The First 2004 Presidential Debates
This is good ol' PA once again, and you know, it's time for a change. For years we've been stuck in the American political system without alternatives - a system run by two parties that are becoming more and more similar every day. In the end, we find each election year rife with political candidates that we don't really like, and we're forced to choose the "lesser of two evils". Libertarians ask the fundamental question: why vote for evil when you have good guys on the sidelines?
The United States Libertarian Party is the third largest political party in America today. The last few presidential elections we had full 50-state ballot access, this year we have 48 states (losing two on technicalities that are in dispute). It's a fact that for years now the LP has had the access to the electoral college necessary to win an election, not only this year, but during the last 4 presidential elections. The party's platform is broad-ranging and appeals to many Americans - to Liberals for it's stances on civil liberties, and Conservatives for it's stances on the free market. Why no support?
Well, for one, Democrats and Republicans don't want to see the LP come to any real political power. They've made roadblocks - from a biased Debate Commission to Campaign Finance Laws which financially cripple our party - to prevent that from happening. While this debate raged between Bush & Kerry, our Libertarian candidate was forced to settle with debating rival third party candidate David Cobb. A campaign mistake, we at 2016 believe, but we won't lay blame on Badnarik for settling for it: he is a hard working man who deserves your vote.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Libertarianism, you'll find Campaign 2016 is a great place to come learn more about our ideas. Today's entry is a good example. The first national Presidential debates, with Badnarik or without him, is a great platform to look at Libertarian ideas. So join me as we do a literary breakdown of the statements of the two major candidates during the first Sept. 30th presidential debate.
My very first observation comes from the opening words of Jim Lehrer, the host of tonight's debate, "These debates are sponsored by the Commission on Presidential Debates". For those of you who don't know, the Commission on Presidential Debates is a syndicate of big money joint Democrat/Republican interests, headed by former chairmen of both the Democratic/Republican parties, who finance every major national debate with the sponsorship of major corporations. Let's learn more about this organization before we get too far into the actual debate, as we might learn exactly how they choose their candidates...
B. 2004 Nonpartisan Selection Criteria
The CPD's nonpartisan criteria for selecting candidates to participate in its 2004 general election presidential debates are:
1. Evidence of Constitutional Eligibility
The CPD's first criterion requires satisfaction of the eligibility requirements of Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution. The requirements are satisfied if the candidate:
a. is at least 35 years of age;
b. is a Natural Born Citizen of the United States and a resident of the United States for fourteen years; and
c. is otherwise eligible under the Constitution.
2. Evidence of Ballot Access
The CPD's second criterion requires that the candidate qualify to have his/her name appear on enough state ballots to have at least a mathematical chance of securing an Electoral College majority in the 2004 general election. Under the Constitution, the candidate who receives a majority of votes in the Electoral College, at least 270 votes, is elected President regardless of the popular vote.
3. Indicators of Electoral Support
The CPD's third criterion requires that the candidate have a level of support of at least 15% (fifteen percent) of the national electorate as determined by five selected national public opinion polling organizations, using the average of those organizations' most recent publicly reported results at the time of the determination.
