Where are we headed

Matt Towery

11/2/2004 12:00:00 AM - Matt Towery

As I write this on Monday, I can't know who will win the presidential and other contests on Election Day. So instead of writing about political polls, strategy and policy, allow me this time to express my own opinions about where we are as a nation and where we might be headed.

 In my own personal politics, I am a Ronald Reagan Republican who nevertheless believes that Bill Clinton had two successful terms (with a nudge or two from Newt Gingrich). I don't generally care for raving-maniac conservative talk shows, particularly those that feature talking heads with perfect teeth and empty eyes. In media, I instead enjoy hearing the views of more thoughtful and independent-minded conservatives. Neal Bootz is one, and Rush Limbaugh is beginning to become another.

Yes, the liberal bias in media does exist. It frequently passes itself off as "good journalism," at least until it's caught red-handed, as CBS-TV was over the falsified Bush military records. And how did we ever get stuck with Al Franken? He was funny on "Saturday Night Live," but he's silly as a political commentator.

 On the political front lines, neither the Bush nor the Kerry campaigns has enthused me. Going into Election Day, I feel that President Bush handled 9/11 wonderfully but moved too quickly on Iraq. I think his tax cuts stimulated the economy, mostly by saving the stock market from tumbling out of control following a recession and the Enron debacle. However, the president allowed government spending to run wild, particularly for the federal Department of Education and for drug benefits for seniors. I certainly don't like a late, 2006 effective date for senior benefit and a profit windfall for pharmaceutical companies. With no disrespect to either of the Presidents Bush, I will always believe Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is the most articulate and politically astute member of the family.

 Now for Kerry. It seems clear he has modeled his whole adult life on the political career of John F. Kennedy. But many who know him well have said Kerry doesn't have the charisma and genuine warmth of his hero.

 On the issues, many of his policy positions and past Senate votes have rubbed me wrong. But I do think he's right about the real reasons for the spiraling cost of health care, and that big corporations shouldn't get tax breaks that don't enhance their stock values or create new jobs.

 As for his service in Vietnam, I really don't care one way or the other about the whole medals issue. The fact is, he went over there and dodged bullets, and that's good enough for me.

 Beyond Bush and Kerry, what weighs on me are the broader issues, for both our nation and for the Republican Party in which I was so active for many years.

 First, the GOP. Whether Bush serves four more years or not, the Republican Party must get back to its philosophical roots. The party fares best when it stops sipping champagne with global corporate leaders and instead plays true friend to U.S. small businesses. I think it's ill-advised for Washington to try to be the twin engines that sustain both the entire world's safety and its collective economy. Those are my tax dollars and yours that are globetrotting in an often quixotic attempt to curry favor with the whole planet.

 And when it comes to putting the fear of God in future despots, can't we remember the Ronald Reagan method? He managed to play international constable by dropping a few well-placed bombs in the middle of the night -- just ask Libya's Muammar Qaddafi -- instead of sending in the troops and tanks. There's no use crying over bad intelligence in Iraq, but I would personally rather work to secure our own borders than to try a 21st-century version of the 1960s communist containment policy.

 Republicans used to stand for less government, less spending and less intrusion into our day-to-day lives. We need to return to that, and while doing so, admit that on issues like stem-cell research, the party is simply out of the mainstream. In short, I want my old party back, with a few tweaks along the way.

 As for the nation as a whole, we have become a parody of a bad reality TV show. Most of us are deeply cynical and too stubborn to hear what the other side has to say. And no wonder. Those who look for a little diversionary entertainment on TV are too often confronted with either ego-driven news-talk programs on cable, or network programming along the lines of "Wife-Swapping Bon Vivants Meet The Desperate Housewife Makeover Team." Too many of our best-selling books are hooray-for-our-team drivel.

 But hope still springs eternal. For proof, look no further than the countless millions (perhaps literally countless, thanks to our vote-counting mechanisms) who participated in this year's electoral process. It means that Americans still care deeply about our democratic republic. And it demonstrates that the "lost" generations of the past -- so wistfully recalled by older Americans -- have found their way back to the center of our most basic traditions, like voting. I'm glad. It means that I can look at my children and believe something better is on the way.