ELECTION OFFERS SOME SCARY DEJA VOODOO FOR AMERICA
by Ron Kenner
American Reporter Correspondent
LOS ANGELES, Calif., Oct. 31, 2004 -- Tuesday's presidential election, very likely the nation's most important one in more than half a century, offers a curious deja vu scenario. It's all too suggestive of 1952 when a fearful nation swept Republican candidate General Ike Eisenhower into power in a landslide on a platform suggesting that Democrats were soft on Communism. Now we all wait on pins and needles to see whether a once-again fearful nation will re-elect President George W. Bush on a platform that suggests Sen. Kerry is soft on Terror.
In 1952, there were other eerie similarities to Tuesday's vote. The cooler, more analytical "egghead" Adlai Stevenson was matched up against one of the nation's historically most amiable generals. Not accidentally, he managed to remind a public wearing "I like Ike" buttons that he actually preferred playing golf to reading books.
Thus, in those early days of television, in another Kerry-Bush deja vu, it was to be a public choice between Stevenson's rhetoric and Ike's chat, between Stevenson's bald head and Ike's big smile.
Ike, who would eventually be accused by the John Birch Society of being a Communist himself, began his presidency in January 1953, the very month that the hot-headed Sen. McCarthy (R-Wisc.) assumed chairmanship of what would become the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee; a group that traded on fear, and seemingly reduced the world to a single issue.
Some think those days are long behind us, yet fear is still the central issue of the current presidential campaign. We've stumbled a long way a long way from World War II, when FDR's words rang out so clearly: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." In fact, Sen. Kerry refashioned that phrase for his acceptance address at the Democratic Convention, saying "The future does not belong to terror; it belongs to freedom."
On one occasion in those early '50s I met the famous, fearful Wisconsin senator. As a teenage copy boy-cub reporter for the old Los Angeles Evening Herald and Express, I was sent out to the airport to chauffeur McCarthy back to the paper, then one of five dailies in downtown L.A. Our Hearst evening paper may have devoted more space to Joe McCarthy than any other newspaper in the nation and was then hosting McCarthy in Los Angeles.
On being introduced by the Herald's cigar-smoking, hot-shot, talented writer Tom Caton, and growing closer as we shook hands, I well recall that one whiff of the clearly drunken senator nearly knocked me off my sober feet.
The larger problem, of course, was that a good part of the nation was somewhat drunk with fear. Ironically, in early 1953, within weeks of the time that Ike was swept into office, Stalin died and was replaced by Krushchev, who soon identified Stalin as the monster he was.
Meanwhile, the second half of the 20th Century was turning to the long Cold War still ahead of it. We'll never know for sure, but one could argue that the more intellectual Stevenson might have made a difference and established a different set of relationships with the paranoid Soviet Union. Today there are real problems with terrorists, just as there were real problems in 1953 with Communism, but what could Eisenhower do after just coming into power on a platform that the demos were Pinkos soft on Communism.
It's difficult to know with any certainty "what if" - if Stevenson had become President. Eisenhower deserves credit for keeping us out of a war with China and, not insignificantly, for his warning (as he left office) of the costly perils of our voracious military-industrial complex.
Ike know what he was talking about, considering this week's latest whistle-blowing news about Halliburton - its reported inside track (as now claimed by Bunnatine Greenhouse, the Defense Department's top government contractor) on an extraordinary sole-source, five-year contract for Iraq (instead of the usual one-year contract, with competition). The top contractor, claiming government favoritism to the Halliburton company once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, she was frozen out on decisions regarding Halliburton.
"Greenhouse said Army contracting officials must work as a team," Larry Margasak quoted her in Saturday's Associated Press report, because "divided, the contractor will 'eat our lunch.'" And, of course, that's been going on for decades, especially in Iraq.
So, among other things, Ike deserves credit for his prescience. Yet, I suspect things might have gone more smoothly in Soviet-American relations over the years had the more intellectual Adlai Stevenson come to power. There might have been some genuine rapprochement with Krushchev - perhaps even a significant turning point in the Cold War that almost brought the world to its knees with a near half-century of military posturing (and a prolonged Vietnam with not much "light at the end of the tunnel," and probably billions or even trillions of dollars in often needless military expenditures.
Personally, having once ridden in a junky new Russian car in 1968, I was reasonably convinced back then that Russia's technology was probably overrated; at the least, it served as a good scare tactic to pump up our expensive and much-overcooked missile race and military-industrial complex.
Clearly, despite its awesome powers, Russia, like Saddam Hussein's Iraq, had nowhere near the military capabilities that our own overblown intelligence estimates claimed. Similarly, I suspect that the scare tactics - campaign wolves and all - serve to justify our new multi-billion dollar War on Terror, the maintenance of a military-industrial complex and the likes of Halliburton in post-Cold War times.
As we saw when Stevenson later served at the United Nations, he was not a wild-eyed radical. In fact, he was mostly an eloquent voice. Yet it may have made a significant difference to the world had he won the presidency.
Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled administration and U.S. Congress now turns a blind eye to repression - whether in Russia, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia or elsewhere - committed by our allies in the War on Terror. Now it's all business, and that's not new, either: days after the U.S. ran out of phosphorus to make napalm for Vietnam, Russia put it on the open market to gain hard currency.
Curiously, as one American general points out, the road to peace for the Middle East is not likely to run from Baghdad to Jerusalem, but from Jerusalem to Baghdad, but how many troops does Israel have there?
Ironically, in another deja vu scenario, the ailing Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in France for medical treatment, may soon be replaced, opening new opportunities missing or unused in the Middle East for years.
If so, it would be a shame to miss such an opportunity the way we may have in the previous century, only to continue on for more decades of needless bloodshed in the 21st Century.
We don't really know what might have happened if Stevenson had been elected over half a century ago. And we don't know for sure how things might be if Sen. Kerry succeeds President Bush. Admittedly, Sen. Kerry seemingly has strong personal ambitions, yet this may very well be a safer bet than President Bush's likely global ambitions - seemingly neo-conservative ambitions from a man who earlier took a strong stand against "nation-building."
Even if we take President Bush at his latest word that his primary reason for invading Iraq is to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq, and to use it as a springboard to peace and freedom throughout the Middle East, it might be good to keep in mind that currently, some 18 months after we - oops - invaded the wrong country, he's still having a hard time getting his allies to take him seriously.
From coast to coast, the New York Times and Los Angeles Times have endorsed Sen. Kerry for most of the obvious reasons. Neither candidate campaigned on most of the issues affecting most of the public, and surely there will be some good questions Kerry will have to face up to if he does get elected. Meanwhile, we do know how it's been and how it's likely to be if Bush gets in again. Not good, to judge from the past four years.
Clearly, terrorism is a real issue. Terrifying, indeed! But to judge from the clamor and the narrow focus of the campaign, with or without wolves you'd think there were no other issues. Of course, there's plenty more to worry about.
As just one example, as many people die in the United States every four days or so from smoking as died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11. We might also worry about what cowboy President George Bush might do without the restraint of worrying about re-election.
American Reporter Correspondent Ron Kenner is a former Metro staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, has co-authored several books and in recent years has been providing book editing services at RKedit.