All candidates obviously meet criterion #1, but very few meet criterion #2. Each state decides what is required for their ballot access, and already these standards are fairly high. The amount of petition gathering one must conduct is out of the scope of just anybody. The Democrats and Republicans of course, being established political interests, get many free passes in this system essentially securing their spots ahead of time. The only people this year to make it past qualification #2 are the following pairs of candidates:
Republican Party: George W. Bush/Dick Cheney
Democrat Party: John Kerry/John Edwards
Libertarian Party: Michael Badnarik/David Campagna
Reform Party (Independent): Ralph Nader/Peter Camejo
Green Party: David Cobb/Patricia LaMarche
Constitution Party: Michael Peroutka/Chuck Baldwin (could be placed in dispute)
Of those six parties, none but the Democrats and Republicans will ever carry into #3. Why? The Federal government contributes to the campaigns of the Democrat/Republican parties, it puts donation caps on the third parties, and the major media outlets get paid big money to air Democrat/Republican exclusive debates - which means there is big money in ignoring the legitimacy of other viewpoints. For those of us who want to see diversity of political opinion, to invite some of these additional 4 party candidates in at least one venue to meet the two major parties is vital, otherwise there will be no contrast between the different party leaders. Some method needs to allow the other leading contenders - who could win - to be put up against the major party leaders. The general public tends not to dig any deeper than the national news networks for political opinions. There are indeed open independent debates which invite the major parties, but Democrats and Republicans have advised their candidates to ignore them, making them largely meaningless. All candidates who have ballot access granting them the opportunity to win the election should be taken seriously, especially in a nation that complains about how every politician is the "same old-same old".
There are people out there to change things, but they have been largely unsuccessful. The Campaign 2016 recommendation is that the CPD, in political fairness to other serious competitors who otherwise would have a chance to win the election, should open at least one national debate every election year to a full roster of second-step qualifiers, and making appearances by major party candidates mandatory if they seek the benefits of future debates. In this regard America would be capable of coming to better decisions about political candidates.
Let's get back to the matter at hand though, the actual debates.
The umbrella topic is foreign policy and homeland security. Libertarians differ with the major party candidates and I hope to illustrate where and why here during this debate. Immediately I come upon a point of comment during Kerry's first question, answering if he can do a better job than Bush in preventing another 9/11 style terrorist attack.
Kerry's comment about the "veto" is a direct attack upon criticisms that he cowtows to the United Nations. Kerry describes himself as an "internationalist", who seeks full international approval of action before committing troops. Unfortunately strengthened relationships with the United Nations is a military weak point, and does allow other nations - like France - to "veto" our actions. We can lead the U.N. but not as a sovereign nation, as national sovereignty is given up when our troops are handed to the discretion of third parties. Let's see how Bush rebuts this point.
Bush assures us that the U.S. having a direct role has brought about results. A small but exceptionally dangerous terrorist network has been hit hard, a credit to Bush, however it's enigmatic and persuasive leader - Osama Bin Laden - remains at large. Al Qaeda recruitment is at an all-time high, and it still remains a danger over 3 years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The gung-ho attitude of the president has not made the country safer, a point Libertarians would make quite easily simply by noting the fact that Osama could tomorrow command the remnants of his terrorist groups with backings of American enemies and succeed in a real terrorist attack.
Kerry promises to diversify our troops with international (dis)interests, but somehow promises he won't let them "veto" us, assuring us that at the U.N. we are still in the driver's seat, not the whole of Europe. Bush notes the American military's success and then stumbles to hide it's most obvious failure by diverting the topic of Osama to discuss Iraq. Let's move to the next question please:
Bush: No, I don't believe it's going to happen. I believe I'm going to win, because the American people know I know how to lead. I've shown the American people I know how to lead. [...] We have a duty to defeat this enemy. We have a duty to protect our children and grandchildren. The best way to defeat them is to never waver, to be strong, to use every asset at our disposal, is to constantly stay on the offensive and, at the same time, spread liberty. [...] Ten million citizens have registered to vote. It's a phenomenal statistic. They're given a chance to be free, and they will show up at the polls. Forty-one percent of those 10 million are women.
Bush tries to legitimize his efforts by discussing his success in helping restore a semblance of democracy to Afghanistan. Many who criticize his war in Iraq do not criticize his war in Afghanistan, as the Afghanistan Taliban were known harborers of Al Qaeda, while the Iraqi Hussein regime were not know supporters. Let's see what Kerry's retort to Bush's answer was...
