As we enter the heart of the political season and brace ourselves for the spectacle of two grown men competing for the favor of a nation (personally, I prefer Peter Jennings over Dan Rather), let us remember that this is the give-and-take electoral process our Founding Fathers envisioned, although they had probably been drinking for several hours when they first wrote it down. (John Adams: "Hey, John Hancock, come over here and put your John Hancock on this. Hahahahahaha! Get it?")
But seriously, this is one of the most divisive presidential campaigns in history. Experts say the country is split down the middle on almost every issue, which means that never before have so many Americans been so wrong. About half, in fact. One side sees the president as an unapologetic ideologue whose policies have seriously endangered the security, fiscal health, and environmental stability of the entire world. The other side thinks it's okay to do those things, as long as he's pleasant about it.
The two parties have pledged to do whatever it takes to ensure their side wins the election, including, in the case of the Republicans, teaching Dick Cheney how to smile without frightening the children. For their part, Democratic Party leaders in Washington are patiently waiting for the primary season to finish so the voters can put forth the candidate who best represents their concerns. (DNC spokesman: "And it BETTER be John Kerry! Oops. Don't print that.")
Once the two parties make their choice ("No, Jeb. It's not your turn yet"), the nation's voters will painstakingly explore all the issues and carefully consider the merits of each candidate. Then they'll vote the way the television ads tell them to.
But as we move forward, it is important that we rise above the usual name-calling and demagoguery that too often characterize election-year politics. This election should be about a candidate's beliefs and values and not just his appearance. John Kerry may look like Herman Munster, but it would be wrong to even mention it. And speaking of John Kerry, he raised a few eyebrows after winning the New Hampshire primary when he proclaimed, "I love New Hampshire," and then immediately added that he planned to love other states just as much. Tramp.
This is also time to set aside petty regionalism and remind ourselves that, no matter what part of the country we live in, we are all Americans and we speak in one voice, even the people from New Jersey, who talk with that really annoying accent.
Above all, we must avoid the temptation to distort and mischaracterize the views of our political opponents, such as Karl Rove, who I heard is in favor of the plague.
SINCE THIS ELECTION will be a referendum on George W. Bush's presidency, let's look at his record in the fair and balanced way you have come to expect from this page. On the plus side for the president, thousands of new jobs have been created during his tenure. (The people of India thank him.) And contrary to what his critics have been saying, Bush's massive tax cuts for the rich did not come from a coarse insensitivity to the working class, but instead came from his troubling discovery that many wealthy families have only one beach house. (While some criticize the growing income gap between the rich and poor, others more accurately see it as a safety net, so that a down-on-his-luck CEO has an easier fall than, say, your average American worker, who is one paycheck away from picking through his furniture that city officials have helpfully placed out on the curb.)
The president can also boast of a solid environmental record, particularly his No Power Plant Left Behind program, which pairs troubled nuclear reactors with caring lobbyists who help them with their homework and take them to the zoo on weekends.
FOREIGN POLICY may be the president's weakest area, since now it turns out we went to war because Saddam Hussein had "naughty thoughts" about weapons of mass destruction-related programs. But the Bush administration can take credit for successfully forcing Osama Bin Laden to switch caves a lot, which you gotta figure is a real pain.
The Bush administration's best foreign policy success was on Mars, where NASA landed two rovers - "Spirit" and "Four More Years" - that sent back incredible images of the planet's surface which, and this may shock you, is mainly comprised of rocks. The rovers will spend the next several months uncovering other scientific facts and, hopefully, not bumping into the British-made rover, which is lost and probably driving around on the wrong side of the road.
Ed Spivey Jr. is art director of Sojourners.