September 27, 9:19 p.m.
I read your online essay about why you were joining with other Texas writers, artists, and musicians to oppose the reelection of George W. Bush, and while your writing is as eloquent as ever, I thought the case you made for John Kerry was ultimately unconvincing. It was based almost entirely on his performance in Vietnam and its aftermath. You and I are old friends, and I know what a pivotal role your own service in Vietnam played in your life, but I can’t understand what Kerry’s war record—or, for that matter, Bush’s lack of one—has to do with why either man should or should not be president today. I don’t think that the average voter cares. I respect Kerry’s war record, and I detest the scurrilous campaign to discredit it, but it’s not a sufficient reason to vote for him. Here we are, a couple of days before the first debate, and Kerry has yet to provide a rationale for why he should be president except that he is the UnBush. He squandered his chance at the Democratic convention to define the central issues in the election and to define himself, and so the Republicans did both for him: The central issue is terrorism and Kerry is weak. I agree on both counts. I wrote him off when his so-called plan for the war on terrorism in his acceptance speech was a bland “As president, I will fight a smarter, more effective war on terror.”
Not that I was ever going to vote for him anyway—for two reasons. One is that I like George W. Bush. I observed him at close range when he was governor, and I thought he did a great job. The Bush-Bullock-Laney years were what politics ought to be: leaders from opposite sides working together in the public interest. It’s hard to vote against somebody I admire, even if I disagree with some of his policies as president. I still can’t believe he put the kibosh on stem
The other reason is more substantive. Like it or not, we are living in a time that requires the use of American military power. The world economy is dependent—because of oil—on the region of the world that has the least freedom, the least political stability, the least regard for human progress, and the most radical ideology. It is obvious to me that Kerry, and especially his party, is uncomfortable with the unilateral use of American power. Maybe Bush and his party are too comfortable with it, but if that is the choice, then I have to choose Bush.
This is what we in America should be talking about, not Vietnam. The biggest mistake Kerry has made is to focus on what he and Bush did more than thirty years ago instead of on what he would do as president and what Bush has done and would do. I’m sure that Karl Rove would have paid for the airtime for Kerry to attack Bush’s record in the National Guard instead of his record as commander in chief. So, Bill, here’s what I’m wondering. Who are you more angry with today—my candidate or your candidate? Bush or the UnBush?
September 28, 3:27 p.m.
Let me get this straight. Your number one argument for voting for Bush is that you like him? Amid all the great issues of war and peace that are at stake, you offer us a rationale that doesn’t mean anything to anyone but you. Well, I know the president too: My daughter and his twins were in the same classes at Austin High; he kept up with my son David’s high school athletic career; we even long ago dated some of the same women. There is no doubt he has a great talent for personal connections and can be a very likable guy. But that’s not a good reason to vote for him. I “liked” Jimmy Carter. He was a man of sincere Christian faith, a veteran, a small-business man, a Southerner who had moved to heal racial divisions. But even though I am a lifelong Democrat, I voted against him in 1980 and for Ronald Reagan, a man with whom I had little in common politically. Why? Because in my opinion, Jimmy Carter had failed at foreign policy and at managing the economy; therefore, he did not deserve another term of office. Neither does Bush. That’s why we have elections. To hold the people in power accountable for their actions.
You, of all people, who has followed politics for forty years, who has always been suspicious of ideology, who has always seen politics as the art of building alliances, should be the loudest voice against not just the substance of Bush’s failures but the style of them. Your man has failed utterly, and the stakes are much higher than with Carter and Reagan. Bush promised to be a uniter, not a divider; he has divided America. He was given a chance through the tragedy of 9/11 to unite the world behind the effort to end terrorism; instead, he has done the unthinkable: Through arrogance and incompetence and naive ideology he has left us all but alone in that fight. He promised to be the education president; he has gutted his own No Child Left Behind Act. On every domestic issue, from health care to the environment, he has left America worse than he found it. He came in with a budget surplus; he has given us gigantic deficits as far as the eye can see. The cost of his misconceived and mismanaged war in Iraq now stands at over one thousand American lives and will soon reach $200 billion. Those lives are irreplaceable. That $200 billion—TWO HUNDRED BILLION!!!—could have been spent making our lives better and safer here at home.
As Bush himself wrote about the war in Vietnam, he finally turned against it when it was clear there was no