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A tale of two visions

Peter Quaranto | Tuesday, October 12, 2004

When people ask me how I manage to write a column in the midst of midterm madness, I find myself quoting my president: “It’s hard work.” In the first presidential debate, President George W. Bush used the phrase “hard work” 13 times in an appeal to the American ethos. Yet, the effects of this debate “strategery” were null as Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry ran away with the first presidential vaudevillian drama. Today, according to most polls, Election 2004 could not be closer. As we approach tonight’s final presidential debate, I feel a personal obligation to use this, my last pre-Nov. 2 column to weigh in one final time on the most important election of our lives.

On the surface, tonight’s debate can most likely be summed up in four words: more of the same. President Bush will persist with his simpleton tactics, accentuating loaded words, such as “freedom” and “ownership” to touch the American soul. Kerry will continue to look lubberly and lumpish, while maintaining his disparagement of Bush for every problem in the United States. Both candidates will throw around accusations, rhetoric and values knowing that the average American will not check FactCheck.org post-debate. However, it is a grave oversight to allow such a surface-level discourse to dictate our voting consciousness in 2004.

To make a quick digression, do you ever wonder what the candidates say to each other when they shake hands at the center of the stage during the introductions of the debate? I find this part to be the most amusing of the whole spectacle as the two men shake hands and exchange derisive sneers. I picture Kerry, like Ivan Drago in Rocky IV, staring down at Dubya, uttering, “I will break you.” And then Dubya, like John Wayne in the classic Western Rio Bravo, retorting, “Sorry, don’t get it done, dude.” On that note, you have to admit that it would be so cool if Bush wore a cowboy hat in the debates.

Returning to the gravity of the moment, Americans, in this age of the 30-second television spot, are increasingly voting on candidates’ television performances. It has become more important that a candidate come across as trustworthy, consistent and strong than that they project an agenda that is right for the country. Policy has taken a backseat to image. As a result of this modern electoral hoopla, we fail to recognize that Election 2004 has truly become home to a tale of two visions for the future of America in the 21st Century.

Bush and Kerry, though both have changed their views (a.k.a. flip-flopped) on certain occasions, are both actually quite clear on where they want to take the country. For a long time, I have argued that the two parties in America were essentially the same, propagating trivial differences. In 2004, my beliefs about U.S. politics have been transformed as party differences have been elucidated in times of contingency.

Recognizing these contrasting visions, the challenge is then to apply them to our particular historical moment. It is here that serious deficiencies in the Bush vision become clear. While Bush claims he would not change anything about the U.S. war effort in Iraq, the situation in Baghdad, Fallujah and Najaf continues to deteriorate. While Bush speaks of an economy growing “stronger and stronger,” his presidency was the first since Herbert Hoover to see a decline in payroll employment. While Bush claims no liability for enormous tax deficits, it is clear from research by the Congressional Budget Office that his tax cuts are primarily responsible. While Bush speaks of successes in education, healthcare and employment, his words again and again neglect obvious reality.

Applying the socio-economic realities to the Kerry agenda, it is not certain that Kerry’s policy platforms will solve all the current problems; however, it is apparent that the Kerry-Edwards administration is willing to face these realities, while thinking hard about leading the United States in the right direction. Throughout the campaign, the Kerry camp has shown its willingness to face the realities on the ground in Iraq and on the ground in American cities. Kerry and Edwards are sincerely interested in asking the right questions about why al-Qaeda ranks have swelled, why anti-Americanism is at an all-time high, why over 30 million Americans live below the poverty line and why more than 45 million Americans go without health insurance.

Charles Dickens’ words of 1859 ring true in 2004: “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” Today, we stand in the midst of a tale of two visions of shaping such times for the United States of America in the 21st Century. We cannot settle for the hollow, paltry debates to shape our understanding of this election or even our times; rather, we must strive to evaluate the divergent visions. For on Nov. 2, you and I will hold the power to determine which of those visions will guide the United States of America for the next four years and beyond. It is most definitely hard work, but as Bruce Springsteen so truthfully says, “The country we carry in our hearts is waiting.” We can wait no longer.

Peter Quaranto is a junior political science and international peace studies major. Contact Peter at pquarant@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.