candid thoughts on the issues of the day.
Back in the USA After an Eye-Opening Experience in South America
Published on January 23, 2004 By Robert Guinness In Politics
I returned from Bolivia last Saturday. It was an amazing experience, and I learned a lot. I would write more about it here, but I would rather keep my notes on my group blog site, which can be found at Please check it out, and you are welcome to leave comments on this site, or on our Contact page at

Now that I'm back in the USA, most of my focus has been on the Presidential primaries. My state, Missouri, will have its primary in less than two weeks, and after Gephardt dropping out of the race, it proves to be a hot battleground.

First let me say this: At this point I am not entirely decided that I will vote Democratic. Although I try to avoid most labels, I'd probably be best labeled an independent. I try to be blind to party colors and just vote for, and support, the candidates and policies that I think are best for the United States. That being said, I am very critical of many of Bush's policies, the most deplorable of which is ironically his spending practices (at least when coupled with tax cuts). I understand recession-side economics, and I do believe that some heavy governement spending can boost our economy, but it must be sustainable for the long-term health of the United States. I think Bush has gone too far in adding to our countries deficit, and it's irresponsible.

Back in the Fall of 2002, I began researching candidates for the 2004 presidential election. For whatever reason, my attention was intrigued by John Kerry. I continued to research the other candidates, but John Kerry kept draggin my attention. For me, his record on the environment, energy policy, foreign policy, and his life story are very attractive. I began actively supporting his campaign, at least from within my personal network of friends.

Before I left for Bolivia, John Kerry was not doing well in the polls. He needed help badly. I decided to make a small donation to his campaign just before I left, in order to do my part in helping where he needed it most.

As I read my emails while in Bolivia, his campaign kept sending out positive signs of his campaign turning around. As I departed Bolivia, his campaign was on fire leading up to the Iowa Causesus.

Low and behold, least Tuesday he came from behind and won the Iowa caucuses decidedly. Now he is the front-runner leading into the weekend before New Hampshire.

But that's enough play-by-play on his sucesses. Really people should be looking closely at his policies and his message, in order to decide if they will support him. These policies are best described on his own website: Please visit it, and come back here to let me know what you think.

Best wishes,

on Jan 24, 2004
First off, John Kerry on Ice! (

Now that that's out of the way, I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts, Rob, on a specific issue I've heard about John Kerry. I, like you, it seems, had significant interest in John Kerry from the early goings of the race for the Democratic nomination. But, in one of the few instances in which I'll complain about not having a TV (the other being when I know I'm missing a good sports match), I haven't been able to watch any of the speeches or debates by the candidates over the past year, and so am almost entirely relying on what others have written about them. The reason this pertains to Kerry in particular, especially as I wondered what the cause was for his (seemingly) failing campaign up through December 2003, is that he has been described as somebody who "looks good on paper, but is not impressive in reality." Another, related, criticism I've heard is that he takes whatever position appears to be the most politically appealing at the moment, without regard for a more substantial view or policy that he has espoused on a consistent basis. (I would agree that all politicians do this to a degree, but Kerry's accused of doing it to a very high degree.)

So, Rob, or anybody else who cares to answer: Do you agree or disagree with these criticisms, and why or why not? Does Kerry seem like an honorable man, or at least more honorable than the other candidates? How well could you see him confronting and responding to Bush in the general election? Any specific comparisons to Dean, who the other candidate I'm most interested in giving my vote to at the moment, would be extra-appreciated.

In this type of political race, candidates spend most of their time giving the same stump speech over and over again and posing for the camera. Much of what makes a person deserving of the presidency is not in their verbal or written stated policies (see what Bush has done versus his 2000 campaign rhetoric). Rather, the proof is in the pudding. So what's John Kerry's pudding taste like? Dean certainly has displayed a passion for "taking back the White House for average Americans." Does Kerry have a similar, simply more hidden passion? Would he be better at putting his ambitions into practice?


on Jan 25, 2004
I think you have to watch a debate to answer the question for yourself, but I personally don't agree with those criticisms. I think Kerry is impressive as a person and a speaker. I have just started to read the book "Tour of Duty" about his actions in and after Vietnam. I will let you know if I learn anything new from that.
on Jan 27, 2004
Hi Bob,

I'd agree with the last commentator that it would be a good idea to get ahold of a TV and watch one of the debates. If that's not possible, you could try to download some of his videos from the website.