Kerry makes a valid point in response: the Iraq action was justified to Congress due to the issue of WMD's, and none were found, and no links (that were promised) between 9/11 and the Iraq regime were found. The War on Iraq was a mistake. Libertarians don't validate the acts of Kerry, Congress or the President to validate any war on the basis of WMD's, as many hostile anti-U.S. nations have had WMD's and that was no qualification to pre-emptively strike, but Libertarians do agree that this War on Iraq was a mistake.
Kerry misses on this point, as his earlier campaign statements were that he wanted the United Nations to take more of a head in the anti-terrorism efforts. Kerry, being in Bush's shoes, would not have used American forces to go find Osama, and has every stated intention of "outsourcing" the job to the U.N. international peacekeepers. This trivializes his objections here.
Kerry: Well, where do you want me to begin? First of all, he made the misjudgment of saying to America that he was going to build a true alliance, that he would exhaust the remedies of the United Nations and go through the inspections.
I agree that it was a misjudgment to tell Americans that we were going to wait for United Nations inspections, but I lend little credence to United Nations inspections. Kerry, self-professed "internationalist", would've waited for inspection after inspection even if the nation had clear malicious intent. While it's not clear that Iraq had malicious intent or was prepared to act, Bush wasn't at fault for his lack of inclusion of the U.N. in the matter - although Kerry, who values the international authority more than U.S. authority, clearly would. This is a misjudgment I believe on Kerry's part, and a point of worthy criticism.
$200 Billion is a huge expense, but look at Kerry's immediate plans for that money - government programs, all part of paid social welfare. He wouldn't reinvest that $200 Billion into knocking down taxes or the national debt, which looms over us. He also doesn't give Bush credit for Bush's vast expansion of his favored programs. The Federal budget this year is $2.3 Trillion, a vast majority of which is not the $200 Billion or other few hundred Billion for the military, instead, it is spent in regulatory agencies, health care programs, prescription drugs and schools - all programs Kerry obviously wants expanded. $200 Billion, or less than 1/10th of our Federal budget, was spent in wartime actions - a complaint Kerry clearly holds only because he wanted that $200 Billion for his own programs.
For Libertarians, who value smaller government, this notion is as revealing as it is offensive.
It is true that intelligence on Iraq detailed it as a threat, although it's an exaggeration to say it was an imminent threat to the United States. That the world is better off without Hussein is obvious - no Libertarian will disagree with the idea that an overthrown dictator is better out of the seat of power, whatever the reason, which is one of the reasons why the War in Iraq has not been amongst the very worst wars in American History (this of course does not approve or condone the actions leading to it).
Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming. Why should he? He had 16 other resolutions and nothing took place. As a matter of fact, my opponent talks about inspectors. The facts are that he was systematically deceiving the inspectors. That wasn't going to work. That's kind of a pre-September 10th mentality, the hope that somehow resolutions and failed inspections would make this world a more peaceful place.
It's true that relying on inspections hasn't worked, although Libertarians would challenge the entire reliance any sovereign body has on the United Nations to get anything done. This false hope is one Kerry still clings to, to his fault. However, Bush's rationalization for the War in Iraq still doesn't work. There is no guarantee that this action won't stir more violence here and it definitely has created more violence in the Middle East.
Kerry and Bush trade some back and forth on the subject of the Iraq War, and whether it was in good judgment. Kerry makes the valid point that it was a mistake of judgment to take the focus off Osama Bin Laden, then he sequentially blames Bush for bad management of safety and rushing off to war. Bush retorts that Kerry is inconsistent on the platform to action: that Kerry supported the action to go to Iraq, but is now saying "wrong war, wrong place, wrong time". Both criticisms deserve a basis of merit as they reveal distinguishing flaws of both candidates.
Kerry then goes on a diatribe about how Bush doesn't do enough for domestic security, by criticizing him for not making the United States a complete police-state. Kerry seriously suggests searching every container and every parcel ever flown or carried over borders. He also criticizes the Bush tax cuts for giving breaks to the rich while we suffer with security issues at home, just after saying wartime spending should've been better spent on social programs - not defense measures. Bush remains steadfast behind the tax cuts and criticizes Kerry for ignoring his spending boosts which Kerry just previously criticized. Either way, both candidates agree spending more is the solution, and neither are prepared to scale back military or domestic provisions to help bring about conclusions to these various problems, something Libertarian candidate Michael Badnarik promises.
