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Published: Friday, 10/29/2004

Ask yourself: Are you really better off now?

HEREWITH please find the last missive from a battle weary battleground state. The inhabitants have reached the saturation point with a gazillion political yard signs and campaign commercials. Please, not another worn out speech of fear and loathing on the stump. We've been dragged through enough mudslinging by carpetbaggers selling their candidates and a chicken-in-every pot to last a lifetime.

We're told relief is on the way, but is it? Depends. Depends on how much thought each registered or provisionally registered voter brings into the voting booth. Depends on how honestly voters in red or blue or toss-up states answer one question. Thank Ronald Reagan for bringing it up during his nationally televised debate with President Jimmy Carter in 1980. Read it and weep.

"Are you better off than you were four years ago? Is it easier for you to go and buy things in the stores than it was four years ago? Is there more or less unemployment in the country than there was four years ago? Is America as respected throughout the world as it was? Do you feel that our security is as safe? That we're as strong as we were four years ago?"

If you can truthfully answer yes to all of the above and genuinely believe that you are better off than four years ago, by all means vote to re-elect George W. Bush. If you think his first term in office has advanced the economic prosperity and national security of the land and won the abiding esteem of the international community, by all means give the man another four years to work his magic.

But if you live in the real world where good paying jobs are fast being replaced by minimum-wage ones or part-time or contractual employment without benefits, you know things are not better than they were when Dubya became President courtesy of the Supreme Court. He is the first president since Herbert Hoover to see net job loss during his term. Ohio lost 237,000 since 2001. A big chunk of the state's manufacturing jobs - 17 percent - gone.

From March, 2001, through last summer, says John Schmitt, a senior research associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Studies in Washington, Ohio had "a greater loss in jobs, a higher increase in unemployment, a bigger decline in the share of the working-age population in jobs, and a bigger increase in the loss of 'long-tenure' jobs than the economy as a whole." And it's not just factory work. Ask anyone applying for computer programming positions armed with advanced skills and education how the job search is going.

The President's answer to our economic malaise has been to cut taxes for the wealthiest and wait for their largesse to trickle down to the rest of us working paycheck to paycheck or holding down two or three jobs just to maintain a meager standard of living. God forbid someone in an uninsured household needs costly medical care. Are 45 million Americans struggling to make do without health insurance, including 1.4 million Ohioans and 1.1 million Michiganders better off today than they were four years ago?

Over the last four years there has been plenty to fret about from reforming education to securing Social Security to affording prescription drugs to fighting pollution, corporate greed, and monster deficits.

But nothing takes precedence over national security concerns in this election year. In four years the United States went from prosperous peacetime to waging a full-scale war in the Middle East with daily troop casualties and no way out. The decision by President Bush to invade Iraq without provocation was a huge shift from his previous mission statement to seek and destroy the masterminds of the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

It never occurred to many Americans shell-shocked from 9/11 that the President they had looked to for leadership in the wake of that awful event could actually be using it to engage in an unrelated military campaign. By the time the country woke up to the fact that it had been plunged headlong into a war against a sovereign nation for no other reason than to remove Saddam Hussein from power and rebuild his country in democracy's image and likeness, it was too late to cut and run.

And yet, fellow countrymen, it is not too late to inject some sanity into the incumbent's incredibly shortsighted strategy of shooting first and asking questions later. The future of everything we hold dear depends on unequivocal regime change in Washington.

Ask yourself a question. Are you better off with a driver who recklessly takes his passengers on an impulsive tear down the road and lands in a ditch he pretends is a divot, or hiring a new navigator with a better grasp of the terrain and equally important skills to embark on the smoothest route possible? Seems obvious. Vote.



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