As far as John Kerry's style, I've heard some comments that he is "too serious" in person, but I've also heard the rebuttal "we need someone who is serious to be President." I agree with that rebuttal. I think that both Bush and Dean are guilty of a causual aire that is, at times, unbeffitting of a President. But enough of stylistic ccomments. What I really want to talk about is the issues. (Besides, I'm hopefully going to see Kerry in person tomorrow, so I'll be able to give a much better commentary on this subject later on.)

Before I discuss some of the positions of John Kerry that most resonate with me, I want to respond to your comment about him taking "whatever position appears to be the most politically appealing at the moment." I must admit that I too was a little concerned about this, especially after reading the New York Times's Sunday front-page article about Kerry and an op-ed column from Saturday. This is a quality that quickly turns be off to a politician, and was one of the characteristics about Clinton that I despised most. On further investigation into the issue, however, I found that Kerry is not so. In fact, many of the criticisms made held no weight. For instance, a criticism was made that first Kerry was pushing for decreasing the size of the intelligence apparatus, but then after September 11 we was critical that the intelligence agencies lacked sufficient resources. Later I heard Kerry address this issue directly. According to him, after the Cold War ended we made a strong push to decrease the technical intelligence (spy satellites, electronic surveillance, etc.) apparatus and place more emphasis on human-based intelligence. For me, this position is right on.

A larger point, however, must be made. The national security needs immediately following the Cold War have changed significantly from the national security needs of today. So extracting a stance on an issue such as intelligence from that era and pasting it hapharzardly in the 2004 campaign climate is sloppy at best. This practice, however, is done over and over again, and results in an unfair depiction of candidates. It is particularly harsh on long-time Senators and U.S. Representatives. The point that a sensible voter and critical thinker should take out of such shenanigans is that such candidates, John Kerry especially, have been there over the years, taking stances on national issues, serving on important committees such as the Senate Intelligence Committee and Foreign Relations committee--that is to say, gaining experience. Whereas other candidates, such as Gov. Dean, who can easily spout off that they were "against the war", were never in a position to take tough stances of national issues. They can easily fabricate a consistent stance because there lacking record of national public service is not in the public record. Worse over, Gov. Dean in particular has refused to make many of his records from Vermont transparent for the voters to decide themselves.

Lastly, I want to make the point that taking a vote here, a vote there, which campaign opposition is often guilty of, is a very dangerous and misleading way to judge a public servant's record. Senators and Representatives make literally thousands of votes each year, and often time two sequential votes on a particular bill may seem contrasting. Yet, when one looks more closely, they often find that these were simply two versions of a bill and the Congressperson was simply supporting one version over another. My point is, when you hear criticisms OR supporting arguments for candidates in the media, it is very important to use those critical thinking skills that I know you have and look deeper into the issues.

I want to quickly answer your other direct questions about Kerry. Regarding honor: Of course, without ever meeting someone in person, or knowing people who know him personally, it is often difficult to judge their honor. But working off the information I have, such as his service in Vietnam, his leadership after the war to STOP the war, and finally his long, dedicated effort to search for and close the chapter on POWs in Vietnam...I'd say he's pretty honorable. Also, his commitment to the environment, I find very honorable. He has talked very personally about the inspiration his mother gave him from an early age to protect the environment, and this is something he has certainly lived up to in his record across the board.

Regarding beating Bush: I've seen several polls that show Kerry is the candidate that best competes directly against Bush (in these polls they give different people a) or choices between different democratic candidates and Bush). In one poll, Kerry got 49% and Bush 47% (probably within the margin of error). For the next best candidate (which I believe was Clark), the Bush was a few percentage points ahead. What is clear, is that even the best Democratic candidate will have a tough battle against. This is something I honestly do not understand. Bush's record, especially fiscally, is just SO bad, I don't understand how he gets more than a 30% or 40% approval rating. I'm not going to make any predictions as far as whether anyone can actually beat Bush (after all, I was flabbergasted in the first place when Bush won in 2000), but I think it's becoming increasingly clear that Kerry has the best shot of any to do so.

Lastly, an issue that I think will be close to your heart, Bob: Check out Kerry's detailed plan for national service This may not be a hot-ticket issue, but for me, and I think for many young U.S. citizens, this is an important issue and Sen. Kerry, in my opinion, has a stellar plan.
on Jan 27, 2004
Just a note: the poll I mentioned regarding Kerry versus Bush is from a Newsweek poll conducted Jan. 22 and Jan 23.