J. M. Pressley
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Open Letter to the President

Glenview, IL
November 5, 2004

President George W. Bush
c/0 The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush,

I'll start with a confession, although it has nothing to do with being contrite. I didn't vote for you on November 2, 2004. Nor did I vote for you in 2000 (putting me in a majority for the last time during the last four years). Heck, I didn't even vote for your father, although I can truthfully say that I have a certain respect for a two-term vice president with many years of political experience under his belt going into the Oval Office contrasted with a former baseball owner. No disrespect, but considering what baseball owners have done for baseball in your lifetime, you can understand my concern at what a baseball owner could do to a nation. I hereby confess that I am a Democrat, albeit a moderate one, who voted for John Kerry because I honestly thought he would make a better president than you.

I will begrudgingly congratulate you—well, Karl Rove, more appropriately—on managing to win a majority of the popular vote by playing a moral values ace in the hole. Speaking for a moment for the Democratic party as a whole, boy, did we not see that coming. With legitimate questions and concerns abounding about a war, terrorism, foreign relations, job losses, oil prices, and a budget deficit that could very well be mortgaging our future, you and your party successfully made conservative values a pivotal issue that helped earn you another four years in office. And I do believe that you earned it this time. So, congratulations.

After the champagne bubbles have settled a little, however, I ask that you give serious reconsideration to your usage of the word "mandate." I realize that will be difficult for a man of your moral certainty; you demonstrated no reticence in treating a half-million popular vote deficit as if it hadn't happened, and now I hear every Republican clamoring about a clear mandate based on 3.6 million votes. That's 3.6 million or so people out of a total population of roughly 293,000,000. It doesn't take a Harvard MBA to figure out that's 1.2% of the population, nor does it do justice to the fact that you, as an incumbent president in a time of war, only won the popular vote with a 3% or less differential (of those of us, it must be said, who could be bothered to vote) between you and your opponent. In my view, Mr. President, that makes for a simple majority, not a mandate. Like so many other instances in your first term, merely saying so does not make it so.

You have an opportunity ahead of you to mend the fences with those of us, like myself, who did not vote for you or your policies. You have the responsibility ahead of you to govern a whole nation, not just the part that voted with you. You have an obligation ahead of you to personify the trust that got you re-elected. I and nearly half of your constituency ask that you take all that into consideration before treating this hard-won victory as a license to run like a bull through the policy china shop.

For a start, you could listen a little more to the voices of concern, both within your administration and outside it, when legitimate concerns are raised. For the past four years, the perception of intellectual isolationalism within the Oval Office has been reinforced time and again by your responses to issues, most notably in making the case for war in Iraq to the American public. To the cynical among us, it could appear that you are sticking your fingers in your ears every time someone comes along with news you don't want to hear. It would become you to make a visible effort at dialogue on the issues that confront this country rather than appearing to stick to a scripted, blunt ideological agenda. Perhaps bringing in some more moderates—or occasionally turning to someone other than an administration insider for advice—would help to diminish this perception.

Of course, one day after you spoke of reconciliation and earning the trust of a divided country, you again turned to phrases such as "mandate" and "political capital," so forgive me if I seem skeptical about the chance of you trying to please anyone outside a conservative evangelical base that apparently places moral platitudes above the lives and livelihoods of the citizens of this nation. And ordinarily, your re-election would not concern me as much as it does because our founding fathers' distrust of authoritarianism (having just revolted against the most powerful monarch on the planet at the time) led them to separate the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government so that one man could not impose his will unchecked on the American people. Unfortunately, the founding fathers could not foresee that this confluence of circumstances could seriously jeopardize the fundamental system of checks and balances, when a sitting president with a finite agenda is granted a legislative majority in both chambers with the opportunity to appoint a full third of the Supreme Court.

That, sir, is what worries me most about your upcoming second term in office. It also worries the nearly 56,000,000 other citizens who showed their disappointment with your administration by attempting to vote you from that office. I will only take the liberty of speaking for myself; I voted against you not out of hatred or disdain for you as an individual, but out of my perception of you as a leader of division instead of unity. You do have the chance to change that perception, to earn my trust, to rise above the partisanship of the past. But if you govern with the politics of polarization, if almost half the nation feels that they are being culturally and politically railroaded, then you will accomplish something of far greater consequence than my disenfranchisement.

You will strangle a significant part of this democracy that you profess to love.


J.M. Pressley,
U.S. Citizen and Constituent

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