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Vote 2006: For Whom the Bell Tolls

By Brent Budowsky
June 5, 2006

Editor's Note: There are two distinct views about what will happen in Election 2006. One is that it will be a fairly typical event in which the Republicans will rally their base with appeals about social issues and calls to support the President and in which Democrats will seek to gain some seats by avoiding controversy and counting on the lack of enthusiasm for George W. Bush even among many conservatives.

The second view is that Election 2006 will be a transcendent political moment when Americans almost across the ideological spectrum will repudiate what President Bush has sought to do to the United States -- ramping up fear, impugning the patriotism of critics, exploiting wedge issues and trampling on traditional democratic values.

In this passionate guest essay, a Tom Paine-like appeal for a patriotic revival, political analyst Brent Budowsky sees the November elections as an opportunity for a reborn American Republic:

Think about it: George W. Bush has created such enormous and intense antagonism among 48 percent of the American people that they are unalterably opposed to him and are counting the days until November when they can come out in gigantic numbers to end one-party government in America.

George W Bush also has created such widespread dissatisfaction among Americans who are political independents that they want change by numbers approaching 80 percent. Disapproval is even growing among conservatives.

But the way that Bush and Rove are responding to their predicament is proof of the core reason that Bush may be remembered in history for a catastrophically failed Presidency and a long-term disaster for the Republican Party.

With half of America in a state of outrage, with independent America turning 80 percent against the status quo, and with growing unrest among conservatives, what is the Bush-Rove response? Well, it’s their old standby: Let’s demonize the gays!

Big Failure 

I challenge any honorable conservative to disagree and debate even one of these points: The George Bush Republican Party is the Party of Big Government, Big Spending, Big Budget Deficits, Big Trade Deficits, Big Current Account Deficits, Big National Debt, Big Brother, Big Oil and Big Scandal.

Is there even one honorable and genuine fiscal conservative and libertarian conservative who is not deeply and profoundly appalled by this? It has been said that Karl Rove is “Bush’s Brain.” The more important question is: Who is Bush's conscience?

And, I would challenge any conservative to disagree and debate any of this: Whatever the merits of the Iraq War, George Bush has done major damage to the readiness, recruitment and morale of the Army, Marine Corps, National Guard, Reserves and CIA.

As hurricane season arrives, we remember that four years after 9-11, Bush’s disaster preparedness was so incompetent that an outraged Nation watched good people die in New Orleans because they were too poor, too elderly, too young, too handicapped and too weak to protect themselves – and those who should have protected them did not.

We will soon commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11, the tragedy that the Bush partisans have endlessly tried to exploit when they should have used it to bring the Nation together. Yet, port security remains disastrously negligent, while border security has been so neglected for the five years after 9-11 that yet another divisive issue tears apart the Nation while a politically desperate President is reduced to criticizing patriotic Americans who sing our national anthem in Spanish.

Is this the pride of Republican conservatism?

Franklin Roosevelt said, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” John Kennedy spoke of “profiles in courage.” Which conservative is proud of George W. Bush’s legacy of fear – those days of endless terror warnings that coincidentally began right before the 2002 Congressional elections and mysteriously ended, almost literally to the day, on the eve of the 2004 Presidential election?

Remember that week in 2003 when a President who shamelessly plays the politics of fear and a Vice President who repeatedly disappears to undisclosed locations created a panicked run on duct tape, bottled water and gas masks? Is this the pride of conservatism?

Which of the punk Bush-supporting smear artists – virtually none of whom has ever served in uniform and who parade to the talk shows to accuse other Americans of being traitors – even cares about this question: What kind of leaders send our troops to battle so lacking in armor protection and equipment that the Marine Corps pathologist concludes, in the third year of the war, that 70 percent of the casualties were preventable?

Or this question: What kind of leaders allow some of our wounded troops to return home and be charged for expenses relating to their sacrifice, and then to be pursued by debt collectors because they cannot afford to pay, and then to be victimized by a Veterans Administration led by a former Republican Party chairman who oversees a mammoth security breach that threatens the privacy of millions of our heroes?

Lost Battle 

Think about this chilling fact: America is engaged in a great battle of ideas against an enemy that murders children in houses of worship and cuts off the heads of the innocent, and our leaders have failed to win this battle for hearts and minds even against an enemy so hideously evil.

And what is the response of Bush and Rove? When they are not demonizing the gays, they are waving the flag, preparing to challenge the patriotism of political opponents who prefer supporting those who wear that flag on their shoulders to using the flag as a partisan weapon in the endless political wars that will be the sad legacy of those who never learned that we are, indeed, in this together.

The reason America stands on the brink of an epic election in November is that this President, his party and his apologists have let loose dark forces of division and dishonor that have divided our country, alienated much of decent opinion around the world, hurt our military, abused our freedoms in the name of a politics of fear and let loose in the land a kind of politics that violates the cardinal rules of 200 years of the American family.

