I have closely followed all of the eleven presidential elections since 1960.
The twelfth—the 2004 race between President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry—is the first wherein half of the electorate is willfully disregarding the incumbent's record.
Some who are ignoring Bush's flawed first term are the otherwise intelligent people on television talk shows: Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Bob Novak. Others you hear on your car radio: Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh.
Still others might be your friends or neighbors. When you attempt to introduce the unpleasant facts of Bush's presidency to them, you're immediately stifled as a "Bush basher."
Yet in any campaign involving an incumbent, prudent voters should begin their evaluation by assessing the state of the nation.
The first question must be, "Does the president deserve to be re-elected?"
So while the talking heads concern themselves with whether Kerry deserved his Vietnam War medals or if CBS' Dan Rather should be fired, they purposely overlook ugly realities. Among them are:
While Bush is campaigning on how strong America's economy is, few financial analysts agree. With both the budget and trade deficits soaring, America is poised on the brink of disaster. The most pessimistic analysts predict the looming crash may be the biggest debacle since the Great Depression.
The budget deficit—exacerbated by the Bush tax cuts and cost of the Iraq War—has precipitated a steady downward drift in the US dollar. As the value of the US dollar declines, foreign investors have seen the worth of their portfolios drop by 20% over the last eighteen months. Inflow of new foreign capital has slowed. On Wall Street, the threat of a bailout by foreign investors has frayed nerves.
Jim Rodgers, co-founder of Wall Street's Quantum Fund, is glum. According to Rodgers,
"The US dollar is going the way that [the British pound] went as it lost its place as the world's reserve currency. I suspect there will be exchange controls in the US in the foreseeable future ... Whoever is elected President is going to have serious problems in 2005-06. We Americans are going to suffer."
Rodgers is not the only doomsayer. The former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank under Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, Paul Volcker, recently predicted a 75% probability of a financial crisis within the next five years.
You probably missed this story; it hardly got any ink. On the eve of the Republican Convention, the Bush administration eliminated overtime benefits for six million working Americans. The non-partisan Economic Policy Institute concluded that, despite the claims of Bush and Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, few low- income workers will gain overtime opportunities but millions will lose the benefits they once earned.
In USA Today, columnist Steven Strauss (who identifies himself as consistently pro-business) wrote, "I think that with these new regulations, the Bush administration is shortchanging a lot of working people."
If you are a professional worker, don't get too comfortable. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, with the White House's full blessing, has been pushing for guest worker visas built into free trade agreements. These "embedded visas" are a new wrinkle added to last year's Trade Promotion Authority—the act that gave presidents free rein to negotiate trade agreements with other nations.
The hitch is that while Congress still has to approve new trade agreements, it must vote straight up or down. Line item vetoes, which could eliminate embedded visas, are not permitted.
Last year's trade agreements with Chile and Singapore created 6,800 temporary but renewable visas for professionals.
Nothing Bush promised us regarding Iraq has happened. First, we were told American troops would be greeted with flowers. Then Bush assured us that Ahmed Chalabi, subsequently revealed as a fraud, would be installed as the president of a newly liberated Iraq. Then, we'd reduce our troops in Iraq to 30,000.
All that is out the window. Free elections in January are doubtful. Not only have 1,053 Americans been killed but also nearly 13,000 Iraqi citizens have died.
Many readers may continue to believe Bush when he says that the economy is strong and Iraq is well on the way to democracy.
But what I've learned in forty years of studying presidential politics is that the voices to listen to are not the candidates or their paid consultants.
Those with credibility are neutral parties like Rodgers, Volker, Strauss and Galloway.