start digging out of the hole the Bush gang has put us in.

What needs to be done? It will be painfully hard work to get this country back on the right path. Much of that work will have to be done by those in government, who can work to change the policies put in place by the Bush gang, but much of the effort must be directed at changing the atmosphere for public discussion in this country, so that reasonable discussion can actually occur. That means somehow reducing the ability of the right-wing think tanks and media to control the discussion, and that will require the effort of people both in and outside of government. For some ideas in this regard, see my next commentary.

That next commentary changed its character in view of the doleful results of the election.

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