Convention of Hate

The presidency cannot be built—and should not be won—on slander and vitriol.

Mr. Bush, who seems a convivial and hopeful man, has unfortunately built a government more secretive than any that has preceded it. Yes, there must always be secrets on matters of national security, but not secrets only for the purpose of hiding government mistakes or abuses of power.

The president has also created an ideological government. In my experience, ideology has shown itself to be the enemy of democracy. Democracy requires an openness to all opinions, even those we find noxious. The ideologue says there is only one idea—his. He says that if you don't accept that idea, you must be demonized, marginalized, or destroyed. The ideologue sees the world through a lens that shows only black vs. white. That makes him partially blind. You have to try to see the whole spectrum to be able to make wise decisions.

President Bush has allowed himself to become captivated by the ideology of a group of radical conservatives—civilians with no military or combat experience, mostly alumni of the Reagan presidency, who now steer the Pentagon and work through the vice president's office, where one of their number, I. Lewis Libby, serves as Cheney's chief of staff.

illustration: Patrick Arrasmith

Their worldview is a triumphal one, a belief in the need for a global American empire based on military might. They believe that the only way to preserve American security in this changed world is to build a modern military machine so far-reaching and powerful that it can put down unrest anywhere in the world and conduct multiple major wars simultaneously. This is no conspiracy theory and they are not a secret cabal. Some of you will easily recognize their names—Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Douglas Feith, to mention a few. The above description of their goals is taken from their own position papers, some of which can be found on the website of their own Washington think tank, the Project for the New American Century.

Are all these men practitioners of smear tactics and hate speech? Do their words and writings sound like Zell Miller's convention speech? The answer, most of the time, is no. But their ideology is rigid and they hold power in the Bush administration. Many rational, experienced people find their ideas bellicose and overreaching and dangerous to America's future. Bush is comfortable with their advice. It is black and white.

Let's put these ideas on the table and put Kerry's ideas alongside and let's debate them. Without hate speech. Without smear tactics. Zell Miller may think he gave an All-American speech the other night. Most of the conventioneers did too. Laura Bush, in her convention speech, likened her husband to Franklin Roosevelt.

Maybe they should all take a deep breath and go back and read some of Franklin Roosevelt's speeches when he was calling the nation to war—and from the years just before, when he was leading America out of the Great Depression, when so many Americans were out of work. Like myself, there are still many Americans who remember Roosevelt and those speeches. The president might want to think about that.

Research assistance by Matthew Phillp

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