Bush: Let me first tell you that the best way for Iraq to be safe and secure is for Iraqi citizens to be trained to do the job. And that's what we're doing. We've got 100,000 trained now, 125,000 by the end of this year, 200,000 by the end of next year. That is the best way. We'll never succeed in Iraq if the Iraqi citizens do not want to take matters into their own hands to protect themselves.
Bush here provides a qualification for leaving Iraq, but this author sincerely disbelieves his capacity to get the troops home. After free elections happen (if they happen) the government of Iraq, for every self-interest it has, will do everything in it's power to convince American troops to stay. The less investment it needs on troops the more it is able to squander in Iraq, and fledgling governments have a tendency to do that. Kerry and Bush trade insults here, Kerry knocking Bush for failing to make the right decisions in invading Iraq, Bush attacking Kerry for his inconsistency in his support, and flip-flopping (with direct reference to the $87 Billion "voted-for-it-before-I-voted-against-it" Kerry soundbite). Again both make more true statements in criticism of each other than they do in support of their own viewpoints, which should show a central inadequacy of both.
Kerry: No, and they don't have to, providing we have the leadership that we put -- that I'm offering.
Now we return to one of the fundamental problems of Kerry's administration (besides his gross sycophancy for big government social programs and the international lobby), and that's his inability to firmly stand against the war. He is willing to say the war is not a mistake - if HE leads it. His plan, he imagines, can make Bush's mistake go away. It can justify troops and justify the action. Of course that's a validation only the international community can give Kerry, but that's the validation he seeks. Libertarians in no way believe the decision was correct and would in every way remove all American troops - dressed as U.S. soldiers or U.N. peacekeepers - from combat immediately. If the new government isn't capable of holding up once their basic training has been completed then that's an issue the new government can deal with. Kerry is willing to point out the gross mistake the war is and then willing to vow to make sure the war is continued virtually indefinitely. This backwards logic is something we should be disappointed for our national leaders to even come up with.
Bush is probably more right than I care to admit regarding this point in response to Kerry, since Kerry's message of being so diametrically opposed to the war but failing to actually want to see an end to it is really against the very logic of anti-war movement and will be perceived as weak by international leadership, who will no doubt use Kerry's internationalist leanings to put political peer pressure on him and the United States to dictate our course of action. If Kerry is not willing to make firm resolute decisions - the war is a mistake and we must do A, B, C to leave - and his plan is merely to bring in other states for their "stake", to cater to their wants to play to the interests of reconstruction money, then he should not be making decisions regarding the War in Iraq as President. Then again, neither should Bush, so we remain at an impass. Vote Badnarik!
Kerry makes a valid offering my criticizing Bush's core mistake of moving into Iraq, but his promises of doing things a better way aren't going to live up to expectations. I think Bush did indeed make a mistake but Kerry's solutions to those problems have not been very consistent nor do they promise a speedy resolution to this war. In fact if anything they should extend occupation period by allowing U.N. authorities to occupy instead of U.S. personnel. While that may sound good to many, facts are the majority of U.N. troops are American, and it will still be regarded by Iraqi nationals as an American occupation.
On the one hand, Kerry illustrates the negatives and mistakes of the war. On the other hand, he offers to distribute the mistakes more evenly amongst our neighbors, to share the casualties and costs with others who shouldn't need that responsibility but who Kerry believes would validate the military actions he ultimately supported. He illustrates how weapons of mass destruction can be a faulty reason to go to war during the course of the debate then promises to rear up on North Korea. Talk about mixed messages.
