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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.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Joe Franklin, Red Stater 

What did you think of the debate on Friday night? We're not asking for a winner or loser necessarily, although you may name one. What were the high points? What were Bush's best moments? Kerry's? Should this debate - should any debate - sway the votership?

President Bush performed better in this type debate than in the first debate. Sen. Kerry is, without a doubt, a polished debater. Both Kerry and Bush slanted the facts too many times to mention. After looking at, I thought maybe they both should have been polygraphed or given the truth serum prior to the debates. said that Kerry's statement That No Child Left Behind being underfunded by 28 billion dollars was an opinion and not a fact. No Child Left Behind funding has increased by 2.7 billion or 12 percent since the law was enacted.

Kerry claims that 1.6 million jobs have been lost since the beginning of the Bush administration. Labor statistics reveal that the figure is closer to 585,000 jobs lost (one third of Sen. Kerry's claim). This figure could be less, as jobs are growing at 100,000 per month.

I was expecting more on domestic issues, but the war in Iraq seemed to dominate the debate. President Bush noted that Kerry had supported the war until Howard Dean's campaign began to gain momentum. Bush asked, "How can he lead the county in a time of war when he changes his mind because of politics?" Later in the debate, President Bush said, "It's a fundamental misunderstanding to say the war on terror is only against Osama bin Laden."

This corresponds with statements Bush made shortly after 9/11. At that time, he said we would go after the terrorists and the countries that sponsored and harbored them. This would take time.

I was disappointed that responses to the questions appeared unrelated. A question about the war got a response about jobs and health care. Kerry was more adept with these unrelated answers, but maybe that's better debating.

The following comments made by the participants are misleading:

1. President Bush's comment on the child tax credit being increased was not correct. The credit was increased from $500 to $1,000 - not increased by $1,000.

2. Bush's drug discount is not working as he implied. Millions have not signed up for the card.

3. Kerry's health-care plan would not cover all Americans, but rather it would extend coverage to 24 to 27 million Americans not now covered.

4. Kerry's comment on windfall profits for drug companies was not a fact.

5. Kerry's comment on the Duelfer Report, stating that it showed that United Nations sanctions against Iraq were working, was not accurate. The report did not draw such a conclusion.

6. Kerry's statement that Gen. Shinseki had been forced to retire after disagreeing with the administration over troop strength in Iraq was wrong. Gen. Shinseki announced his retirement long before the disagreement.

Several times Sen. Kerry spoke of reaching out to the allies, building alliances. He said, "We're not going to go unilaterally as the President did." These statements conflict with his remarks on North Korea.

In closing, Sen. Kerry stated, "I'll never give a veto over American security to any other entity - not a nation, not a country, not an institution." If he waits for France or Germany or other countries who deal under the table with regimes like Saddam Hussein's to join his global coalition, he might as well give them that veto.

Both candidates distorted facts and confused opinions with facts. Perhaps for future debates, we could give the candidates the questions in advance. At the debates they would be wired for electrical shock. If the candidate distorted the facts or misplaced the truth, the moderator, with the press of a button, could jog his memory. If the first shock failed, he would get a second that would knock his socks off.

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Terri Falbo, Blue Stater 

Question Number Twelve: What did you think of the debate on Friday night? We're not asking for a winner or loser necessarily, although you may name one. What were the high points? What were Bush's best moments? Kerry's? Should this debate - should any debate - sway the votership?

Many important questions were raised at the Presidential debate/town hall meeting last Friday - so many that only a few minutes could be devoted to each one. Every issue deserves serious thought, and a consideration of all viewpoints, to make an intelligent decision. I can be swayed by complete, well thought-out arguments. But it is disconcerting to realize that people can be swayed by two-minute "performances" such as these debates give us.

The President gave a much better "performance" in this debate than in the first one. As Ann Richards has said, George W. Bush is best when he "doesn't allow himself to be distracted by the question." So when he sticks to a basic message, talking points, and right-wing buzzwords and phrases, he appeals to emotions, can appear "strong," and can be extremely persuasive.

The best example was when he was asked how he planned to repair relations with other countries. The President's response did not speak at all to repairing relations. Instead, it was a monologue of patriotic jingoism. Unfortunately, I could see this being very effective with sectors of the public for whom this kind of talk provides a needed emotional security: I love our country! We have a great country! As president, I stand on principle, as Ronald Reagan did. Sometimes unpopular decisions have to be made because they are right!

In response to later questions, President Bush used buzz-phrases such as "vicious enemy with an ideology of hate" and "freedom is on the march!" He spoke of Kerry as having "naive and dangerous ideas." He said Kerry is the most liberal senator in Congress (an assertion that watchdog groups quickly showed was false) who will tax everyone because "that's what liberals do."

One Bush statement I have not heard anyone pick up on was that the war on terror will be a "long, long war." It would be interesting to know what was behind that statement.

