Wednesday, October 13, 2004



Candidates Bush and Kerry have agreed that the “war against terror” will never be won.
In an interview a couple of weeks ago, President Bush said that he didn’t think the war on terror would ever be ended. Later, Senator Kerry said or implied that the war would be over when the fear of terrorists was reduced to a tolerable level. Both men agree that there will always be terrorists and we can work until doomsday and not exterminate the last one.

They disagree on when and whether to stop waging all-out war against terrorists. Mr. Bush argues that we must continue the effort until terror has been completely stamped out. According to his own statement, that will never happen. Hence, we are destined to live from now on in a perpetual state of war against terror and terrorists. Mr. Kerry offers a more optimistic view. Eventually we will destroy or neutralize the immediate terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, and we can replace the war with an international police action. We would return to the conditions that existed before September 11, 2001.

Well, which is it? Is international terror something we will have to learn to live with, like more ordinary crimes such as murder and burglary, or is it something that we will have to devote our major resources to combating for the rest of time? In a free society, which we still believe in, there is no way that any authority or any preemptive action can prevent an act of terror or any other heinous crime. If some person decides to murder me and is willing to die in the act, there is no way that the police or any other arm of the law can prevent him. In a free society, justice can mean only punishing a crime after it has occurred. To prevent the crime, we must give up the notion of a free society and agree to live in a completely militarized and regimented society. We must give up our freely elected officials and agree to be governed by a hopefully benevolent despot. We know that despotism is the most efficient kind of government, just about the opposite from democracy.

The Bush administration proposes “strengthening” of the Patriot Act and vilifies its critics. The administration argues that criticism of the President’s policy hurts the morale of our troops. We must rally around our leader and stifle all criticism until the war against terrorism is won. Mr. Bush has told us already that it can’t be won. This tendency of the Bush administration toward despotism must be stopped. We know that democracy is inefficient, slow, sometimes corrupt, and that despotism is efficient, fast to react, but also sometimes corrupt. One of the founders of our republic said that while despotism is like a great, fast ship and democracy like a leaky raft, the ship can strike a reef and sink, but the raft is indestructible.

Monday, October 04, 2004



In recent days I have seen a lot of President Bush on television. I didn’t watch the first debate on TV; instead I listened on radio. However, I have seen parts of the debate on TV, as well as several three-minute excerpts of campaign appearances of each of the two major candidates. I understand that many, perhaps most people have the reaction that they personally like George Bush. He is said to be a regular guy. One person writes that he would be a very acceptable mayor of a small city. A majority of the voters believe he is truthful, at least most of the time.

What’s wrong with me? To me, Mr. Bush seems to be a confidence man. His manner of “folksy” speaking to his audience strikes me as an attempt to make his listeners believe in his latest swindle. One must remember that a successful confidence man must be likeable. If you are going to swindle someone out of his life savings, that person has to like and trust you. Mr. Bush also reminds me of a country preacher, trying to convince me that my soul will burn in hell forever unless I “come to Jesus.” Why is my reaction so different from that of the typical American voter?

The most obvious answer is that I am biased against Mr. Bush because he is a Republican and I am a very partisan Democrat. I know I am partisan. I know also that there are Republican officials that do not seem to me to be confidence men. I tend to trust Senators McCain of Arizona, Hagel of Nebraska, Lugar of Indiana, Warner of Virginia, Spector of Pennsylvania, as well as Democratic Senators Levin of Michigan, Shumer of New York, and Feinstein of California. I may not agree with all of them, but I trust them to speak what they believe to be the truth. A Republican Senator that I instinctively do not trust, even though he is a thoroughly likeable person, is Trent Lott of Mississippi. I must confess that the only one I have ever seen in person is Senator Feinstein. After he was fired as Secretary of the Treasury, I saw Paul O’Neill on TV in an interview. I instinctively liked and trusted Paul O’Neill to be truthful. I also have a profound disagreement with him about the future of Social Security.

So, I have convinced myself that my instinctive distrust of George Bush is not simply my partisan bias against Republicans. But, what is it? I’ve been trying to remember if I’ve ever been gulled by a confidence man and if so, what was he like? Is there some acquaintance I remember from many years ago who had mannerisms similar to those of George Bush? Perhaps Mr. Bush reminds me of some character I once saw in a movie or a television show. I just can’t remember. All I can say is that I don’t trust the guy and that my distrust is deeper that simply not agreeing with him.



Those of us who regard ourselves as political activists, or at least of being politically aware of what’s going on often lament the low turn-out and lack of interest in elections. Why are voters apathetic? I think one reason is our system of single-member election districts and winner-take-all elections. As a result, even if voter participation were one hundred percent, nearly half the voters would be unrepresented on the average. Suppose I am a Green or Libertarian. I can never hope to have a State legislator or a Congressman of my party to represent me. Suppose I am a Democrat (Republican) living in a “safe” Republican (Democratic) district. My legislator or Congressman doesn’t represent me. In our system, the elected representative represents only those voters who voted for him or her. In actual practice and with typical low voter turn-out, that could be as little as ten percent of the eligible voters.

This lack of interest is especially notable in State and local primary elections. This situation has led some to advocate various reforms the primary system, such as the “Open Primary,” in which a voter can vote for candidates in any party’s primary election. There is a proposal here in California to carry this reform one step further. The top two vote-getters in the primary election are placed on the general election ballot, regardless of party. Thus, in the general election, voters may have to choose between two Republicans or two Democrats.

It is a radical reform. I don’t know whether it will pass. I don’t know what effect it will have, if any, on the make-up of the State Legislature or the State’s Congressional Delegation. In any case, I plan to vote against this particular “reform.” My main objection is that it doesn’t go far enough. I would abolish primary elections completely, and let all candidates run in the general election with run-off elections to follow. Ideally, the general election would incorporate the instant run-off feature, in which voters indicate first, second, third, etc., choices.

Another objection is that it is a backward-looking reform and amounts to a return to the cross-filing system that we used to have in California, in which a candidate could file and run in the primary elections of several parties. Under that system, William Knowland was able to win election in both the Republican and Democratic primaries and didn’t need to campaign in the general election. Knowland was a rather ultra-conservative Republican and hardly a good representative for a majority of Californians. Moreover, even then the turn-out in primary elections was much lower than that in general elections.

Saturday, October 02, 2004



My father used to tell me that it wasn’t the things that you don’t know that hurt you. What hurts you are the things you know that aren’t so. In this election campaign, I have collected a number of beliefs that most voters have that aren’t so. At least I think they aren’t so. Here are some examples:

(1) Government policies, especially taxation, have a big effect on the economy.

(2) As long as George Bush is President, the terrorists won’t dare attempt another attack on us like the one of September 11, 2001.

(3) The best way - in fact, the only effective way - to deter terrorists from attacking us is to wage war on them. In waging war, we capture or kill terrorists so that there are fewer left who might attack us.

(4) The death penalty for murder deters many persons from committing murders that they might otherwise do. In order for the penalty to be credible, a convicted murderer must be executed soon after conviction.

(5) Our system of justice very rarely convicts and executes an innocent person. Even if a small number of innocent persons are executed, one has to compare their deaths with the increased number of deaths of innocent persons who would be victims of murderers if there were no death penalty.

(6) Poor people are poor because they’re lazy. This is the land of opportunity. Anyone who works hard enough can get ahead and become rich.

Well, what do you think? Do you agree with me that these are some of the things that people believe that aren’t so?

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?