Regardless Kerry and Bush trade back and forth again, Kerry condemns the president's mistake, while Bush paints Kerry as inconsistent, and I repeat again they both have more truth in their criticisms of each other than in any actual justification for their own positions. After bickering and reiterating many of their points to each other, Kerry gets his turn with the question about specifics regarding ending the Iraq engagement.
The President is not getting the job done, but what really is Kerry's exit strategy? To "move faster" than Bush? Right now Bush is training the police forces in Iraq and I don't see how Kerry will do anything noticeably "better" or "faster", especially inviting in agencies like the U.N. to stagnate the political process. Being quicker and "better" requires decisiveness that Kerry hasn't shown.
One of my most major, fundamental problems with Kerry is that this criticism is very true to describe his entire history in Congress. Kerry goes with the political flow, and idolizes the status quo. Even as President he aspires to abide by an even higher status quo (the U.N.). To win the war on terror we must impede the terrorist organizations that threaten us. Kerry's plan won't work because he's not truly resolved to getting the troops home with a coherent plan, muddying the waters with international consortiums who don't get the job done. Bush's plan of continuing to exaggerate the mistake while Osama is still at large is not any better.
It's at this point that Kerry leads in with his plan to solve the Iraq problem, which is very rambling and itself potentially victim to quagmire. Kerry wants to pander to Iraqi politics, which I can not forsee coming off very well, while dividing the problems of Iraq amongst other nations which properly have no more business in Iraq than Americans do. And when Kerry says that Iraqis don't see us leaving I sincerely doubt that impression will change when it's mostly American/western soldiers in United Nations garb doing the same thing American troops are now. Speaking of the peace, rapid training of the Iraqis won't mean much if Iraq has a permanent U.N. peacekeeping presence, as few nations do well to support their own arms when directly aided. If the Iraqis know that we are leaving at a fixed date and time in the near future, they will prepare to prevent total chaos. Bush clarifies his own plan to rededicate his U.S. presence there in Iraq but really, for those of us who agree with the assessment that the War in Iraq was a mistake, Bush promising to fix Iraq is little better than Kerry promising for a "speedy" solution that sets no timescale and likewise is based on conditions that are not permanent and always changing.
During the next question, Bush discusses the decision to go to Iraq and the importance of sticking to a single goal. As important as that is frankly it is exceedingly absurd to so loosely tie together the threats of Iraq and Al Qaeda. Kerry chimes in making that very point,
Indeed, Osama Bin Laden after 3 years have passed, is not captured. This is perhaps one of the biggest faults of the Bush administration in handling the "War on Terror"- it's inability to take down the most important terrorist network, the cause of the entire effort. Then Kerry continues to discuss his praise for international diplomacy, which is a point I'll agree with Bush on, as Kerry's optimism of the effectiveness of inspections and summits and treaties (none) and boatloads of our tax money (some) in achieving any positive outcome is stunningly naive.
Kerry: The president always has the right, and always has had the right, for preemptive strike.
Quick to justify the establishments of power he himself might need to use - should the political status quo sway that way - Kerry is quick to state that the President may make pre-emptive military strikes and always has had that right. Well I beg to differ with Senator Kerry, who has obviously not read the Constitution, Article I which clearly states that only Congress has the right to declare war, for any reason that Congress must approve a war act - not the President. The President should never arbitrarily act without check or balance but clearly this is a distinction Kerry is willing to overlook right now as he has bigger points to make. What points you ask?
The point of course being the international status quo. Who are we, the United States, to act outside the world's approval? Shouldn't we pass that test of international approval and seek to justify ourselves to every other world governing body which claims legitimacy over every action of ours? Well Kerry certainly thinks so, this thought process to him is more important than trivial nitpickings of Constitutional articles declaring the authority of government. Badnarik is a candidate whose values system is diametrically opposed to this mode of thinking.