I liked Kerry's portrayal of the President as using "weapons of mass deception," although I think he could have expounded on this more. Good points raised by Kerry included:

* The top 1 percent of Americans stand to get $89 Billion from the tax cuts - more than the bottom 80 percent combined - and that top 1 percent is all that should be rolled back (in other words, Kerry, as he stated directly into the camera, would not roll back taxes for those making under $200,000);

* In order to get enough votes in Congress for the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLBA), President Bush promised $28 Billion more than he actually allocated;

* Less than 1 percent of health-care costs have anything to do with malpractice suits. When Bush made his tired speeches about tort reform, he left out the fact that up to 30 percent of the rise in costs is due to high CEO salaries, advertising, and other costs of allowing private industry to drive health care in this country - the costs, in other words, passed on to us all by the myriad HMOs and private insurance companies.

* John Edwards authored the Patients' Bill of Rights. No one mentioned that in Texas, a Patients' Bill of Rights was passed over then-Gov. Bush's veto and without his signature. Later, when running for president, he claimed credit for it.

* Tax breaks, incentives and loopholes for U.S. corporations that outsource jobs to other countries need to be eliminated;

* Loose nuclear material remains a huge danger - one about which the Bush administration has not done enough - and the need to account for all of it is urgent.

Issues so far pretty much ignored by both candidates include:

* Being poor remains a plight for too many Americans - and more and more members of the middle class are being squeezed toward that plight.

There is too much corporate power over our lives at home, as well as over foreign policy.

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Sunday, October 10, 2004

Tim Horner Blue Stater 

Question Number Twelve: What did you think of the debate on Friday night? We're not asking for a winner or loser necessarily, although you may name one. What were the high points? What were Bush's best moments? Kerry's? Should this debate - should any debate - sway the votership?

That was how I felt watching this debate. Everything Bush touches is crumbling around him, especially the war in Iraq.

So why can't Kerry drive the nails in? The situation, the disconnect, the denials, the spin, all defy reasoned debate. Kerry needs to use Bush's own words against him to show how dangerous Bush's thinking is.

Bush has staunchly defended every action in Iraq as infallible (and, by the way, Bush claims an infallibility more comprehensive than the Pope's). He says that he would not do anything differently even with what he knows today.

So Bush is offering himself up on a platter.

Pretend it is Jan 28, 2003. We're listening to Bush's State of the Union Address, in which he announced military actions. Would you have signed up if the President said the following? (Remember, he has said he would do everything the same then even knowing what he knows now.)

"We need to take decisive military action against Iraq. We know that Saddam does not have weapons of mass destruction, but we think that if we stop the sanctions and keep out the inspectors he could develop WMD in about a decade. We also know that there is no link to al-Qaeda and that Saddam Hussein is not connected to the 9/11 attacks, but frankly, folks, we have to start somewhere. This is war, remember? This is only the beginning.

"I know that North Korea and Iran are bigger nuclear threats, mainly because they have nuclear capabilities, but I believe that we should slow down the search for Osama bin Laden and go to war in Iraq. I know that the Iraqis are not going to receive us as liberators, and I know that Iraq will become flooded with terrorist groups looking for Americans to kill. After all, our troops will be driving around in unarmored Humvees and without body armor, because I am underestimating the insurgents. And I know we will lose a lot of American troops, mostly because I am going to do this on the cheap, even though several of my generals have told me that this would be a grave error.

"I also should tell you that Iraq will become a sinkhole for billions of dollars that could have been spent on homeland security. This war will cost more than you think and more than I am predicting - let's say around 200 billion for the first year or so. And what do we get in return? No, not safety or security. Instead, we will topple Saddam Hussein's regime! And have free elections (I hope) in a year's time. We will isolate nearly the entire world, making it tougher to fight this global war, and we will create more terrorists than we kill.

"But Saddam Hussein will be out of power! Isn't that great? He tried to kill my dad once, and he is a cruel ruthless leader. Isn't that worth the lives of hundreds, maybe thousands of Americans, and even more innocent Iraqis? What better way to kick off our global war on terror than by invading a country that does not pose a threat to America?

"There's a chance that Iraq could very well revert to civil war. But it's worth a try. It's worth the cost to our economy, our reputation, our moral authority in the world, and a whole lot of blood. And for all this, we might get some sort if democracy in Iraq. Maybe. We are not totally sure. Well, I believe it at least.

"And I can guarantee that no matter what else I learn from now on, no matter how badly things go on the ground, I will not waver. I will never change my course or my strategy. I will never say that I made a mistake. Ever.

"Now the question facing you is: Are you with me or with the terrorists? Will you entrust me with your sons and daughters, your husbands and wives, your moms and dads? Who is up for a little nation-building? . . . On second thought, forget the nation-building.

"These are not real questions, just pretend. It doesn't really matter whether you want this or not. I am not trying to win a popularity context here. A President's got to do what a President's got to do. So I guess what I am saying is: hang on for the ride!"

This, in essence, is what Bush is saying. And if that is not enough to refuse Bush another four years, I don't know what is.

