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FIRST, DO NO HARM. Physi- cians take that rule seriously. So should presidents.
Unfortunately, President Bush does not. Doing harm has been the primary function of his term as president.
He has harmed the nation's relationships with other countries around the world, reflected in the lack of global cooperation in the Iraq war effort.
He has harmed the economy by saddling it with a $500 billion deficit, in large part due to his own unprecedented discretionary spending.
He has harmed employment with a net loss of some 600,000 jobs.
He has harmed the environment by siding with big business on logging, oil production, and other issues while virtually ignoring worthy projects such as the Chesapeake Bay Program.
He has harmed the English language over, and over, and over, and over again.
He has harmed education by imposing No Child Left Behind on states such as Virginia that already have accountability programs in place, leading to excessive testing rather than leaving time for learning. He then fails to sufficiently fund his own NCLB program's mandates, hamstringing the most needy states' efforts to achieve the program's goals.
He has harmed families with feel-good tax cuts that in the long run only widen the nation's wealth gap. Under his watch, 4 million Americans, many of them children, have joined the nation's poverty rolls. And just when it is needed most, funding for families in need of Section 8 housing assistance vouchers has come up $93 million short, say housing advocates. Administration officials call it a cost-containment effort.
He has harmed efforts to achieve social unity by proposing a marriage amendment to the Constitution, a bow to the Christian right that alienates most Americans and divides his own party. Even Vice President Dick Cheney says that's the states' business. Such proposals make GOP calls for inclusiveness laughable.
The list could go on to include nearly every issue the president has touched.
Some give President Bush high marks for his leadership immediately after Sept. 11, 2001, and for his focus on homeland security in the post-9/11 era. History, however, may prove these to be among his key shortcomings.
Americans would have rallied around Ronald McDonald on the evening of Sept. 11 and in the days and weeks after, which is essentially what we did. Since then, rather than focus on real homeland security, which remains unacceptably porous, the president has led us into a costly two-front war.
Could it be more appropriate that the Bush administration went to war in Iraq based on "faulty intelligence?"
Bush criticizes his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry, for flip-flopping on the war, being for it at first, against it now.
At the current pace, given the facts that are emerging daily, such flip-flopping on the war is the fastest-growing bipartisan American pastime. Americans can see the mistakes that were made. Why can't the president?
If Bush had the foresight to see the challenge of putting Iraq back together after Saddam Hussein was deposed, perhaps his strategy would have been different.
That lack of vision could not be better shown than by his May 2003, aircraft-carrier declaration that "major combat" was over. At that point, 139 Americans had died in Iraq. Since "major combat" ended, 953 have died, as of Friday.
George Bush has turned the upcoming election into a referendum on George Bush. This election is not a choice between Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative, but rather a choice between right or wrong.
George Bush makes Bill Clinton look like a saint. He even makes Richard Nixon look like a saint. We know Clinton and Nixon lied, but at least America thrived under Clinton, and at least Nixon ended an ugly war and brought the troops home.
George Bush, on the other hand, started a war for no other reason than to settle a family feud, to wage a personal vendetta against Saddam Hussein. Nearly 1,100 American lives have been lost in a war that has nothing to do with al-Qaida or the loss of nearly 3,000 lives on American soil.
The war has, however, diverted attention and funds from the seat of terror, Afghanistan, from the search for Osama bin Laden, and from real global threats such as North Korea and Iran.
The sacrifices made by America's exemplary fighting forces in Iraq may eventually mean freedom and self-government for the Iraqi people. But President Bush hasn't demonstrated that he has any idea how to accomplish that.
The war has allowed Bush-puppeteer Cheney to enrich Cheney's former company, Halliburton, through billion-dollar, no-bid contracts to provide gasoline and food to the U.S. forces in Iraq. The contracts may be legitimate, but without the war, there would be no need for them.
Kerry will make a good president. He could be a great president, depending on how well his administration sorts out the train wreck left behind by the present one. It's a daunting task.
For starters, he'll have to persuade America's friends around the globe that we are proud but not self-righteous, that we can show our strength without being heavy-handed, that any future actions we take are based on wisdom rather than petulance.
During the debates, when Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, argued the importance of diplomacy, they were accused of being weak. No surprise coming from a president who has trouble putting one word after another. Diplomacy requires thoughts to be well-articulated.
If Bush had been president during the Cuban missile crisis, we might well be living in a post-apocalyptic world now. Maybe we wouldn't be alive at all.
Kerry will also have to remind and assure less-fortunate Americans that their dreams are as meaningful and attainable as anyone's, especially those dreams that are as basic as affordable and accessible health care, a decent job and place to live, or good nourishment and education for their kids.
Americans finally appear to be realizing the need to end this administration at one term, whether because of its legacy of damage at home and abroad, or simply because of the embarrassment it has caused America.
This race has no business being close. George Bush has no business being president anymore.