Saddam Hussein is in a cell wall papered with a picture of George Bush, Omar Gadhafi has invited the world to take a look at his shop of horrors, Syria is holding trade fairs at the Damascus Sheraton, Iran has agreed to allow inspectors in to look under the hood of their “nuclear energy program,” the economy is supposedly humming along with the highest productivity numbers in 20 years, interest rates are going to stay put for now and the recession – according to the president’s bean counters – is in the rearview mirror.

So what’s not to like? Why would anyone want to vote for change in ’04?

One of the questions voters ask themselves around voting time is: “Am I better off now then when this guy took office?” The answer to this question in 2004 will be: “It depends.” It depends on where you stand on the food chain of the U.S. economy or foreign policy.

If you make more than $200,000 a year, you would likely not vote for a change. Your world is working just fine. In fact, thanks to the Bush tax cut, you’ll get to keep an extra $14,000 this year. Perhaps you can spend it on luxury goods, one of the fastest growing markets in America today.

If you happen to work for Kellogg Brown and Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, you won’t need to worry about job security. This year our government awarded your company a contract, “expandable” up to $7 billion over two years, to provide for logistical and maintenance needs of U.S. forces in Iraq. Our troops should be eating steak and lobster every night for that price.

By the way, I don’t know whether the $7 billion includes the millions Halliburton overcharged for transporting fuel into Iraq … the country with the second-largest oil reserves in the world.

On the other hand, if you are a latchkey kid and rely on after-school programs for fun, vs. homemade milk and cookies, then you might be out of luck. Over 125,000 kids got “displaced” from their after-school programs for lack of funding. The president’s initial budget proposal cut over 200,000 after-school programs in order to finance his tax cut.

If you are one of the 3,000,000 and growing recently unemployed, you will take little solace in the “jobless recovery.” What does that term mean anyway? Jobless recovery. It sounds like an oxymoron to me.

But don’t worry. You can count on this administration to help. The president says he will not rest until everyone who wants work, has work. So why, then, did his administration just recently support an initiative that allows foreign air carriers to transport cargo within the United States and thereby displace more of the already 100,000-plus airline workers? It’s officially called “Cabotage,” but it really just means sending more jobs overseas.

But remember, the government’s primary responsibility is to make us safe. And under this president’s leadership, America is safer, right?

I guess it depends on who you talk to. If you interview the firemen and policemen at “Ground Zero” on the second anniversary of Sept. 11, they’ll tell you: “You don’t want to talk to me about the federal government.” “First responder” budgets are being cut, while our cities and states are running record deficits in order to keep up with the federal color-coded threat levels.

The president’s argument is that there is only so much money to go around and we have to fight wars abroad so that we don’t fight them on our soil. He says our nation is safer because Saddam Hussein is in a cell. So, if we are so much safer, why was America’s terror-threat level elevated to high this week with warnings of a female suicide bomber in New York and potential hijackers in the air? Yeah, I feel a lot safer … how about you?

The president has said many times that the war on terror will require sacrifice. Excuse me Mr. President, but from my vantage point it looks like our troops are the ones doing all the sacrificing – not the guys with American flags on their lapels and offshore bank accounts who attend every Republican fund-raising event they can find.

A friend of my family’s got married in his new mother-in-law’s living room Christmas Day before being deployed to Iraq for a year – he got the deployment order last Saturday. Yes, he’s a proud member of the New Mexico Army National Guard and will serve with dignity, but his family is terrified.

I don’t know about you, but I’m voting for the one who manages to scratch their way to the top of the Democratic ticket in ’04.

“04, Bush no more.”

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