Guest Column: Re: Attack of the Clones

This would make a great poll question. Which is worse: an informed public that shuns the polls or an uninformed electorate anointing a candidate who is incompetent or duplicitous or just plain delusional (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for Iraq)? I’ve debated both sides of this dilemma, but have finally concluded that the uninformed voter presents the greater threat to democracy. Senior Editor Joe Baker’s Viewpoint (Kerry/Bush…clones?, TRRT March 3-9, 2004) unintentionally supports my conclusion.

Baker’s thesis that no difference exists between George W. Bush and John Kerry hinges on some familiar issues—the Patriot Act, invasion of Iraq, influence peddling, international trade—and one that plumb evades me—China-Taiwan relations. By his logic, because I attended an Eastern university, once belonged to the Young Republicans, believe conception begins at birth and watched Dallas, I am virtually indistinguishable from Dubya. Of course, nothing is further from the truth. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Rather than dispute each of Baker’s arguments, I think one glaring Bush-Kerry difference might illustrate my point.

Baker quotes Chuck Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity (which recently published The Buying of the President 2004), about Kerry’s accepting contributions from companies and lobby firms with a direct interest in Kerry’s work while denouncing special interests. Indeed, that charge forms the basis of the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign’s “Unprincipled, Chapter 1” Internet video.

In fact, Kerry has received $640,000 over the past 15 years from individual lobbyists, one category of special interests. By contrast, the Bush campaign collected $960,000 from individual lobbyists in the past year alone. When it comes to HMOs and telephone utilities, the Bush campaign has amassed five times and 28 times the dollar amounts, respectively, that have gone to Kerry. To give you an idea of the sums we’re talking about: health professionals reportedly ponied up $3 million for Bush, compared with $393,000 for Kerry; lawyers and law firms spent $7.1 million to influence the president versus $3.5 million to sway his opponent.

Baker and the Bush-Cheney ad conveniently neglect to mention that Lewis reserves his sharpest criticism for the incumbent’s proclivity for conflicted interests.

Never in our nation’s history have so many key positions in so many key agencies been bestowed upon so many key lobbyists for the industries they were tapped to regulate. An oil and mining lobbyist oversees public lands, a power company lobbyist chairs the Council on Environmental Quality, and a mining company lobbyist is the Department of Interior’s chief lawyer. Commerce Department head Donald Evans was a Texas oilman and longtime Bush friend. (It’s like a fox convention at the Here Chick-Chick Marriott.)

George Junior has cultivated the persona of a principled manager dedicated to our physical and spiritual well-being. Yet for millions of Americans, the nation stands unsteadily at the edge of a Grand Canyon-like gulf between his posturing and his policies.

Unfortunately, most American voters could probably tell you more about this year’s Survivor contestants than about the true intentions behind the president’s destructive policies and false promises. Such blissful ignorance is neither a virtue nor a luxury we can well afford.

Craig A. Schmidt is a Rockford resident.

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