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DEAR JON LETTERS
The Question I Wish I Was Asked
Sort 279 also provides the answer.

by Dear Jon
October 5, 2004

ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

It's me Young Columnist again. I am in high school and my high school has a newspaper, but I wasn't appointed anything in it. I guess I'll just have to wait until next year. Thank you for responding to my problem, it really helped.

Young Columnist
 
Hey Kid,
 
That’s good use of ironic tone since I was no help at all. Chin up, though. I didn’t write for the paper when I was a Freshman in high school either. For some schools the newspaper is the product of a journalism class, in other schools it is an extra-curricular activity. If it is extra-curricular at your school, see if they have room for you in lay-out, printing, and distribution. If you can show them you are a dependable team player, then by the time you are a sophomore you might start getting some writing assignments.
 
Lay-out might just be a one-kid project these days, with everything being done through desk-top publishing. Back in the 1980’s we were still waxing our proofs and assembling them on light tables. Putting together a newspaper needed a team of 8 to 12 volunteers. If you were a writer, you worked in lay-out, or you weren’t writing for long.
 
Meanwhile, as a student, plug classes in creative writing and journalism into your electives. You get more freedom to choose as a sophomore. And don’t forget to eat your peas.
 
 
ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

Someone once told me if you don't like the question you're asked, respond to the one you wish you were asked. What do you think of that?

Questioner
 
Dear Questioner,
 
On the whole, the issue of competence in evaluating a presidential administration turns on the accomplishment of the administration’s stated goals, rather than on the goals per se. It had once been the tack of political campaigns to accuse a rival candidate for having incompetent goals. This was the approach of Ronald Reagan in his “there you go again” cut-down of the incumbent during a debate. Carter’s goals did not make him a failure as a President. In fact, I am not sure that he failed as a President—his major failure was his failure to get re-elected. The point is that goals are not incompetent in and of themselves.
 
The state of the political discourse right now is that neither the goals nor their accomplishment are the subject of critical analysis. The issues have split along partisan lines, so that there is no objective statement of failure vs. achievement, much less a critical review of the goals themselves.
 
Unless you are George F. Will. His take on the current American agenda is piercing. I recommend that you read him, especially his back-page article in the September 26 issue of NEWSWEEK®. He is highly critical of the neoconservative international agenda, an agenda which Democrats have adopted de facto by producing no alternative vision themselves.
 
In my opinion the Democratic form of neoconservative imperialism continues to shape our relations: the slight nod to the moderate’s concern for multi-lateralism makes them only slightly preferable, and I have a whole list of objections to the Democratic agenda for social-engineering at home, which is just a more expensive version of the neoconservative agenda.
 
As far as competence itself, in April of 2003 the current presidential administration could be accused of many things, but it could not be accused of incompetence. Certain stated goals had become legislative achievements, such as the tax cut and the Patriot Act, and international goals had been achieved as well, especially in the overthrow of the Taliban, the installation of President Karzai, and the deposing of Saddam Hussein.
 
By now, however, competence needs to be a central issue. Not only is the neoconservative agenda bad for the nation and the world, but the neoconservatives running the agenda are not running it well. It begins with our Commander-in-Chief rubbing victory in the faces of thousands of Arab men, encouraging them to become insurgents by saying, “Bring it on.”
 
It continues with the Justice Department’s collaboration with the Pentagon in neatly disposing of the Geneva Conventions in the ethically and morally troubling detention of prisoners of war in Guantanomo, and in the detention of American citizens caught collaborating with the enemy.
 
The abuses of the Patriot Act drive home the point of competence. While I am challenged by the PO’s poet laureate Greg Asimakoupolos take on the Cat Stevens’ re-entry controversy, the greater part of me is ashamed that paranoia has reached this threshold in our government.
 
The Cat Stevens’ decision, however, is not nearly so tell-tale of incompetence as is the deportation of a Finnish scholar from Fuller Theological Seminary, Dr. Veli-Matti Karkkainen, tenured. The reason is that, under the new rules by the Justice Department, this particular immigrant, a teacher of theology at a seminary, could not demonstrate that he was a “religious worker.” So again, competence should become a key issue to determining the outcome of our next election.
 
 And then there is the full disclosure that our initial purpose for going to war, a purpose which Colin Powell argued in front of the United Nations with CIA Director George Tenet seated behind him, turned on intelligence that was incompetently analyzed.
 
Where does that leave us? The goal in any election is to put in office someone who is both competent and ineffective. By “ineffective” I take the slant of a moderate Libertarian in that historically, presidents are measured as “effective” according to the amount by which they accrue power to the executive branch. The more powerful a President, the more dangerous that President becomes to our liberties, and our Constitution becames that much less consequential in the deliberations of government.
 
Bill Clinton was both competent and ineffective. He, together with an ineffective conservative congress, delivered balanced budgets and surpluses. I do not know if John Kerry can be effective. I hope not. Will he be competent? We do not know. The incumbent, however, is a known quantity. He has lost my vote because he is the most dangerous kind of president we can have: effective and incompetent.



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