November 5, 2004

Second-term advice for the returning president

Dear President Bush:

Congratulations. You now bear the responsibility of a second-term president. This means you are responsible for both the future of our country, and are also accountable for the baggage that your administration will bring with it from its first four years in the White House. As someone who both supported and opposed your first-term policies, and as someone who strongly considered crossing party lines into the red but ultimately didn't, I give you these words of advice.

First and foremost, you must learn to admit your mistakes and America's mistakes. Thus far, you have done neither and it has done a disservice to your administration, and more importantly, to America's credibility. I supported the war in Iraq from the beginning. I was convinced that Saddam Hussein was a threat to America and to the Middle East, that he possessed the tools to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and that containment and appeasement had failed. And then American intelligence embarrassed me. I do not believe that you purposely misled the American people; you acted on the same intelligence that led the Clinton administration to consider Saddam a threat and to suggest regime change in Iraq. It was, however, the greatest failure in the history of American intelligence, and thus far you have failed to acknowledge its significance and its ramifications. I still believe that the war was right, despite the failure to find WMD, but that does not justify brushing off a miscalculation of this magnitude.

Your administration also seriously underestimated both the number of troops it would take to secure Iraq after the initial offensive had ended, and the amount of guerilla resistance from Saddam loyalists and al Qaeda recruits. You failed to secure Iraq's borders, which allowed terrorists to enter and weapons to leave, and your administration presided over the horrid acts committed inside the walls of Abu Ghriab prison. And yet, you refuse to admit fault, and therefore refuse to sincerely remedy the problems.

From Iraq we go naturally to Guantanamo Bay. I am a vigorous supporter of the wider war on terrorism, but the tactics your administration has used to hold the enemy-captured are illegal at best. You have managed to jail hundreds of murderers in limbo between international law and American courts. In doing so, you have denied them—some of whom are American citizens—the right to council, the right to a speedy trial…hell, the right to a trial at all. This situation needs immediate attention, and yet you hardly acknowledge its existence.

If America is to be an example of freedom, justice, and liberalism, it must act that way. And it must begin with you.

Domestically there are many important issues for you to deal with. Today, I will highlight just one. From one man of faith to another, I beg you: Keep God out of my government. You and I will never agree on the issues of gay marriage, stem cell research, abortion, or prayer in public schools. But the U.S. Constitution is very clear on this matter: There shall be a separation of church and state. In America, faith has no business deciding policy. "Preserving marriage," if that is what you're trying to do, is a responsibility of society, not the federal government. If anything, it is for the states to decide. It is not the government's job to impose morals in general, especially ones that are derived from faith. You think homosexuality is immoral. I couldn't disagree more, but I bet we agree that lying is immoral. Why don't we pass a law forbidding lies? Just because it's difficult to enforce doesn't mean we should let the scoundrels get off, right? Pick up your copy of John Stuart Mill's On Liberty—that little book they gave you when you entered office—and take a peak inside. America was created as a free country, and with that freedom comes the freedom to sin as long as it doesn't hurt others.

America has given you a mandate to lead, but you preside over a very divided nation. Perhaps John Edwards and my friend Kate are right: There are two Americas. One America is religious and wants to see religion in the White House. The other America is both religious and secular but sees no place for faith in Washington. Our Constitution must be honored and the separation of church and state must be maintained.

I write these words both as a defender of the war on terror and a defender of gay rights—take them as you may.