A more hopeful America, or just a pipe dream?

At the Republican National Convention last Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry took center stage as the whipping boy for keynote speaker Sen. Zell Miller (D-Ga.) and Vice President Dick Cheney. Despite the convention’s theme of “A Safer World and a More Hopeful America,” there wasn’t much optimism in the politicians’ speeches as they tried to paint Kerry as a flip-flopper who is unfit to serve as this nation’s commander-in-chief, implicitly highlighting the dangers our country still faces.

The attacks aren’t surprising, given that Bush strategists chose “Steady Leadership in Times of Change” as the campaign’s slogan early on. But the president has flip-flopped on at least one key issue, and that was his promise four years ago to be a “uniter, not a divider.” Democrats, Kerry included, were eager to accept the president’s apparently bipartisan proposals in the first years of his administration. The early glow of bipartisanship soon gave way, however, to Republicans’ stubborn insistence, regardless of the consequences, on keeping trillion-dollar tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthiest of individuals.

In fact, it was this insistence that caused Kerry to make his now-infamous vote against the $87 billion appropriation for Iraq and Afghanistan. President George W. Bush in his convention speech last Thursday went so far as to accuse Kerry of being “against body armor,” even though it was Senate Democrats like Kerry who fought to make that provision part of the final version. The problem wasn’t body armor; it was our national debt. Kerry supported an amendment that would have paid for the extra spending by repealing a small part of the Bush tax cuts that went to the wealthiest – but Republicans wouldn’t hear of it.

Instead of providing real solutions for the issues facing our nation, Republicans are using Kerry’s votes in the Senate to distort his record and steal his character. Perhaps if Bush had had to vote on some of the things he has done over his four years as president, the public might be more aware that he has been both for and against the creation of the 9/11 commission, for and against full funding of student loans, for and against nation-building, for and against a Department of Homeland Security, and so on. Need I even mention that within the space of last week, our president has said we both can and can’t win the war on terror?

The issues Republicans accuse Kerry of changing positions on, meanwhile, particularly those concerning Bush’s policies, have themselves changed considerably since Congress first approved them. When Kerry first voted for the Iraq war resolution, Bush was promising military action would be a last resort. Instead, the president made the decision to invade before inspectors could finish their work. The decision left key allies behind, increasing the burden on our troops and taxpayers. As Vanessa Kerry said in her VCU appearance last Wednesday, “a quick decision is not a good one.”

In the case of No Child Left Behind, Bush’s education reform package, the funding required to make the bill a success never materialized. Instead of fully funding education, Republicans again chose to keep the part of the tax cuts that benefit the wealthy. The result has been teachers and schools struggling to meet the new requirements of the test without the necessary tools. If Senator Kerry is guilty of anything in this situation, it was trusting President Bush when he said he would fund his education reform. Meanwhile, our states have been left to pay the price.

In 2000, Republicans promised to pay down the national debt, calling the directive “both a sound policy goal and a moral imperative.” But since then, they have suggested that “deficits don’t matter,” choosing consistently instead to reward their wealthy supporters, from the $7 billion no-bid contract in Iraq to eliminating the taxes on stock dividends, a major source of income for people like Bill Gates. What we didn’t hear about at last week’s convention was our record – and growing – national debt, which is letting the wealthy off the hook and leaving us with the bill.

There’s optimism, and then there’s reckless ignorance.

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