Friday, February 06, 2004


Dear Mr. Russert:

First, let me commend you for effort to create a direct line of communication between the American people and the president in this epochal moment in the U.S. polity.

For many Americans, trust in government is at an all time low and heading in the wrong direction. It began with a marred presidential election in 2000, and continued apace ever since: scandals with corporate insiders linked to the White House and the revolving door between industry lobbyists and administration officials; attempts to strong-arm democratic outcomes in Texas and California (and the impeachment before that); felonious acts to oust CIA operatives for their own political gains; the rush to war on suspect evidence without democratic debate and without plans for peace; the shredding of civil liberties; the economic and regulatory policies enacted for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many; the use of public money to fund political activities such as television commercials and campaign trips around the country; and so on. In many ways, the election next November will be a referendum on whether America wants to keep heading in this same direction, or whether they want a fundamentally new direction in this country (and whether they can achieve such change given the President's shocking campaign fund raising).

Around the world, too, these issues have put the credibility of the U.S. government on the line. As a unipolar power in the post-Cold War era, the ability to shape the world toward our American liberal ideal depends more on trust in American leadership than on the coercive power of our guns and butter. The trust of the world is what allows the United States to lead on the most important global issues of our day: terrorism, peace, economic integration, poverty, AIDS, climate change, etc.

At such auspicious times it is often useful to look to the past to see what bits of wisdom former practitioners of American democracy have left us. As Henry Clay was fond of saying, "Government is a trust, and the officers of the government are trustees. And both the trust and the trustees are created for the benefit of the people."

When you sit down with President Bush on Sunday, make him accountable on each of these issues. Then ask him, "After all you've done, how are you a worthy trustee of American democracy?"


Globalize This!
Washington, DC


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