Environmental Ethics
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Ernest Partridge, Ph.D

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The Gadfly Bytes -- April 27, 2004


Kerry v. Bush: More than a Dime's 
Worth of Difference

Ernest Partridge, Co-Editor
The Crisis Papers

April 27, 2004

A rising chorus of discontent from the left is being heard throughout the land -- in the mainstream press, and even in the dissenting progressive media.  We are told that the Democrats have sold out by selecting in John Kerry -- "Bush-lite." As Sam Smith writes in Progressive Review, "The Election is Over -- We Lost."  And Ralph Nader is back in the race.

And so, on election day, thousands, maybe millions, of voters who detest George Bush and what he has done to our country,  rather than besmirch their pure political consciences by voting for "the lesser of two evils," will either stay at home or vote for Nader.  After all, they are telling us once again, "there's not a dime's worth of difference."

As all this takes place, somewhere in the bowels of the White House, Karl Rove is smiling. So too are Ed Gillespie and his minions at the Republican National Committee, and corporate lobbyists up and down K Street.

The message, "not a dime's worth of difference," which gave us Bush/Cheney in 2000, might well once again hand them an election in November. 

"If you choose the lesser of two evils, you get an evil," we are told by the purists, who fail to appreciate that if you fail to choose the lesser of two evils, you may get a greater evil." It is a forced choice, Bush or Kerry, there is no third alternative.

Fortunately, as I will argue below, a Kerry administration, the "lesser evil" may not be all that evil.

Those who told us in 2000 that there was not a dime's worth of difference might pause for a moment and reflect. If a thousand or so Nader votes in Florida had gone instead for Al Gore,

  • Over 700 dead American soldiers -- and counting -- along with several thousand innocent dead Iraqis, would now be alive, and many thousand more hideously injured individuals would now be healthy and whole.

  • There would be far fewer Islamic radicals willing to die in order to inflict terror and destruction upon us, "The Great Satan."

  • The Federal Budget would continue to yield the surpluses of the Clinton era and the national debt would be further reduced, while our schools and infrastructure would be well funded and our Medicare and Social Security funds secured.

  • Our civil liberties would still be protected. There would be no Patriot Act, and the influx of doctrinaire right-wing activist judges into the federal courts would be halted.

  • Our international alliances would be intact, and the United States would not now be widely regarded throughout the world as the greatest threat to world peace.

That's more than a dime's worth of difference.

And bear in mind, that a Gore administration would likely have been, to a significant degree, a continuation of the Clinton-Gore administration, but without the blue dress and slightly more to the left of Clinton.

That was then. What about now? Is John Kerry just a taller and more articulate version of George W. Bush? 


I will readily admit that Kerry was not my first choice for the Democratic Party nomination. There is much in his voting record and in his recent pronouncements that disturbs me -- in particular, his votes in support of the Iraq war resolution and the USA PATRIOT Act. His position on the Israel-Palestine struggle is appalling -- sadly, in this case at least, scarcely "a dime's worth of difference" from that of Bush.

In addition, his campaign to date has been lackluster. Up against the most unprincipled and ruthless national political machine in our history, the Kerry campaign has been painfully polite and restrained. Perhaps, as some have urged, there is some political shrewdness behind all this restraint, but if so, we have yet to see evidence of it.

Amidst conflicting reports, on the one hand from the GOP that Kerry is "the most liberal member of the Senate" (Washington Times), and on the other hand from the left that Kerry is a faux-liberal and a sellout, I decided to examine his voting record. There I discovered that, amazingly, the GOP account is closer to the truth. Consider:

The liberal Americans for Democratic Action posts for Kerry a lifetime "Liberal Quotient" of 92 out of 100. By way of comparison: Edward Kennedy - 90, Bill Frist - 3, Al Gore - 65, Paul Wellstone - 99. The League of Conservation voters gave Kerry a score of 92 for the 107th Congress (2001-2) and 94 for the 106th Congress (1999-2000). Edward Kennedy's scores were, respectively, 84 and 81. GOP Majority leader Bill Frist registered a cold zero. (Unlike the ADA, the LCV does not list lifetime scores, or the scores of former members). (See my April 28 blog, "Anatomy of a Spin").

It doesn't get much better than this. What we have here is not the record of a "liberal in name only." 

Even so, Kerry's votes on the Iraq War resolution and the Patriot Act can not be excused. However, we might acknowledge mitigating circumstances. Remember that only one Senator, Wisconsin's Russ Feingold, voted against the Patriot Act -- a 352 page behemoth, dumped on the Senators' desks mere hours before the vote. While Kerry was wrong to vote for it, he was joined in this error by Ted Kennedy, Paul Wellstone, and every other Democratic senator except Feingold -- who, by the way, I'd be delighted to find on the Democratic ticket.

