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Welcome to Red State/Blue State, a feature presented by The Anniston Star of Anniston, Ala., and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the December 2001 edition of the Atlantic, David Brooks wrote an essay titled "One Nation, Slightly Divisible," in which he suggested that America is divided largely into two political cultures, one "red" and one "blue." His idea is based on those electoral maps in 2000 that colored majority-Republican states in red and majority-Democratic states in blue. Brooks' witty essay pictures the red-state voter as trending rural, a salt-of-the-earth type, concerned with individual liberty and family values, whereas the "blue" voter trends urban, more of a book-reader, a Beltway-savvy intellectual, the environmentally conscious soccer mom or dad.

Cliches? Maybe. But Brooks does have his finger on two very strong currents in the American votership. It's not that Pennsylvania is a "blue state" or Alabama is a "red state." It's that our two political cultures don't talk to each other much, or even know much about each other. To bridge that gap, we've brought together two "red" voters - John Franklin and Cynthia Sneed - and two "blue" voters, Terri Falbo and Timothy Horner. Each week, they'll ponder and debate the issues arising in the election campaign. The hope is that they'll model an intelligent discussion, a great big conference room where red and blue sit down together.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Tim Horner, Blue Stater 

Question Number Four: Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said Aug. 9 that he would have voted for the congressional resolution authorizing force against Iraq even if he had known then no weapons of mass destruction would be found. How does this affect the way you view his credibility on the issue of national security?

This is how it should have come down:

Bush: "My opponent hasn't answered the question of whether knowing what we know now, he would have supported going into Iraq."

Kerry: "If the President is asking if I would have supported this war on Iraq, then the answer is no. I would not have done what president Bush did. I would not have rushed to war based on scant flimsy evidence. I would not have alienated nearly all of our allies in the process. I would have considered the cost in human lives and I would have asked myself if attacking Iraq was really the way to capture Osama bin Laden and bring al-Qaeda to justice. If President Bush had considered these questions carefully, then perhaps we would not be in the mess we are today. But if the President is asking if I support my vote to grant the President the authority to use military force at that time in the diplomatic process with Saddam Hussein, then yes, I stand behind my decision."

But sadly, that did not happen. There is no question that Kerry fell down on this one. He did not seem to realize that the question was loaded. The question Bush asked was designed to put Kerry in an uncomfortable situation. It was a savvy, Rovey question, and Kerry fell for it. Instead of using the question to highlight Bush's mishandling of the war, he just said, "Yes" (or at least that is what came out of it). So none of all the headlines, even the question for the week, made the distinction between authorizing presidential authority and endorsing Bush's war.

I don't blame the media or the public. This is really a case of Kerry not stepping back and looking at the big picture. There is no denying that Kerry has a tough time translating his idea to the general population. Bush is great at making complex problems look simple. Unfortunately, simplicity usually translates into simplistic when it comes to real life. I wish there were only Americans and terrorists. Life would be so simple then. But it's not. This election may be asking us whether we as a people want our country to be run by sound bytes and clever gameshow repartee. Or maybe it is time for a more serious, thoughtful (even intellectual?) leader. If we want a more intelligent politics, we have to start paying attention to words and making thoughtful distinctions between actions and authority.

Has Kerry taken a hit on this one? Maybe. Maybe not. Kerry clearly is trying to position himself as a tougher -- and smarter -- president than Bush. He is trying to make a difficult distinction in one sentence: I supported the authority of the President but not the actions of the President. Mincing words? Maybe, but it is an important difference.

"Your honor, I cannot be charged with vehicular manslaughter because the state of Pennsylvania, of which you are a part of, granted me a valid driving license back in October 2002. They, or should I say you, gave me the authority to drive that car wherever I wanted. I ask you, judge, how can you sit there and accuse me when you authorized me to drive? (Looks like the judge is in the mood for waffles, huh folks?) Judge, I challenge you to answer this question: Knowing what we know now about my driving and the victims, a few of which were really bad people, would you have given me that license?"

I know what I would have said.

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Monday, August 16, 2004

Joe Franklin, Red Stater  

Question Number Three: John Kerry's Vietnam War record has been called into question. One group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is being backed by several Republican backers of President Bush. It has launched a Web site and aired TV ads calling into question Kerry's medals awarded during Vietnam. A book, Unfit for Command by John O'Neill, suggests Kerry is lying about his war record. What do you make of such tactics? Should they carry much weight with voters?