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Cynthia Sneed, Red Stater 

Question Number Twelve: What did you think of the debate on Friday night? We're not asking for a winner or loser necessarily, although you may name one. What were the high points? What were Bush's best moments? Kerry's? Should this debate - should any debate - sway the votership?

I thought both sides would likely think their guy won. I personally thought it a draw. Kerry and Bush said very little that had not been said before on foreign policy, and there were some domestic issues on which I had not heard before from Kerry.

Again we have the little lines drawn that the candidates could not walk toward each other. "Crossing the line" . . . was moderator Charles Gibson of ABC supposed to zap them with a cattle prod if they did? The time lights help because all politicians are like the Energizer Bunny and will not shut up (with the exception of Vice President Cheney, who no doubt runs out of batteries in his heart thingamajig).

I'd just like to see a normal group of people, with equal distributions of class, income, gender, and political orientation asking the candidates questions. And I would let the candidates question each other - maybe even walk toward each other (are they afraid they will exchange blows? Bush wouldn't go after Kerry because Kerry has the arm-reach advantage over him, and Kerry wouldn't take a swing at Bush because Kerry cannot break a nail).

I thought Kerry's high point was his plan to allow "seniors" between ages 55 and 65 buy into Medicare, and allow the uninsured to buy into the Congressional Plan (hey, I want that), and his low point was his failure to elaborate on how this change to Medicare would work. The Kerry/Edwards Web site was short on specifics (one vague sentence).

How are they going to incorporate this with the new Medicare laws (2007) that require seniors earning $80,000 a year to $200,000 a year to pay a higher percentage of their premiums, means-testing them (using all sources of income and cash/savings) into significantly higher premiums?

By 2011 (the year first-generation baby boomers turn 65), the premiums will be as follows:

Under $80,000/$160,000: $66.60 per month per person (no change)

Over $80,000/$160,000: $71.93 in 2007, rising to $93.24 by 2011

Over $100,000/$200,000: $79.92 in 2007, rising to $133.20 by 2011

Over $150,000/$300,000: $87.91 in 2007, rising to $173.16 by 2011

Over $200,000/$400,000: $95.90 in 2007, rising to $213.12 by 2011

I cannot imagine any scenario in which adding more people earlier to Medicare would be feasible during the baby-boom generation. They are now seriously considering increasing the Medicare age (to piggyback with Social Security's later retirement age) and have already adopted means testing.

The remainder of the Kerry plan appears to allow small and large businesses to provide their emplyees with Federal Employees Blue Cross/Blue Shield. That is the plan federal employees and Congress currently enjoy. This plan provides very good coverage, but it is expensive. Now, we are told that tens of millions in this country are uninsured, and one assumes that many of them are uninsured because the premiums are costly and the cannot pay for them. So how will Kerry make up the difference?

I thought President Bush's highpoint was staying awake and alert (no, really) during the debate. Never very articulate, he did manage to convey his message that terrorism is a real threat.

I thought the low points for Bush were missed opportunities.

Bush cited a few occasions from 1991 to 1998 on which Kerry said that Saddam was a threat, a terrorist that had weapons of mass destruction, and was a danger to the region and "beyond." Bush did make a few such mentions, but I don't think he hammered home the point as he might have done. Kerry simply has changed his views so he can get elected.

Bush blew it also on the draft. I think his response should have made the point that all this talk about the draft is a Democrat-inspired whisper campaign. The only people I have seen discussing a draft are Democrats. Charlie Rangel discussed a draft measure on PBS on Jan. 9, 2003, and other Democrats have taken up the theme, proposed bringing back the draft to reduce the perceived racial inequities in terms of white/black/Hispanic in the military.

Kerry says he is going to increase troop strength by 40,000, and some Democrats want to bring back the draft, so the logical conclusion is that it is the Democrats, not Republicans, who want a mandatory draft (six degrees of separation, as it were.)

Kerry says he is going to hunt down and kill terrorists across the world but apparently not in Iraq, although he says "terrorists are pouring into Iraq." Gee, while they are there, why not hunt and kill them?

Bush should have made the point that if Kerry were president of the United States, not only would Saddam Hussein still be in power but he would also be in Kuwait because Kerry voted against the 1991 war even though we had total United Nations approval to go in. Had Saddam not been challenged in Kuwai, he would have told his generals he was headed to Saudi.

Bush should have pounded home the bribes the U.N. Security Council were taking from Saddam Hussein. This bribery scandal is shocking and includes Secretary General Kofi Annan and his son). Most Americans who did not actually read the new CIA report (available online only) do not know the extent of the $11 billion dollar oil-for-food scandal (which really should be called the "oil-for-loot scandal"), or that members of the U.N. Security Council were among those bribed.

So Bush blew it on those points, and they are very important.

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   •  10/03/2004 - 10/10/2004
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   •  10/24/2004 - 10/31/2004
   •  10/31/2004 - 11/07/2004
   •  11/07/2004 - 11/14/2004

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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