As for the Iraq resolution, Kerry voted for it, along with half the Democratic senators because, to put it bluntly, the Senate was lied to by Bush, Cheney, and the Republican senate leaders. And because lying to Congress is an impeachable offense, the Democratic senators might well have been excused at the time for assuming that the President wouldn't dare lie to them. By now, of course, they know better. "Fool me twice, shame on me!"

Furthermore, "The Iraq War Resolution" is a misnomer. This was not a vote to go to war with Iraq. It was, instead, an agreement to sanction a war only if the Administration submitted a formal "determination"

that the president had found that (1) further diplomatic means alone would not resolve the "continuing threat" (meaning WMD) and (2) the military action was part of the overall response to terrorism, including dealing with those involved in "the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001. (John Dean's summary, in Worse than Watergate, 148).

The "determination" that Bush presented to Congress at the outbreak of the war was a travesty (as John Dean lucidly points out -- pp. 140-156, op cit). Moreover, as subsequent events and investigations have proven, both enabling conditions of the administration's formal declaration were flatly false. The Senate was shamelessly manipulated into approving that resolution. It was wrong for Kerry and the others to vote for that resolution. But the greater offense, by far, falls upon Bush and his henchmen in the Senate.

I have endeavored above to defend Kerry's congressional voting record or, failing that, to mitigate the gravity of his acknowledged errors. While this is a good record, it contains some glaring flaws.

But it is a mistake to assess a politician solely on his record, and still worse to condemn him on the basis of a "cherry-picked" list of his worse legislative errors.

Far more important, though impossible to quantify, is the measure of the person himself: the intellectual and moral qualities that he might bring to the office. And by these criteria, there is simply no comparison between the candidates.

Anyone who doubts the intelligence and eloquence, and the moral insight and substance of John Kerry should watch his 1971 testimony to Congress, available at the DemocracyNow website. These are his own words -- there were no ghost-writers.

Many disparage Kerry for his wealth and class status. But it is surely a measure of his character that, despite these advantages, he volunteered for service in Viet Nam, where he displayed extraordinary leadership and courage, as testified to by his combat decorations.

But in addition to his undoubted physical courage, he exemplified great moral courage as he stepped forward to lead the Viet Nam veterans' protest against the war.

In contrast, as we all know, George Bush took refuge in the "Champaign squadron" of the Air National Guard, from which to took early and unauthorized leave, and ever since has covered up and lied to evade the consequences of this offense.

Kerry is also a proven winner. After losing his first run for political office in 1972, Kerry has triumphed in every successive political race that he has entered.

As an experienced politician, and a principled and intelligent individual, Kerry, unlike Bush, will be receptive to contrary opinions, persuaded by expert opinion and scientific evidence, and open to reasoned argument. There will be an end, at last, to government by dogma, hunch, "gut," and pay-off.

This is an individual with solid experience and with outstanding intellectual and moral qualities. We are fortunate to have such a man running in opposition to the disastrous regime that was imposed upon us in 2000.

While there are several individuals that I would have preferred to find at the head of the Democratic ticket in November, I will enthusiastically support and vote for John Kerry. He is unquestionably the better candidate. If he does no more than apply the brakes on the runaway train that Bush has set in motion -- running over our civil liberties and heading straight for a economic precipice -- then Kerry will have earned his place in history.

Early in his life, Kerry displayed the intellectual and moral qualities that could make him a great president -- qualities which, of late, have sadly been less in evidence. Somewhere inside the too-smooth politician of today, is the courageous 27 year old who testified so eloquently to the Senate Committee in 1971.

Should Kerry win in November, he will head a party and preside over a nation that has moved decidedly to the right during the past few decades. A Kerry election will be a battle won in an ongoing political war. The struggle must continue, as progressives put constant pressure on the President, elect liberal members to Congress, and work diligently to recapture the Democratic party, just as the radical right took over the GOP following the defeat of Goldwater in 1964.

In view of the alternative, I find it impossible to comprehend how anyone of a progressive mind could even think of sitting out this election.

Copyright 2004 by Ernest Partridge


Dr. Ernest Partridge is a consultant, writer and lecturer in the field of Environmental Ethics and Public Policy. He has taught Philosophy at the University of California, and in Utah, Colorado and Wisconsin. He publishes the website, "The Online Gadfly" (www.igc.org/gadfly) and co-edits the progressive website, "The Crisis Papers" (www.crisispapers.org).  Dr. Partridge can be contacted at: gadfly@igc.org .