~Meniscus Archives~
Autumn 2004
Issue #5
September-November 2004

Issue #5 Home


Party of One
Michael Kirkpatrick
The fundamental aspect of democracy is each citizen's right to vote. So what are my choices?

Common Good?
Rich Heinrich
Does our current president have the common good of the people in mind? Or is it the common good of his business associates?

Democracy? Republic? Or Plutocracy?
Emlyn Lewis
Despite the fact that "freedom" implies choice, we still only have two choices, and they are not that unlike.



Party of One

Michael Kirkpatrick
Published 9/25/04

George W. Kerry

Party of One

Many forms of government have been tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all others that have been tried from time to time.
Winston Churchill 1947

One of the most fundamental aspects of democracy is choice. As we approach the presidential election of 2004, America faces an important choice as to which man will be charged with leading this country for the next four years. But do we really have that much of a choice?

America is at a crucial time in its history. Terrorism plagues communities both large and small, and we are a nation at war. The economy is far from thriving and jobs, and the creation of, will play a large part in the campaign for the White House this year. Education reform remains controversial, health care is still too expensive for millions of Americans, and these are just a sampling of the challenges that we face.

According to U.S. Census Bureau, 71.7% of people were of legal voting age in 2000. Of that only 54.7% voted. This is a surprisingly low number of people who vote considering the importance of these elections.

I, like many people, consider myself to be fairly centrist when compared to the two major political parties. I believe in limited government, fiscal conservatism, national security, affordable health care, strong environmental policies, and active social programs that put people to work. People of similar thought are often referred to as swing voters, who are truly the most contested demographic in this, and most elections. The reason we are called swing voters is because we have the power to shape the outcome of closely contested races including the one between President George W. Bush and Senator John F. Kerry. We are also the only growing population of registered voters. Since the 2000 election, the number of registered Democrats has declined by 1.3 million. Republicans are down only 170,000 and the independents have grown by 600,000. These numbers do not include what election officials consider inactive voters.

On the surface, it would appear that we have a distinct choice between two very different individuals. However, I question how different they are. As attack ads and political conventions begin to dominate the season, we see both parties recklessly go after one another. Three issues that have been and will continue to be highly contested in this campaign is the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, and No Child Left Behind.

In early 2003, President Bush went before America, and the world to plead his case for military action against Iraq. A pronounced member of the "Axis of Evil", Iraq and its leader Saddam Hussein, posed a great threat to the safety of the American people, Bush claimed. It is my personal belief that Bush knowingly took best guess intelligence and passed it off as gospel, but that does nothing to change the fact that we remain in war which loses popularity with every rocket propelled grenade, car bombing and kidnapping. We were told that weapons of mass destruction could find its way into the hands of terrorists who wished to cause freedom-loving people harm. We were told we would be welcomed as liberators.

To be fair, the removal of Hussein has given millions the opportunity to get needed basic resources such as food, clean water and medical supplies where it was unavailable under their former dictator. The Iraqi people now have a chance to go to school and allow their voices to be the vehicle for free thought when that was nearly impossible before. But, was this war justified when no stockpiles of WMD have been found, and the 9/11 Commission concluded there was not much, if any, link between the Iraqi government and Al Queda? Without Bush's charges, this war is nothing more than a humanitarian effort and an attack on an oppressive sovereignty. While noble in cause, I question whether or not that serves as reason to sacrifice the lives of 1,000 American soldiers and counting, as well as numerous civilians who found themselves to be guilty of nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A direct legislative result of the 9/11 attacks was a bill called the Patriot Act. While enabling our law enforcement agencies more freedom to gather intelligence, I believe this law directly threatens our civil liberties. Our government is allowed to conduct searches of our phone and internet records without a warrant. To monitor which books we check out at the library without notice to the individual. And perhaps the most severe is the enacting of the term "enemy combatant" onto a person, which enables the government to hold people for indeterminate amounts of time. This directly opposes the sixth amendment, which guarantees us the right to a "quick and speedy trial."

Under the Bush administration, the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, which focuses on standardized testing to monitor the performance of individual schools. This act puts test results from urban schools on par with schools in affluent communities. In many of these urban schools the school administration and staff face challenges that are not as prevalent in the suburbs. In certain cases these schools do not have enough text books for all students, have multi-language students attending the same classes, and use cafeterias as classrooms due to overcrowding. If a school receives a failing grade on the standardized tests for three years in a row, it is then subject to being taken over as a charter school. This exact situation happened last month at Cole Middle School in Denver, CO. Does that mean the teachers fail because they can't overcome the numerous socio-economical obstacles they face through their student population? Or is it the children who fail because they were unable to get the help needed in order to perform to a satisfactory level? This act was passed by individuals who I suspect have not been in one of these schools for much more time than is necessary to complete a photo opportunity.

Despite his constant criticism of these three issues, Kerry has little ground to stand upon. He voted for all three. During the democratic primaries and on through the summer, Kerry has tagged himself as one who flip-flops his positions. He claims that his changing rhetoric is a result of evolution. I think his tangible track record stands for itself. He is the candidate for all people and all moments, which simply cannot be. In 2000, Bush did the same thing running on a platform of being a "compassionate conservative." Four years later, I’m still trying to figure that one out.
Kerry is the definition of a Washington insider. With 20 years as a senator, he is a man whose worth is estimated “between $27 million and $57 million in assets that he owns personally or jointly with his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, plus $500 to $800 million that Mrs. Kerry inherited from her late husband, an heir to the Heinz ketchup fortune,” according to a July 25th article in the Houston Chronicle. Is there not just a hint of hypocrisy when he stumps in Mid-West talking about the American workingman and woman struggling to make ends meet? I don‚t understand how could he possibly identify with his pursued constituency as he claims to.

The democrats claim to be the party of inclusion. They want to appeal to the blue and white collared worker, women, minorities, gays, etc. Unity was a common theme at the Democratic Convention in July. The Democrats want to include everybody, but a third party candidate who is commonly blamed for Al Gore‚s loss in 2000.

Ralph Nader, then of the Green Party, was able to garner a modest 96,837 votes in Florida in 2000. Gore lost the state, and eventually the presidency by 1,725 votes. During his speech at the Democratic National Convention he pleaded: “I also ask tonight for the help of those who supported a third party candidate in 2000. I urge you to ask yourself a question: Do you still believe that there was no difference between the candidates?” The answer: apparently not. Political oneness has blurred the difference between the candidates. In attempt to attract those independent votes, the two major political parties have effectively alienated themselves from certain voters by not standing up for what they believe, all of which could be attributed to the overall lack of participation in the democratic process.

Kerry now faces a similar situation if a vote for Nader in 2004 is implied to be that of a disgruntled Democrat. If democracy is supposed to be about choice, why are they attempting to suppress the right of another candidate to run for office? It appears to me that in politics giving up what is right for the country for what is good for the party is commonplace. I don't personally believe that Nader is qualified to be president, but his candidacy is valid. Whether it be manufactured goods or education, Bush claims that competition leads to accountability. Just as the Democrats have done with Nader, the Republicans did with Ross Perot in 1992 and 1996—try to suppress their competition.

I don’t pretend to have the answers for what is wrong with democracy. I am an individual with one voice and one vote. I would hope that candidates for public office would say what they mean and follow through with their actions as validation for their speech. That is the standard we all have to abide by in our respective lives and careers. No matter what your opinion, democracy only works as a result of participation. Without a question democracy is flawed and imperfect as Churchill said, but it is our system of government and it does give us choice, although it may not always appear that way.

Michael Kirkpatrick


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