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THE VIEW FROM HERE
In times of fear, we must always vote for democracy

By Dara Purvis | RAW STORY COLUMNIST

Just a few days before Election Day, and I’m thousands of miles away from my nearest polling place. Studying at the University of Cambridge, I love just about everything else about the school, but being over 5,000 miles away from home during election season is tough.

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True, British papers have more coverage of the American election than I’ve ever read about British elections in The New York Times (we won’t even mention The Fresno Bee), and the average Cambridge student has an informed opinion on the candidates, but there’s a palpable sense of frustration among the politically-minded Americans over here that we’re not in the thick of it.

One of the bonuses of living abroad, however, and one of the reasons I came here to study, was the different perspectives on America that are provided by the filter of a foreign lens. Recently, I was discussing international travel with a British friend who has visited the United States extensively. He made an observation about our different national identities that, while it surprised me at the time, later struck home for me. He said that when he travels, he thinks of himself as British, but British to him means he drinks tea and is used to rain. In contrast, when Americans travel, they think of themselves as Americans in more high-minded ways; they think of things like freedom and equality — political values rather than cultural trivia likely to show up on postcards.

As a student reading for a degree in political thought, I recognize that politics are definitely a larger part of my day-to-day concerns than for many other Americans. But I would bet that, if you polled Americans about “what makes America special,” you’d get “the Constitution” just as often as you got “BBQ” or “John Deere tractors” or what-have-you.

It was with that revelation in mind that I received a forwarded email from my (well-meaning) grandmother, containing an article written by some half-wit political scientist warning that, were John Kerry to be elected, terrorists would triumph, America would fall, and Jane Fonda would fiddle as the “big things” on which our nation was founded burned. (I may have paraphrased that last bit just a tad.)

My grandmother has a tendency to send almost every “chain letter” style email she receives my way, and with Republicans in the family, I’ve developed a relatively thick skin about random stupidities reaching me through the cyber world. But this one really pissed me off, not in the least because it parrots the offensive lines Bush, Cheney, and the rest of their plutocratic cronies have been spewing for the last eight months. Bush has said that Kerry has “emboldened the enemy.” Cheney called him “destructive” towards fighting terrorism. Senator Orrin Hatch, along with every other Republican who likes to tow the party line, stated explicitly that terrorists want to help elect Kerry. The rhetoric of right-wing hate is that if America votes against President Bush, they vote for terrorism.

Is that what we’ve come to? Thinking that the free exercise of our democratic rights will aid terrorists?

After September 11, there was a spirit of goodwill towards the United States that had never been seen before. The headline the next day in France’s “Le Monde” was “We are all Americans.” The globe stood behind us in our grief and our anger, and wanted to do everything they could to come to our aid.

And what has happened since then? We entered an ill-planned campaign in Afghanistan and formed a crude black-and-white picture of the world in which if you let us build military bases in your country you are good (such as Pakistan, the nurturing place of the extremist brainwashing of the Taliban leadership that we were so busy bombing), and if you do not sign onto sending the young men and women of your country into battle zones without adequate training or planning, you’re on the wrong damn side. And if you are fond of your civil liberties, if you aren’t a born-again Christian zealot, if you like the idea of comprehensive reproductive choice, if you think it would be a good thing to have a living wage, health care, and decent school systems for everyone, if you would prefer a Supreme Court that supports the Constitution rather than thinks fondly back to the days of the Alien and Sedition Acts — you’re on the wrong damn side, too. And don’t forget, that’s the side of TERRORISM.

George W. Bush and his Bible-thumping generals, making jingoistic speeches in military uniform on aircraft carriers and from church pulpits, believe that we Americans have been chosen by God to lord it over the rest of the world. America is better than all those other countries because it’s our country, and God likes us best. Bush can’t understand why the Iraqis aren’t grateful that we brought them American freedom and democracy by blowing their country to hell. Anyone can see that its better to be an American than to be anything else, and they hate us because they can’t be Americans. When the 1941 Germans said, “My country, right or wrong,” they were a bunch of evil Nazi bastards, but when a 2004 American says the same thing, he’s just plain right. When the jihadists say, “God wants me to kill all the Americans, who worship Satan,” they are insane religious zealots, but when an American general says “God wants George Bush to be President to destroy the terrorists, who worship Satan,” he is speaking the Eternal Truth.

Young George W. Bush and his Constitution-destroyin’ band of good old boys must have cut civics class and got drunk. (This was back before George found God and abandoned John Barleycorn). What makes America special is an idea. I’ll paraphrase this idea, borrowing liberally from an earlier expression: All humans are created equal, and are endowed (by their Creator, if you choose to believe that) with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It’s an idea of fighting for what is right and what is good for everyone, not just for a favored few. It’s an idea that political decisions should be made by open, informed, free debate, not on the basis of what is easily distillable into a sound bite or scrawled across a disingenuous banner on an aircraft carrier.

I believe in an America that will lead all free nations in the fight against terrorism, and will not in the process abandon the freedoms brave Americans and others fought and died for. I believe in an America that won’t send my cousin off to fight with veterans of the Vietnam War because a former frat boy whose daddy hid him in the National Guard wouldn’t take the political risk of using enough troops to prosecute his trumped-up, fraudulent war. I believe in an America that doesn’t use the threat of terrorism as a bludgeon in the voting booth.

I will vote accordingly.



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