I’m about to break one of my family of origin’s cardinal rules: I’m going to tell you who I voted for long, long ago in the aughts.
I grew up among very upstanding people who did not break rules and we all know the rules: no talking about religion, money or politics. (They added in sex as well. I think a lot of people did.) And since those were the rules, they didn’t talk about those things. And on the rare occasions that someone did mention politics, religion or money, they seemed to think that since they were already going to be breaking the rules, they might as well be rude about it. Which meant that talking about such things seemed very rude indeed. I never found our family gatherings to be very interesting.
So, I felt very extra brave when I decided to openly campaign for John Kerry in 2004. (The qxh asked me not to put out lawn signs or window signs.) I bravely wore my John Kerry for President button to the Y for the kid’s homeschool gym and swim class. I talked with friends who were confused and frankly a bit appalled at me. I live in a bedroom community in the great northern tundras of the USA. I am a Christian. I homeschooled. I am pro-life. I have too many kids. I voted for Bush in 2000 and would do it again just so we would be spared the trauma of having to listen to the sound of Al Gore’s voice in the days after 9-11. (Think heartbroken, angry country, smoking ruins, a megaphone and Al Gore. It makes me shudder.) I was personally insulted by things my fellow campaigners said thinking that everyone there was of a like mind. But I felt that strongly about it and it wasn’t about hating Bush. For me it was far more fundamental than that. It was about expectations; what do we have a right to expect from our government? Me, I expect the government to make plans to secure weapons in their own war zone.
I have confessed to being a former political junkie. And back in the days leading up to war in Iraq, I was in full political junky mode. I hesitantly supported the idea of war (not that it mattered what I thought) when a couple of humanitarian groups supported it on humanitarian grounds. I can tell you exactly when Bush lost my support and my faith in the system began to really crumble. It was shortly after the fall of Baghdad. If you were paying attention you may recall that there had been a short, uneasy lull between the fall of Baghdad and the start of an insurgency too big to be ignored. It was just as that lull in violence was ending that reports started coming out that huge weapons depots had been left completely unguarded all over the country. Our military had known they were there, but in order to complete the mission more quickly, no plans had been created for securing these weapons. They didn’t even have plans to send troops to secure the weapons once the government was toppled. The plan was to have no plan. It was to leave the weapons caches of a country believed to be engaged in the production of dangerous, illegal weapons completely unsecured. Some of them weren’t even inspected or inventoried until after they had been left unsecured for a couple of months and, of course looted. Even those that were inspected were then left unguarded.
How many thousands of people are not here today because they fell victim to these weapons in the fighting that followed? Even if this wasn’t the main source of weapons, this sort of ineptitude is beyond unacceptable. This is a war where soldiers on KP duty suffer from PTSD. Nearly all the Christians of Iraq are gone. Estimates of the number of dead Iraqis are so high that I can’t bring myself to look at them. And we went into this without even bothering to lock up weapons that we knew the exact GPS coordinates of? That cannot be allowed to stand, unrebuked, even for the sake of politics.
And this was the argument I made to my conservative friends: even if you had voted for Bush and support the war effort, the ineptitude which characterized the Bush administration needed to be confronted head-on. This man did not deserve a second term. Not only that, but it would be good for the party for him not to win a second term. As many people are now admitting, the Bush administration was a disaster from an ideological stand-point. The GOP needed to do some serious soul-searching about how it had come to elect someone who would lead a war where our military was so super-duper that not even a shoulder held grenade launcher could harm our boys and girls in uniform. And an orphaned Iraqi child had been liberated. It was an investment in their future.
My argument was – let Kerry take over. He’s going to be stuck cleaning up the mess Bush made for the next 4 years anyways (which is exactly what Bush spent his second 4 years doing). Sure he’s a goofy liberal who does things he’s far too old to be doing as recreational activities. But he’s a decent enough bloke. Hey – did you hear how he got shot in the ass back in ‘Nam? Bush never got shot in anything other than a vein back in ‘Nam. (The swiftboat attacks were despicable and a symptom of what was being fed by re-electing Bush.)
The GOP was due for a come-to-Jesus moment and could have come out better for it. But the people said no. One very intelligent friend of mine said, “well, sure it looks bad. But I really believe that there are things the president knows that he just can’t tell us which would explain it all.” Really. You don’t say.
And now, 8 years later, we have the current field of GOP candidates and all I can say is, “I told you so.” This continual state of panic that if we don’t get our guy in office or back in office post-haste, the world will end is not only completely detached from reality. It’s really, really bad for our political systems. Political parties fight like mad to get elected under the claim that they can get things done. But even a cursory glance at history shows that change and big ideas come out of times of defeat. When a political party has no choice but to face it’s own demons and find a new way forward, the whole country benefits. One of those demons was allowing government incompetence to stand in for real action. The Iraq war should have been a wake-up call. But instead, we let fear-mongering and hyper-partisanship get the better of us. And look where we are now. We did not do the country any favors by re-electing Bush in 2004. But good luck getting Romney elected. After 6 years of campaigning, the boy’s starting to show some progress. I’m sure Barry and his peep will fold like playing cards before him.