For two special reasons, I think this year's presidential campaign demands our attention and active involvement.
First, seen from American historical perspective, voters' choices in the first presidential election of a given century decisively influenced the evolution of the nation throughout the century. In 1804, Americans voted Thomas Jefferson president. In his term Jefferson strengthened the federal system of government--the world's first--in preference to either a centralized or a state-sovereignty system. He favored territorial expansion of the country (with the Louisiana Purchase, American territory was doubled). As a result, for the whole 19th century America devoted itself to the preservation of a federated nation and the expansion to the West.
In 1904, voters chose Theodore Roosevelt as president. Capturing the spirit of Progressivism then prevailing in America, he curtailed privileges of big business in favor of the average man. At the same time, he continued the expansion course, reaching out to the Pacific Ocean. Throughout the 20th century, America carried forward Roosevelt's legacy by equitably sharing its prosperity among its people and by becoming a two-ocean superpower.
Now in the 2004 presidential campaign, America faces two epochal challenges: How this country, in the aftermath of capitalism's triumph over communism, assures all Americans to share equitably the fruits of a growing free economy; and how it, in the aftermath of the Cold War, effectively uses its power to cope with a new, virulent global threat, terrorism. The choices we make in this campaign will not only affect what's going to happen in the next four years, but also for a much longer period, perhaps the whole 21st century.
The second special reason has to do with Chinese-Americans. By the beginning of the 21st century, many of us have lived in the United States longer than in China. Our homes, jobs, and offspring are rooted in this land. Our welfare and safety are more affected by the policies of America than those of any other country. Our sentiment may be at times directed at the motherland, but our destiny is bound with that of the adopted land. In short, we should consider ourselves the hosts, not the guests, of this country.
As such, we must be involved in the most important political event in America for every four years: the presidential election. To argue that our number as a minority is too insignificant to affect American politics is not a valid excuse. Informed observers would say that in American politics a fixed majority never exists and that every emerging majority consists of organized minorities, whose interests vary with time, issue, and region. A well-organized, well-financed minority can decisively affect a hotly contested election at a given time, over a particular issue, and in a specific region. To the extent many Chinese-Americans now reside in California and New York--the two states with the largest blocs of presidential electors--they can exert a significant impact on the campaign in these states and, in turn, the nation.
Now, in this year's campaign what is the choice I have made and how I reached my decision?
Let me say, first of all, I am an independent in politics, having voted since 1972 for Nixon, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Gore for the presidency and in certain elections I abstained.
In this year, as in the past, I let issues dictate my choices. Among the many issues we face today two stand out: safety and economy. On these issues, I pay attention to facts, as follows:Safety (1) A survey shows that the world today is more dangerous than it was on September 10, 2001 (The New York Times, April 18, 2004).
(2) Similarly, U.S. Department of State reported on June 22, 2004 that worldwide terrorist activities rose from 2,013 in 2002 to 3,646 in 2003.
(3) As to terrorism in this nation, the Homeland Security Department has frequently issued threat alerts and has not given any indication as to when we can return to a safe America. And President Bush, in a moment of unguarded frank talk, admitted that he could not win the anti-terrorism war (North County Times, August 31, 2004).
(4) In Iraq Saddam Hussein tyrannized his own people and posted a security threat to Iraq's neighbors but never had the capability to threaten the U. S. militarily nor fostered terrorist activities in America. But we invaded the country--without a single valid cause.
(a) There is no evidence of weapons of mass destruction--chemical, biological, or nuclear--in Iraq (See interview with David A. Kay, head of CIA weapons inspection chief, in Chemical & Engineering News, August 2, 2004).(b) There was no linkage between Iraq and Al Qaeda in the 9-11 attack on the United States (See The Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, July 22, 2004; and Richard Clarke--chief of White House anti-terrorism activities during the Clinton administration and the early Bush administration when the 9-11 tragedy occurred--in his book, Against All Enemies, 2004)
(5) Currently, we are fighting a rising insurgency in Iraq whose members are not Hussein loyalists nor supporters of terrorism in America. They belong to the Sunnis (in Fallujah) and the Shiites (in Najif), the two principal factions of Muslim religion in the country. Subtly, we have shifted our target of attack, from the Hussein remnants to religious rebels. We are getting into the internal strife of a foreign country rather than fighting international terrorism. We have mounting casualties (which topped 1,000 as of September 7, 2004); we have no plan to end the violence; we cannot anticipate even a remote date for the withdrawal of American troops.