There are many issues of more importance facing our country during the upcoming election than Sen. Kerry's war record. President Bush's National Guard record is not important, either.

If war records were a prerequisite for becoming president, former Sen. Bob Dole would have been elected or perhaps former Sen. Bob Kerrey. President Clinton would have never been elected.

Perhaps Kerry's record as an antiwar activist is the reason this issue is resurfacing. No doubt, a lot of veterans lost any respect they might have held for Kerry because of his post-Vietnam activism.

The interviews of [Unfit for Command coauthor] John O'Neill and [Vietnam vet and Kerry defender] Jim Rassmann that I've seen left me with the impression that both were creditable. O'Neill's position is nothing new. He's made his claims for more than 30 years.

I've not read the books concerning Kerry's war record or seen the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads.

The veterans, both pro and con, have a right to be heard. There appears to be far more anti-Kerry veterans than those supporting him. It is difficult to believe all the recollections of these vets were bought! The Swift Boat Veterans for Truth ads may influence a handful of voters, but I doubt it. On the other hand, these voters deserve to know everything about any candidate's past because that candidate's future might have a huge impact on our nation.

Perhaps we need to focus on the troops in harm's way in Iraq. The Vietnam War is history today just as World War I was in the 1960. I don't recall any hoopla about World War I in the '50s or '60s.

The difference is in the veterans. Most from the "Big Wars" never discussed their experiences, seldom complained, and never bragged like some of those in more recent times. I recall hearing a long departed WWII veteran say, "The difference in a veteran and a veteran of a foreign war is, a veteran of a foreign war can tell a bigger lie and no one will dispute him." Even though this was said in jest, he might recant that statement if he were alive today. If the old veteran ever lied he sure as hell did not do it before the United States senate, in a signed affidavit or in a book.

A man of many faces and many positions, like Sen. Kerry, will glean votes for his war record and antiwar record! Oh well, the Republicans have the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth and the Democrats have . . . Michael Moore.

Most people in South Alabama had rather sit down to dinner or enjoy a ball game with the Swift Boat Veterans than give Michael Moore the time of day.

Is the problem John Kerry's war record or John Kerry's record of the war? Read his 1971 Senate testimony and the rebuttals by hundreds of Vietnam veteran’s (found on the Web and in numerous publications). It simply is not plausible that these veterans are liars. Neither is it plausible that they are all Republicans.

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Terri Falbo, Blue Stater  

Question Number Three: John Kerry's Vietnam War record has been called into question. One group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is being backed by several Republican backers of President Bush. It has launched a Web site and aired TV ads calling into question Kerry's medals awarded during Vietnam. A book, Unfit to Command by John O'Neill, suggests Kerry is lying about his war record. What do you make of such tactics? Should they carry much weight with voters?

When a candidate makes any issue a cornerstone of his campaign, in general there is nothing wrong with opponents pointing out falsehoods or contradictions.

However, by the same token, it is also important to question their inconsistencies, veracity, and possible motives. In doing so, voters should not get so mired in minute details that we lose sight of the important overall issues such as the economy, war and the direction of foreign policy, health care, education, the environment, equal rights for all, etc.

An important fact to consider is that all Kerry's crewmates who are still alive are supporting him. The critics in the ad who say they served with Kerry were on other boats. It is possible that their perception of events that led to Kerry receiving one of his medals was different than the account given by Jim Rassmann, the life-long Republican who recommended Kerry for the Silver Star for saving his life.

However, nothing I have seen on the Web site or heard on hours of right-wing radio proves to me an "unfitness to command."

In addition, the allegations raise many questions. Some of their claims just make no sense, and their connections with and financing by the same people who smeared John McCain and Max Cleland lead me question the motives of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth.

Let's assume the Swift Boat ad claim that Kerry's medals are all based on lies is true. What does that say about those responsible for awarding the medals – and about the whole process?

