$200 billion robbed from jobs, kids, health care, security

Campaigning in Toledo, Ohio, Sept. 14, Democrat John Kerry articulated the hope and the anger that workers and their families are feeling.

“George W. Bush keeps saying that things are getting better even when we all know that is just not true,” Kerry told a cheering crowd.

“The fact is, no matter what he says, all of us can see for ourselves what’s happening in Iraq — we see it on the front pages and on the nightly news. But why would we expect George Bush to level with us about Iraq? He never has.”

Bush has dragged the U.S. into a unilateral war with no exit strategy, Kerry said. “And now every American is paying the price. Almost all the casualties are the sons and daughters of America. And nearly 90 percent of the cost is coming out of your pocket. The price tag so far: $200 billion and rising every day … $200 billion we’re not investing in health care … not investing to make sure no child is left behind … $200 billion we’re not investing in new and better jobs … in homeland security, to protect our airports, our subways, our bridges and tunnels.”

Welcoming Kerry to a rally in Steubenville, Ohio, State Sen. Greg DiDonato pointed to the hypocrisy in Bush’s attempts to wrap himself in God. “The God that I worship doesn’t say ‘Deny your neighbor from having health care … doesn’t allow for the past three years’ record numbers of bankruptcies for the middle class … doesn’t stand for miles and miles in line at the Urban Mission and the food bank in Marietta like we have under George W. Bush.”

Mingo Junction Mayor John Fabian said, “That’s why I came to see my candidate [Kerry]. I came for hope for all the steelworkers, coal miners and pottery workers who live in my town.”

Retired U.S. Sen. John Glenn, a veteran campaigner who was stumping with Kerry in Ohio, remarked, “The interest that we are seeing we do not usually see until mid-October.”

Steubenville is in Jefferson County. In 2000, 64 percent of the county’s voters cast ballots, and Gore won by a slim 2,450 votes. At that time, Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel Corp. was not in bankruptcy (it filed on Nov. 15, 2000) and nearby Weirton Steel was still Weirton Steel. Today, Wheeling-Pittsburgh is still standing, but Weirton is part of the International Steel Group, a consortium of bankrupt steel companies including the former Bethlehem Steel and LTV Steel. If early September crowds at political rallies are any indication, the Ohio Valley is looking to make a change in November — a dramatic change.

Next door in Pennsylvania, Jim McNeil, an Army veteran and retired steelworker from Butler, Pa., who was arrested in 2002 for defying Bush’s “free speech” zone in Pittsburgh, joined a Kerry campaign rally at the United Steelworkers’ Pittsburgh headquarters, Sept. 9. The featured speaker was former Vice President Al Gore. Gore lashed out at Bush and his campaign team, calling them “digital brownshirts.”

McNeil led the cheering and called for even harder punches. “I did not serve my country to watch freedom disappear at home,” he said. “Kerry is a veteran. He knows why we served and it isn’t to destroy democracy. Kerry quickly supported the 9/11 Commission proposals to protect our country and supported the establishment of the commission, when Bush blocked it. He’s real. Bush — he’s a phony, a dangerous phony.”

New Hampshire does not get the battleground state attention that Ohio and Pennsylvania receive, but if Hilary Cleveland has anything to do with it, Bush will not get four more years to conduct war on Iraq. On her New London kitchen table is a porcelain bowl from China, a gift from Barbara and George H.W. Bush. Her late husband was Colgate Cleveland, 10-term Republican Congressman from the Granite State. Hilary Cleveland is chairwoman of the GOP Women for Kerry Steering Committee, organized on Sept. 10.

“This war is very different,” she told The Boston Globe. “I think he [George W. Bush] is usurping an authority he does not have. He has alienated our allies, destroyed our relations in the Muslim world and actually invited terrorists into Iraq. I think Kerry is our best hope to get us out of Iraq and reestablish diplomatic relations in the world.”

This presidential campaign comes down to this: Is your loved one still in Iraq? Tell me again, why are we there? Are the docks, bridges, tunnels and subways secure? Are you working? Do you have health care? Are your pension benefits or Social Security check what you earned? Those questions are not just political rhetoric, or grist for a slick spinmeister’s mill. They are about the reality of working people’s lives.

Workers are not naive. They do not expect that if Kerry wins, the war in Iraq will end Nov. 3. What they are looking for is hope for peace, a shot at a decent job, a chance for health care coverage, an opportunity to put their issues on the table in Washington, a president who tells the truth and upholds the law, and a government that reflects their moral values in reality.

The author can be reached at dwinebr696@aol.com.

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