Radical moderate

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Looks like John Kerry will be going toe-to-toe against George W. Bush for president of these United States this year

Should be interesting. I guess I don’t have to tell folks who I’ll be rooting for and voting for come November.

I considered doing another Bush bashing column this week, but I don’t think I need to since conservative Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly has already done it for me. I read Tuesday that O’Reilly apologized for supporting President Bush’s war on Iraq during an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America. In addition, O’Reilly said he was &uot;much more skeptical about the Bush administration now&uot; since former weapons inspector David Kay said he did not think Saddam had any weapons of mass destruction.

Don’t worry, O’Reilly still likes him some of that Bush. He blames the lack of any Weapons of Mass Destruction on CIA Director George Tenet. Maybe in a few months time O’Reilly can fully escape the mass delusion that Bush is an innocent in all this.

I find it interesting, by the way, that when Democrats made fun of Bush for his mispronunciations and said, in effect, that he was a dim bulb, the Republicans would become irate. And now the Republicans are, as near as I can figure, saying Bush is a dim bulb because he &uot;knew nothing&uot;. Whatever the answer, according to my take on the presidency, the buck stops there. Regardless of what Bush knew, thought, or believed, this is his war, his economy, and his jobless figures.

But I’m not going to get any further into bashing Bush this week. Instead, I want to delve into why it’s come to this – why I spend so much ink criticizing our ultra-compassionate-conservative president after spending the previous eight years criticizing our former touchy-feely president (Clinton, for those who need a reminder).

It’s well documented that most people become more conservative as they get older, leaving behind the days of wanting radical change and settling into comfortable ideals, but apparently I’m not like most folks. I’ve noticed over the years that my political positions change depending on who is in power at the time. If a conservative is in office, I become more liberal; if a liberal is in power, I tend to be more conservative.

It’s not that my fundamental values and ideals capriciously change, it’s just that I tend to think of myself as a &uot;radical moderate,&uot; seeking the seldom traveled middle ground between warring political factions. I’m neither hawk nor dove, believing that war should be avoided if at all possible, but if it’s not possible, war should be waged without restraint.

The Vietnam war, for example, should not have been fought unless the United States entered it full-tilt – with an eye toward the conquest of the North rather than keeping the South out of Communist hands. With no clear goal in mind for the military, the government was simply getting our soldiers killed for no reason.

I viewed the coming war with Iraq suspiciously (and wrote about my doubts extensively beforehand) and have had all my suspicions (and more) confirmed since the war. I wrote in 2002 – several months before we invaded Iraq, &uot;I don’t think [Bush has] a good idea about the cost this war could have on our military men and women and on our international standing.&uot;

Prophetic, huh? Well, here’s some more: &uot;What I fear is that Saddam will unleash chemical and biological weaponry on American troops, killing far more than we lost in the Gulf War. But I also fear that Bush will not follow up on nation building after the war, causing anti-American sentiment to grow and expand worldwide, creating a new generation of even bolder terrorists and terrorist-sponsoring nations.&uot;

Okay, I was wrong about the WMDs (because I still believed Bush was honest, just misguided), but with the rest I hit a bull’s-eye – our standing internationally has never been so bad and terrorists are now flooding al Quada training camps in the mountainous area of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Anyway, back to how I came to be such a Bush basher.

I believe in the free market system, but rather than advocating unrestrained profiteering I believe that employees should be credited with success and financially rewarded for the corporation’s profit.

I get very annoyed when I hear that CEOs are making hundreds of millions of dollars while employees are having health insurance benefits cut to the bone, not receiving raises, and being laid off, not because the company is in financial trouble, but simply to increase the profit margin,

I believe that people should be afforded protection by the law against dangerous products and I think some companies will only do the right thing because they fear huge settlement awards for malfeasance, but I think many of the huge jury awards are capricious and foolish and think that tort lawyers are more concerned with making money than with protecting the public from corporate greed.

Awarding a billion dollars to someone who smoked cigarettes is ridiculous, especially if the person did so after the Surgeon General declared tobacco to be harmful to health. Certainly tobacco is addictive – the most addictive substance known – but we must take responsibility for our own actions.

But multi-billion-dollar car manufacturers, for example, have no incentive to make safer cars unless they fear being slapped with several million-dollar lawsuits.

As with most things, there’s a fine line to be tread. The conservatives want to limit what juries can do in product liability awards, which would remove the threat to bad companies and endanger people’s lives, but the liberals want corporations to bleed even if they did not engage in deliberate acts to endanger people.

For most issues, I believe we must have a lively ideological war going on so that the nation is forced down the middle road – the path that helps the nation grow and change, but which moderates that growth and change.

On some issues, however, I find myself very conservative or very liberal.

Committing violent crimes should be harshly punished. Deliberately killing someone else should warrant the death penalty. Maiming someone, physically or mentally, through an act of violence should put some people behind bars for the rest of their lives because their victims must suffer for the rest of their lives.

While I’m very conservative about crime and punishment, I’m equally liberal when it comes to matters of individual liberty. The government should pass no law regulating speech, religion, etc. just as it says in the Constitution.

The government should never intrude upon the private lives of citizens unless it has compelling evidence of criminal activity. Recent decisions that allow the government to listen in on conversations or intercept communications simply because it now has the technical expertise to do so, frighten me.

When Clinton was in office, I tended to write more conservatively in my editorials and columns, but now that Bush is in office I’ve found that my opinions tend to drift to the left.

Basically, I guess, I just don’t trust the government – not because I think our government is evil, but I can see that it could very easily become evil if allowed to stray too far from that middle road. A tilt too far to the left or the right would mean the loss of the freedoms we all take for granted and the destruction of this great democratic experiment we call the United States of America.

As an American, I believe we must all be constantly vigilant – watching for any political decision that threatens our guarantee of &uot;life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness&uot;. It is up to us to guard against abuses of power. It is up to us to remind politicians and legislators that they are not to tamper with our freedoms. It is up to us to let elected officials know their power is only on loan from us. It is up to us to go to the polls to determine whether this will remain the land of the free and the home of the brave or whether we will become serfs and pawns in our own country.