John O'Neill and others involved claim Kerry was lying about being in Cambodia. (Since Nixon started secret bombing almost immediately after his inauguration, it stands to reason that there would have been reconnaissance missions in the month preceding.) They say Kerry lied about atrocities taking place in Vietnam. They never explain WHY someone would say they did something wrong when they didn't! It's more likely that people would lie to cover up a wrongdoing, as initially happened in the case of the My Lai massacre. It makes sense that someone who is hungry for power and money would say what those with the most power and money would like them to say (which is that U.S. corporations and military interventions are always in the right). But it makes NO sense for someone to lie to say their group did
something wrong when they really didn't!

It's interesting that the smear campaign against Kerry started to surface soon after the Toledo Blade reporters won the Pulitzer Prize for their series investigating U.S. military atrocities in Vietnam that linked the actions to official military policy and what historian Christian Appy terms the "doctrine of atrocity." The series was sympathetic towards both the Vietnamese victims and the U.S. soldiers, many of whom suffered emotional and mental breakdowns resulting from their wartime actions.

Rather than any real concern over how medals were won, it makes more sense that the following (in reverse chronological order) are the real motives behind the current anti-Kerry campaign.

Aug 2: A CBS News poll showed John Kerry even with the President among veterans who are registered voters. Veteran households make up 30 percent of the electorate and have in recent decades given the Republican Party at least 60 percent of their votes.

July: Release of Fahrenheit 9/11 causes people to think and to put some of the pieces together. (I've heard no mention in the media of my favorite part -- where George W. Bush tells a group at a fundraiser, "What an impressive crowd: the haves, and the have-mores. Some people call you the elite, I call you my base.?")

April: Toledo Blade reporters win Pulitzer Prize for investigation of atrocities in Vietnam (mentioned above) – Swift Boat Veterans for Truth established in May.

August 2003: The Bush administration announced it was closing seven VA hospitals, despite reports of hundreds of thousands of veterans being forced to wait over six months for an initial visit to a physician at a VA facility. A thousand veterans and supporters protested in Waco, Texas, against the closing of a facility there while the president vacationed nearby.

April 2003: The Bush administration sent to the House its proposal for cutting $844 million from veterans' health care from the 2004 budget and almost $10 billion over 10 years. The 18 Democrats opposed the cuts, but an almost perfect party-line vote of 22-19 was to proceed. Only after constituents expressed outrage was the plan scrapped. The Defense Department planned to cut back the pay for the 148,000 troops in Iraq, but after criticism from Democrats, announced pay would not be cut.

March 2003: US Troops sent to Iraq.

Winter of 2002-2003: Marches and demonstrations throughout the United States opposing intervention in Iraq. Many labor unions (including the Philadelphia AFL-CIO Central Labor Council) passed resolutions against the impending war in Iraq, with statements such as, "The principal victims of a war will be the sons and daughters of working class families serving in the military and innocent Iraqi civilians."

Fall of 2002: Bush administration attention is diverted to Iraq, though there is no evidence of a connection with Sept. 11, 2001.

1971: Kerry testifies about atrocities in Vietnam.

1967: Founding of Vietnam Veterans Against the War.

1964: Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to escalate the Vietnam War is based on misinformation or disinformation.

1940: Excerpt from speeches by Retired Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler: "I spent 33 years and four months in active military service, and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico . . . safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested."

1898: Randolph Hearst publications claim USS Maine was fired upon (despite lack of evidence) to get citizen support for sending troops to Cuba and the Philippines.

When will we learn?

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Cynthia Sneed, Red Stater  

Question Number Three: John Kerry's Vietnam War record has been called into question. One group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is being backed by several Republican backers of President Bush. It has launched a Web site and aired TV ads calling into question Kerry's medals awarded during Vietnam. A book, Unfit for Command by John O'Neill, suggests Kerry is lying about his war record. What do you make of such tactics? Should they carry much weight with voters?

What John O'Neill, longtime Kerry nemesis and coauthor of Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry, should have done was hire an independent Hollywood producer to make his book into a feature film. The movie would be released at a glitzy film festival with fat cats attending the premier and would be nominated for, and win, an Academy Award.

Meanwhile, the producer would go to the Republican convention as a mega rock star, partying with the movers and shakers in the Republican Party. All of the major media anchors would discuss the "documentary" in a serious tone while newspaper editors across the land would refer to the O'Neill account of Kerry's Vietnam service as "troubling" and "worthy of investigation."