In this dark and demeaning vision of political war, anything goes, winning is everything. A heroic U.S. senator, who will spend his life in a wheelchair as the price of his heroism, is slandered by a guy who never served. A recipient of the bronze and silver stars is smeared because he is in the wrong political party. A Marine Corps hero who is one of strongest supporters of the troops who ever served in Congress is called a coward on the floor of Congress. A Chief of Staff of the Army is demeaned by ideologues and partisans who were hell bent for a war they knew nothing about.

Six courageous retired Generals speak out with conscience and the editorial page of the Washington Times prints the statute on sedition. The cable talkers run segments with titles such as Hollywood Hates America.

Then, when the topic shifts to the atrocity of Haditha, one of America's leading right-wing mouthpieces says these kinds of things always happen in war and cites, as examples of war criminals, the Marines who took Iwo Jima and the Army heroes who took Normandy. He slanders them with the unsupported charge that they committed acts comparable to Haditha, where some 24 civilians – including women and children – were allegedly murdered. Shame, shame, shame, shame and infamy on Bill O’Reilly. [See Consortiumnews.com's "Is O'Reilly a Nazi? Just Asking."]

Who in the hell do these bums think they are? The infamy of Abu Ghraib, the wrongs of Guantanamo, secret government abusing secret prisons with secret injustice are not part of the American tradition. The Attorney General of the United States saying the Geneva Convention is some quaint and outmoded relic ranks in my humble opinion as the most dishonorable, despicable and ignorant words ever uttered by anyone entrusted to preserve, protect and defend justice in America.

Wasteful Heir to Greatness

The man who sits where Washington sat, where Jefferson sat and where Lincoln sat now claims he has the unilateral, inherent power to abrogate even the Bill of Rights. The man who put his hand on the Bible and swore to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed claims he has the unilateral, inherent power to violate the laws at his personal whim. At this writing, there are more than 700 laws that he asserts he has the right to violate.

The man entrusted with the legacy of the Founding Fathers, who were among the greatest and most timeless visionaries who ever walked the earth, claims he can operate beyond the reach of courts, beyond the reach of Congress, without the knowledge of the American people.

Here is our answer to this litany of outrages: The Founding Fathers were right. They knew America – this land we love, this land we share, the land of freedom and democracy – was based on timeless truths that were brilliant and profound because they were so simple and so right.

We Americans are all part of a great family, coming together from different backgrounds, with different viewpoints. Washington, Madison, Jefferson, Franklin and the others knew that in our America, we begin with an attitude of mutual respect, shared patriotism, a willingness to put our small differences aside to stand together for the more important things that constitute our common trust.

Then, the Founders created institutions that were built from that attitude of shared Americanism, separation of powers, divided government, a free press based on the right to know and on the judgment that an informed citizenry will ultimately take the right course whatever our differences and debates of the moment.

But today we see those entrusted with the Founders’ vision employing partisan extremism, demeaning treatment of others, divisive strategies, disrespectful contempt of the spirit of unity and soiling the institutions of democracy. Instead of the Founders’ vision of an informed electorate leading to the best outcome, there is George W. Bush’s vision of one-party rule leading inexorably, inevitably, to a continuing series of catastrophic disasters that will only end, when the cardinal rules of Americanism are restored.

That is what the 2006 election is all about. Across the Nation and around the world today, we now know, for whom the bell tolls.

A recent TV special about Gary Cooper, who embodies the spirit of a quiet and respectful patriotism, included a segment in which his daughter said that Cooper’s favorite work of literature was “For Whom the Bell Tolls.” The phrase, originally written in the 1600's by John Donne, became the title of the famous novel by Ernest Hemingway and a movie starring Cooper, Hemingway’s close friend.

'Part of the Main'

Here is another part of Donne’s poem that Gary Cooper loved so much: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

These words, written a century before Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence, embody the true spirit of the American idea, the roots of our 200-year-old democracy. The heroes of our great history understood that, but it was something George W. Bush never learned.

It was Thomas Paine calling us to rise together not as “summer soldiers and sunshine patriots” but as Americans in a common cause; it was Abe Lincoln trying to end a bitter and divisive war by healing wounds and binding the nation back together; it was the “Greatest Generation” that won World War II to save the world for freedom; and it was those brave and heroic men and women who five years ago charged with courage and honor into burning buildings from lower Manhattan to Northern Virginia, not for the petty cash of cheap-shot politics, but for the honor and goodness of the America that we all share, to save the lives of our brothers and sisters, for a good and great and decent nation that stood together as one with these words: United We Stand.

This is the message the American people are calling out for Washington to hear. In 2008, we will have a presidential election with competing candidates offering detailed programs and plans. But 2006 will be an election on Americanism, on the kind of country we are, on the kind people we aspire to be, on the kind of democratic values and institutions we must honor, on the spirit of mutual respect and tolerance and shared purpose and patriotism that is the common trust of every man and woman gifted by God to be born in this land we genuinely and passionately love.