The point where point is due, Bush is correct in criticizing the notion of being "popular" in an international sense, politically, as it makes no sense to relegate away parts of our national sovereignty to other agents. That doesn't help us or our citizens and really it doesn't help many others besides established global interests who cater to these circles. We see a little more of that when Bush and Kerry get into it regarding North Korean disarmament, where Kerry believes in appeasement and U.N. involvement and the President sticks by a straight demand form of negotiation, neither of which will be very effective against a nation which has already armed itself, and get into the issue of Sudan genocide which has come into the news lately, and potential U.S. involvement (neither party has taken much of a stance on this issue because neither really care).
So basically what Kerry is admitting to is that he is more than willing to envoke the United States military for political reasons to arbitrarily intervene in foreign affairs, if he deems it is validated by the international effort, and not only does he want to do that but he has it in his plans to expand the military further than it is already to achieve those goals. If Iraq is only outside Kerry's scope of vision in this process due to a lack of acceptance by the U.N. and other wonderful nations like France, then I think Kerry's anti-war rhetoric is a sham. The only way to be anti-war is to be committed to clear definitions of your actions, and it is not clear to be so heavily reliant on the international status quo as Kerry is.
The next question, I'm afraid I won't get into it much as it's a little bit diversionary from the agenda, asks Bush what serious character issues Kerry has, and of course Bush out of election-year politeness lists off some personal qualities he admires in his opponent and then brings back to the point of Kerry having mixed messages. There is an anti-war candidate who does not have mixed messages who I feel Bush would have fewer political differences with as this candidate has a history of reflecting a very consistent ideology, that candidate of course is third party candidate Michael Badnarik, and it's unfortunate that he couldn't be invited into these debates to counter that image that Kerry leaves the viewers with of a follower of some popular status quo. Regardless Kerry does little to address these concerns, and instead more or less gives Bush the same pat on the back, and questions Bush's devotion to certainty. What's worse: a President who is certain but completely wrong, or a President who will never be right because he's not certain of anything?
That's the fundamental vote this year. I encourage you to discover if the stances of other candidates are more profound in contrast than these two. The entire debate ends on an extended question regarding Vladmir Putin's temporary suspension of civil democracy in Russia over terrorism, he controls the tv networks and has suspended many parts of the democratic process. Most nations have a severe reaction to terrorism in this way - for instance Bush and the U.S. Congress passed the Patriot Act which is itself similar in authoritative grants. Bush's answer is mere reassurance that we will be setting a good example for Putin, and if there was an area of diplomacy I think we need to act on, this is one of those areas. Kerry outright diverts the topic back to North Korea and China, endorsing his bilateral talk plan which will, as Bush correctly criticized, do nothing. Regardless it is clear that it will take more than political peer pressure for North Korea to disarm, now as a political goal we should ensure the safety of neighbors to North Korea and make sure North Korea is in a peaceful state with it's neighbors, since it has those arms it will probably not give them up. Of course that does mean being firm and resolute sometime but I foresee no incident with North Korea, we held a hostile fully-nuclear Soviet Union at bay diplomatically, if we can't hold away North Korea then there is a problem.
Regardless Kerry has made it clear that this is not an issue about leaving Iraq, it's about "winning" in accordance to the international order. Bush on the other hand remains stalwart and is willing to conduct the war as he originally saw fit in spite of the clear mistakes in intelligence that led to the hasty invasion of Iraq. So long as we stay on the offense we cannot guarantee our national defense, nor can we guarantee that politicians will not embrace draft provisions, nor can we guarantee fiscally responsible budgets. Regardless both Kerry and Bush demonstrate their vast inadequacies, and similarities, all at once by both being in a forum on foreign policy, but neither being willing to say that the war is in any way wrong or inadequately dealt with. Of course my favored candidate and party both support full disengagement from the Iraq War and does not regard the United Nations as the only agent competent enough to get the United State's job done for it. So please consider voting for Michael Badnarik this year (and for me in 2016) and thanks for reading. Check back for more Libertarian thoughts behind modern politics.