Of course, O'Neill would have to actually find a Hollywood producer to make the movie. Any book/movie about John Kerry while he is running for president would be met with the same derision and suspicion as the absurd "Clinton Chronicles." [The documentary] in which the Clintons were to have killed or been associated with the deaths of no less than 35 people over the entire course of their lives. I hate to say it, but by the time you are 40 years old people around you start dropping like flies, you find yourself reading the obituaries before the comics. If knowing 35 dead people by the time you are 40 makes you a murder suspect, I need a lawyer - quick.

Those actually keeping up with this stuff (the .0001 percent) are likely more amused than swayed. The Republican Party, very concerned about unregulated 527s that violated the spirit, if not the form, of the campaign finance reform laws, tried to halt the stop these groups unleashed by George Soros and to no avail. Now that the FCC has apparently agreed that it is fine to violate the campaign laws with soft money, conservative supporters - always a day late and a dollar short - have funded groups to run their own ads.

So, what we have is the playground brawl between the mega-millionaire bullies (no, not Teresa Kerry and Lynne Cheney): [ contributor] George Soros and [Swift Boat Veterans contributor] Bob Perry. We have Michael Moore versus John O'Neill, Fahrenheit 9/11 vs. "Unfit for Command," Hollywood megastars versus angry Vietnam vets. Those vets were vilified when they returned home - in large part because of Lt. Kerry's testimony before Congress that claimed that they were guilty of war crimes. (Kerry now "regrets" his choice of words. Duh.)

The number of vets signing the letter does interest me because there were 300 at the Swift Boat reunion and about 250 were willing to say they thought Kerry unfit to command the military. Of all the Swift Boat vets contacted fewer than 10 percent refused to sign the letter.

About 60 eyewitnesses to Kerry's service are cited in the book. The eyewitnesses were all in Kerry's unit, with each boat carrying seven or eight. The swift boats traveled together in groups of five or six meaning there would be 36 to 40 or more soldiers on the river together at one time. Some eyewitnesses were describing Kerry fleeing comrades who were under attack, disregarding orders, putting others in danger, creating phony film footage of his exploits with a home movie camera, and recommending himself for medals and Purple Hearts in reports he wrote himself.

Why so many Vietnam Vets, many of them lifelong Democrats, would lie about John Kerry - a man they served with in close combat - is unclear. I cannot ever remember any politician from either WWII or the Korean War having members of his own unit question his personal accounts of his service record.

If John Kerry gamed the system to earn his medals, then he was successful at the gaming and parlayed the game into a lifetime career as a politician. If John Kerry had some type of precognitive knowledge that one day he would be running for president, and therefore would need film footage of his duty during the four months in country, then good for him for thinking of making the home movies and group photos. (My father-in-law, who served two tours of combat duty in Vietnam, does not have home movies or photos to share or nary a Purple Heart. He did have a dog there for a while.)

I very much doubt that most Americans can tell you anything about John O'Neill and the swift boaters. Most of us do not live in the key "battleground" states never see any national candidate up close and personal. If either candidate comes to our town they charge $1,000 per ice cube for the event, leaving most of us wondering: "Who are these people that can afford to go to these things?" Then we realize it is Whoopie Goldberg and a bunch of fat-cat corporate executives with more money than common sense.

The rest of us, we take the kids to the beach, go fishing and cookout in the backyard. I do not believe that Michael Moore movies and John O'Neill books influence undecided voters because the vast majority of Americans get their political news from Comedy Central and The Tonight Show.

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Tim Horner, Blue Stater  

Question Number Three: John Kerry's Vietnam War record has been called into question. One group, Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, is being backed by several Republican backers of President Bush. It has launched a Web site and aired TV ads calling into question Kerry's medals awarded during Vietnam. A book, Unfit for Command by John O'Neill, suggests Kerry is lying about his war record. What do you make of such tactics? Should they carry much weight with voters?

On the surface this seems like a scathing accusation against Kerry. The commercial aired by the SBVT is very clever, but deceptive.

First, they say that Kerry is lying about what happened in Vietnam. They say that he lied about getting his Purple Heart. Even the doctor that treated him says that he lied about his injuries. And eyewitnesses say he lied about events. But exactly what the lies are is not revealed.