Our answer to the status quo is this: this land is truly the land of us all, it is the land not of Republicans or Democrats, not of liberals or conservatives, not of partisans or ideologues. America is the land of that Lady who holds up the torch, and there is one ticket to admission: that we honor and cherish how fortunate we are to be here, and that each of us commits, in our way as best we can, when our number is called, when our America needs us, to ask what we can do in return for all we have been blessed to be given.

George Bush should learn from – and even in anger his opponents should remember – that Jefferson, if he were with us today, would be telling us, as he said in his Age: we are all Democrats and we all Republicans. Isn’t it amazing and incredible and dare I suggest perhaps even a message from God, that exactly 50 years to the day from the signing of the Declaration, Jefferson and Adams, who in their lives were the closest of brothers and the harshest of opponents, died within hours together, half a nation apart, thinking of that Declaration, whispering of each other in their final breaths of life.

Today’s Washington insiders don’t get it, but it’s really simple: this election is not about ten-point plans, or public relations, or competing sets of consultants dishing baloney and calling it leadership. This election, which I believe will be an epic moment that will be written about by historians for generations to come, is about restoring our faith in each other, restoring that spirit that we all share, a common purpose and a common patriotism.

When we get that spirit right, we will get our institutions right, with a renewed respect for our Bill of Rights, reviving our checks and balances, remembering that truth is reached when an informed citizenry engages all three branches of government as the Founders intended.

Two Heroes 

Personally, when I think of all we have been through, and all that remains, I think of two of my current heroes; one is Jessica Lynch, the other a Marine I will tell you about, but not name.

I was at a bar near the Naval Academy on that cold night when news came that Jessica had been rescued. There we were, military families, Naval midshipmen, young Marines and we stood and cheered and high-fived at the news. Then, remember those tall tales about Lynch that were told by spinners dishing propaganda to drum up support for the war. They made her sound like she had taken Iwo Jima single-handedly. Well, she was brave, but it was exaggerated, and that is not the true story of her heroism.

Some time later, given the opportunity to exploit the tale, she said something to the effect that well, it was hard, but I didn’t do all those things. And I thought then, and now: “Wow, that woman really is a hero.” She didn’t want the exaggeration. There was a higher truth, a higher heroism, a higher honor to Jessica Lynch.

Someone once said that moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great skill, And Jessica’s modesty and integrity and respect for truth and honor, now that is the kind of heroism that no politician or spinner can fake. God Bless you, Jessica, wherever you are. I salute you.

And here is a story about a Marine. He’ll be for our purposes the man with no name, but trust me, he’s real, and there are many like him.

Not many weeks ago, his body was blown to shreds in Iraq. Through the incredible work of the emergency ER, his life was miraculously saved. Both of his legs were amputated, and when he returned home he was greeted by applause from those who love the troops – and a bill from Uncle Sam that expected him to pay for his own armor, which he neglected to save when was laying unconscious as his legs were amputated.

This is the kind of shabby treatment and scandalous wrong that should be investigated in both Houses of Congress, ended by our self-named “war president,” and never again tolerated in America. But his story gets even better...

This Marine is still on active duty, has every right to be angry, has paid an enormous price for his patriotism, and what is his driving mission as you read these words? He wants to return to Iraq, to stand by the side of his buddies for the duration, not because he supports the war, he won’t discuss his views on the war, but because this battle-scarred man with no legs wants to be with the men and women in his personal Marine Corps, his band of brothers and sisters.

I predict that somehow, in some way, this guy’s gonna make it and somewhere in heaven I suspect more than two centuries of American heroes are giving him a standing ovation.

Bell Tolls

The bell has begun to toll for the dark and partisan vision of one-party government in America. I predict the experts and pundits will be stunned and shocked when the voice of the American people – which is not heard or heeded at the dinner parties, gala dinners and insider lunches in official Washington – is fired like a cannon announcing the revival of the American idea.

In conclusion, I offer one plea to those who are the most liberal, the most Democratic, the most angry and resentful of the injustices and wrongs and arrogances of recent years. I am with you, and I am one of you, but all of us, I hope, will remember this:

The message of the American people today, and the lessons of 200 years of our history, is that the case we take to the country before the election, and our aspirations for America after the election, is not to let our opponents take us down to their level, making our anger and vindictiveness answer theirs, no matter how right or deserved our feelings might be.

We love our country. We love our freedom. Whether we take positions of opposition or support on certain issues, we do so with a fervent spirit of patriotism, a respect for those of differing views, the love of truth and honor that was shown by Jessica Lynch, the indescribable courage and fidelity shown by the Marine with no name, the checks and balances, the Constitution, the rule of law, the spirit of the great American family and the timeless truth that none of us is an island, and each of us is an indispensable part of the main.

Against each other, we are nothing. Together, we are America.


Brent Budowsky was an aide to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen on intelligence issues, and served as Legislative Director to Rep. Bill Alexander when he was Chief Deputy Whip of the House Democratic Leadership. Budowsky can be reached at brentbbi@webtv.net .


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