These are policy records of President George W. Bush, who is seeking a renewal of mandate for the next four years. These records speak unequivocally that his anti-terrorism policy is ineffective and that his Iraq war is unjustified and counterproductive, leading to a prolonged stalemate at best and disaster at worst.
As we turn to John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, we see he has proposed to increase police force and strengthen intelligence services of this nation to cope with domestic terrorism. In regard to Iraq he advocates collaboration with other nations in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country and safeguarding American soldiers with augmented military hardware.
While the validity of Kerry's policy remains to be tested, I believe that his approach to terrorism is correct. Terrorist activities are secretive in nature, requiring patient, effective police work--rather than war--to remove them. They present a global threat, requiring the coordinated effort of the world community for their eradication.
(1) In 2001 and 2003 Congress enacted Bush's massive tax cuts to stimulate the economy. The rationale was that if economic resources were transferred from government to businesses, investment and production would increase, assuring a full recovery from an economy in recession. The reality is we are today nowhere near the prosperity of the 1990s; instead "there are 913,000 fewer jobs since Bush took office in January 2001" (report from Jeannine Aversa in Associated Press, September 9, 2004). Meanwhile, 4.3 million more people have fallen below the poverty line, set at $18,660 for a family of four in 2003, swelling the rank of the impoverished to 35.9 million people (The New York Times, August, 28, 2004).
(2) "Fully one-third of President Bush's tax cuts in the last three years have gone to people with top 1 percent of income, who have earned an average of $1.2 million annually… [and] about two-thirds… went to households in the top fifth of earnings, with an average income of $203,740" (findings from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, as reported in The New York Times, August 13, 2004).
(3) Bush's tax cuts, which so far totaled $400 billion, increased the already extraordinarily large national debt, which reached $7,009 billion early this year (about $24,000 per individual American). They pushed federal budget deficits to record levels. In 2000 and 2001 the Bush administration inherited a budget surplus of $363 billion. In 2002-2005, the Bush budget is expected to produce a deficit of $1,418 billion. (All the statistics are from AARP Bulletin, March 2004). Against this background, the Bush administration is proposing to make the tax cuts permanent (which are supposed to last ten years). If enacted, this would add $2,750 billion to the national debt in the next decade (Congressional Budget Office projection, as reported by the Associated Press, February 28, 2004).
The fiscal and economic policies of the Bush administration inevitably enrich those who are already wealthy while impoverishing those who are already poor. They create an increasingly onerous burden for the future generations to pay off the debt. And the irony is that though Bush says his tax cuts would put public money in private hands, the deficits he created do exactly the opposite--borrowing private money to finance government activities.
An even greater irony is that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party have completely switched tables in fiscal and economic policies since the early 1990s. The Democrats used to be great spenders for welfare and social programs, and they have since John Kennedy's times favored the so-called deficit-financing economic programs. But by the late 1990s Bill Clinton embraced welfare reforms, shepherded a bipartisan balanced budget agreement, and produced the largest surplus since the 1960s. Now it's the Republicans, who used to be fiscally conservative, who have become the largest deficit producers since the Second World War (George W. Bush being number one and Ronald Reagan, number two), and they have created deficit to finance businesses' investment.
Now let's take a look at John Kerry's fiscal and economic proposals. He is in favor of balanced budget. He has proposed a readjustment of the tax burden of Americans by giving the middle class a tax break and a rollback of Bush's tax cuts for the high-income earners--those with $200,000 annual income. Speaking for myself, I prefer a reduction of national debt to any tax cut proposal. But between Bush's proposal for making his tax cuts permanent and Kerry's middle class tax reduction, I find the latter more acceptable--for one simple reason. The middle class, which has shouldered a heavier tax burden for far too long than any other class, deserves a relief. And since the middle class consists of the largest number of American families, tax relief to them will have a greater beneficial impact on the economy than a relief to the rich or the poor.
So, on the two critical issues of safety and economy, I have decided to vote for the John Kerry-John Edwards ticket in the November 2 election. If you agree with me, spread the message and vote accordingly. If not, vote for the George Bush-Dick Cheney ticket or any other candidates you prefer.
Whatever our choices are, let's hope we will live in a society that is safe, just, and prosperous in the next four years and beyond. (Paul T. Tai, The Elm)