George W. Bush and I were both elected governor of our respective states in l994. During our terms, I had the opportunity to get to know and work with him on issues of importance to Maine and Texas. I voted for him for president in 2000, attended his inauguration, and welcomed him to Maine on several occasions during his presidency. Based upon his statements, my personal relationship with him, and the experienced team he assembled, I had high hopes that President Bush would govern from the center, dispelling the extreme partisanship that had characterized Washington in the 1990s, while maintaining prudent fiscal and foreign policies.
Unfortunately, I have been deeply disappointed on all counts. Rather than uniting the country as I had hoped, this administration has pursued a narrowly partisan and ideological agenda that has divided our nation as never before in my lifetime.
As governor, my highest priority was the creation and retention of quality jobs, and building a strong pro-business environment. As a businessman before that, I understood the overriding importance of a vigorous private sector.
In some areas, however, our government’s critical role is to find the right balance between the interests of business and the needs of our citizens. Unfortunately, this administration seems to have lost sight of the importance of such a balance altogether. On everything from energy to the environment to regulatory issues and tax policy, its actions have consistently put the special interests of large corporations, utilities, and the very wealthy ahead of ordinary Americans.
A perfect example is the administration’s reversal of bipartisan efforts over the last 10 years to clean up the dirty power plants in the Midwest which send their bad air to Maine and the rest of the Northeast.
They have done the same on issues of science and social policy – opposition to stem cell research, for example – while catering to the most ideologically extreme wing of the Republican Party.
On fiscal policy, the record is also disappointing. By dramatically increasing federal spending while at the same time sponsoring major tax cuts – tilted heavily toward the wealthy – this administration and its allies in Congress have converted the first balanced federal budget in many years into massive deficits stretching into the next decade and beyond. Deficit spending during a recession may well be justified to stimulate economic growth, but continuing structural deficits – which we now face, even without counting the costs of the Iraq war or the war on terrorism – will inevitably burden that same economy over the long term.
In the short run, this has shifted additional burdens to Maine’s state and local tax systems as our education and health care needs have continued to grow (in part due to unfunded federal mandates) while federal commitments have failed to keep pace. In the long run, these huge deficits amount to nothing more than pushing costs we are unwilling to bear onto the next generation, a generation already facing ballooning Social Security and Medicare costs to pay for our retirements.
As for future spending, a recent independent estimate of the cost over the next decade of the new or expanded domestic programs advocated by the president in his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention exceeds three trillion dollars. For the president to increase spending and grow the size of the government while at the same time pushing massive tax cuts primarily benefiting the wealthy is neither compassionate nor conservative – it is simply irresponsible.
In foreign affairs, the president admirably rallied our people and the people of the world in the aftermath of the tragedy of Sept. 11 – and then squandered that extraordinary unity and international good will by pursuing a go-it-alone foreign policy that has alienated our friends, strengthened our enemies, and made Americans less safe. Never before in the history of this country has America been held in such low esteem throughout the world.
As an Independent, I have been very reluctant to endorse partisan candidates at any level and refrained from doing so during the last presidential election. On the state level, I have voted as often for Republican candidates as for Democrats. But my deep concern over the policies, direction, and tone of this administration has led me to conclude that a change of leadership is critically important for our country – that we need new leadership to take America in a new direction.
We face unprecedented challenges at home and abroad, challenges that can be met successfully only by strong, inclusive, and wise leadership. After looking at the records of both candidates and listening to their respective visions for America, I intend to actively support John Kerry for president of the United States.
Historically, John Kerry has worked with Democrats, Republicans and Independents to further our nation’s ideals and the interests of our people. Importantly for me, he was one of the first Democrats to support deficit cutting legislation and has already made fiscal discipline a high priority for his administration. He has shown an ability to listen and work with a broad range of people with differing views – a crucial quality in any leader and one that the current administration conspicuously lacks. I have personally seen John Kerry take on tough issues and fight with skill and determination for what he feels are the best interests of the American people.
I like George Bush as a person and wanted him to succeed. Sadly, however, it has become clear to me that he and Vice President Dick Cheney are taking this nation in a disastrously wrong direction and that an immediate change in that direction is critically necessary. As an Independent, I’m sure that I will not always agree with John Kerry, but based upon the record of the past four years, I’m equally sure that he will do a better job for our country than George W. Bush.
Angus King was governor of Maine from 1995 to 2003.