Step back for a minute and think about what they are saying. Are they saying that the military was giving out medals without checking with doctors or fellow crew members to corroborate the facts? Was it that easy to get a medal? These veterans are condemning their own military with these accusations. If there is a scandal, it's how the military awarded medals of honor (Purple Hearts even!) without checking the facts or the doctor who examined him. Is that what they really want to say?

No, they really don't want their own, or anyone's, military medals to come into question. What is really going on here is a very old grudge against Kerry for speaking out against the war in 1971. John O'Neill, who has consistently spoken out against Kerry and is currently on the SBVT Steering Committee, was President Nixon's answer to Kerry back in '71. O'Neill was an attempt to neutralize Kerry's effect on public opinion on the war. It did not work.

The latest SBVT commercial ends by saying that Kerry discredited his country, but not because of the medals or what happened on the swift boat. The real point of contention behind SBVT is his opposition to the Vietnam War.

This is a quote from a letter issued by SBVT addressed to John Kerry. "It is our collective judgment that, upon your return from Vietnam, you grossly and knowingly distorted the conduct of the American soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen of that war (including a betrayal of many of us, without regard for the danger your actions caused us.) Further, we believe that you have withheld and/or distorted material facts as to your own conduct in this war." The real point is not the medals; it is a 33-year-old grudge, and an ugly one at that.

And here's how you can tell that this is not really about the pursuit of truth. The mission statement from the SBVT reads: "We believe it is incumbent on ALL presidential candidates to be totally honest and forthcoming regarding personal background and policy information that would help the voting public make an informed decision when choosing the next president of the United States." I wonder what the SBVT thinks about Bush and his patchy service record (small as it is)? Are they satisfied that he has been forthcoming with all the details of his service to our great country?

It's tough to check whether Bush is lying about the 'lost days' in the National Guard ('72) because no one, not even commanding officers, remember even seeing him there. At least Kerry showed up for his physical. Are these concerned veterans going to apply the same level of scrutiny to our current President? How could any one of these guys vote for someone who took the easy road around Vietnam? If Kerry is bad, then they must hate both Bush and Clinton.

Who are these guys going to vote for: Nader? If I were a veteran (too young), I would have been appalled that Bush wore a combat flack jacket but never flew a mission. I'll bet Bush is doing everything he can to silence this group. What if they looked at his record? But that will never happen, and everyone knows it.

The twist to this is that SBVT is funded by conservatives intent on taking Kerry down a few notches. They are not concerned with anything other than seeing Kerry fall.

Why? Because he spoke out against an unjust war, and he angered some veterans with his accusation of unsavory actions committed by U.S. soldiers. Sadly, we are no longer strangers to that way wars can bring out the worst in us. We are watching a very ugly personal vendetta being played out in the media. It is the lowest form of attack, and it has the blessing of the conservatives. There is no substance here. We have no details, just words. Big, old, angry words. There is no other way to describe this underhanded attack: shameful.

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Bloggers from
Blue State (Pa.)

Terri Falbo

Born and raised in Southwestern Pennsylvania, Terri Falbo is a union organizer who has lived in Philadelphia for almost 30 years. She graduated from Temple University and previously worked as a construction worker for 17 years.

Tim Horner

Tim Horner grew up in Iowa, but has lived out significant chunks of his adult life in Chicago, IL and Oxford, England. He is married and has four children (14, 12, 10 and 7). Having grown up as an Evangelical in the Midwest and still a practicing Christian, he is concerned with how religion and politics mix. Because of a combination of circumstance and apathy, he has never voted in a presidential election. He currently teaches Humanities at Villanova University.
Bloggers from
Red State (Ala.)

Joe Franklin

Alabama native Joe Franklin, 58, was born in Pike County and grew up on a farm in Crenshaw County. He graduated from Troy State University in 1967. After working for 28 years with the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles as a parole and probation officer, retired to Crenshaw County, which is just south of Montgomery, where he spends his days working on the farm.

Cynthia Sneed

Gadsden resident and local college professor Cynthia Smith Sneed has a doctorate in Accounting from the University of Alabama. Her fields of academic research are in state pension and employee benefit issues. She has been published in numerous academic accounting journals and has done research for the Alabama Policy Institute. She is a member of the American Accounting Association, Governmental Finance Officers Association as well as being active in the Republican Party.

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