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Commentary and opinion on current civic, political, and religious events and issues.

Past Issue
19 July 2004

Northern City Journal
(ISSN 1528-9575)
Vol. 5, No. 29

Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Surely We Can Do Better

by Jerome F. Winzig

On the day Senator Kerry announced his choice for Vice President, CNN American Morning's anchors discussed the difference his choice would make. The irreverent and sometimes tongue-tied Jack Cafferty observed: "It's interesting to me, they call this the melting pot, and, you know, this country of ours, almost 300 million people. Once again the four top candidates in a presidential election are wealthy white men. There are no women. There are no blacks. There are no -- there's nothing but four rich white guys."

Jeff Greenfield added: "[T]he wealth factor is kind of interesting. I mean, Dick Gephardt is a person who lives on his congressional salary and has to figure out how to send his kids to college. Of these four people, the least affluent is George W. Bush, if the records are right. John Edwards is worth upwards of tens of millions of dollars. Dick Cheney made a fortune as Halliburton's CEO. And John Kerry married Teresa Heinz-Kerry, who is worth somewhere between half a billion and a billion dollars."

If Ralph Nader, with a net worth of around $4 million, is included, the 2004 presidential/vice-presidential field consists of five rich white guys. The sole exception is Nader's running mate Peter Camejo, who is Puerto Rican and holds dual U.S. and Venezuelan citizenship. But Camejo's finances aren't shabby, either. He manages the billion-dollar Progressive Asset Management fund and makes over $250,000 a year.

Perhaps all this wealth and position contributes to the other factors that make these guys such poor choices.

Senator Edwards lays claim to humble origins. He champions the little guy, a laudable goal. Yet he has become extremely wealthy suing corporations and collecting from shareholders. That means he's gotten rich off the rest of us, who own most of the nation's stock via our various retirement plan investments. In addition, he has avoided paying $591,000 in Medicare taxes since 1995 by forming a sub-chapter S corporation with himself as the sole shareholder, paying himself a salary of $360,000, and taking the rest of his $26.9 million in earnings in dividends.

In recent ads, Senator Kerry says he has a plan to make us independent of foreign oil in just ten years. If true, it would be a breathtaking, politically bold new plan. But Kerry's plan does not, for example, draw on the experience of other countries, such as France, which produces 80% of its electricity from nuclear power and is therefore dependent on foreign sources for less than 50% of its energy needs. Instead, Kerry's plan advocates more of the same ineffective patchwork solutions, like further subsidies for "biomass" even though many scientists report that the production of ethanol from corn, for instance, uses more energy than it saves. Nor does Kerry take on fellow congressmen (some in his own party) who have crassly insisted Persian Gulf countries should bear the entire risk of environmental contamination because they're mostly desert anyhow.

President Bush promotes free trade, which helps the whole planet if truly practiced. But he undermines his own goal by implementing steel tariffs that cost more American jobs than they saved. He says freedom is God's gift to humanity, but sometimes it seems that doesn't include countries like Saudi Arabia. His No Child Left Behind program has an admirable educational aim, but excessive emphasis on testing undercuts its purpose. And his recent support of the so-called "Family Marriage" Amendment drew this response from Richard A. Epstein, a constitutional libertarian: "When President Bush ... talks about the need to 'protect' the sanctity of marriage, his plea is a giant non sequitur because he does not explain what, precisely, he is protecting marriage against."

Vice President Cheney espouses a free and self-governing Iraq. He says he believes in a free enterprise system where the role of government is not to create wealth but to provide an environment that rewards enterprise so employers and entrepreneurs can grow and hire new workers. But the on-going stories about excessive over-billing by Halliburton reveal instead a crony capitalism and the use of government to benefit specific private interests. Cheney's ties to Halliburton may have been severed, but the practices go uncondemned.

Ralph Nader says "Washington, D.C. is corporate-occupied territory." Of course there are corporate influences, but any visitor to our nation's capital can tell you it is dominated by government and bureaucracy. He wants the Congressional Black Caucus to apologize for an "obscene racist epithet" because Congressman Melvin Watt of North Carolina called Nader "just another arrogant white man." And then there are his strident calls to impeach Bush and Cheney.

Peter Camejo's strange web site, "The Avocado Declaration," claims the Democratic and Republican Parties are a two-headed animal. He adds, "Since the Civil War, without exception, the Democratic Party has opposed all mass struggles for democracy and social justice" while "the Republican Party has historically acted as the open advocate for a platform which benefits the rule of wealth and corporate domination." But that's not enough; he is also a long-time Marxist and member of the Trotskyite communist Socialist Workers Party.

Enough said. Surely we can do better than this in choosing national leaders to lead us through these dangerous and economically precarious times.

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