- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2000

Every election year about this time I decide not to decide, not yet, not until I am good and ready. What is the point of having so much time to make up your mind if you don't use it? Once, on my oath, I did not decide who I would sweep into office by my presidential ballot until I walked into the polling place.

True, in less than a year, I was kicking myself; but at least I knew I that I had given myself all the time I needed to become a jackass.

Often I did have a preference long before Election Day. This year, I am not yet chanting prayers for the Democrat or Republican. I vote either party, depending on the candidate. My political stance is "human rights bleeding heart conservative." Columnists are not supposed to choose their candidate in print but let the publisher decide for the whole paper. But long before the elections, it is a champion dimwitted columnist who does not know how to let readers understand clearly which candidate he is plugging.

Deciding to delay commitment to a candidate does not mean the columnist should not criticize or praise meantime. People read us for our opinions, and we would go mad with frustration if we could not give them. But I believe, columnists are better journalists when their commentary does not form an alliance with a candidate, does not become a soldier in a candidate's army.

Politics is more interesting to both read and write about, when the columnist finds a way to be a tough critic of a party's position without becoming its perpetual enemy. In that way new information can come to light.

With new information, judgments may change. I've seen this first hand. I once suggested that nobody vote to re-elect Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, an able New York Democrat, because of one vote she cast. That was unfair, and I hereby withdraw the suggestion.

For writers and readers, the best reason against early commitment is that your mind may stay open, to truth and trickery, to candor and to evasion.

On those counts, the Republican National Convention was a disappointment, to put it with excessive politeness. Lots of stuff about taxes but somehow that does not always grip my heart or fulfill my hopes for America.

Kindergarten through college, I got a free and good education. Now that I am in money earned through that education, I see no reason why every child should not have the same opportunity.

As an adolescent I did not have any money , or insurance, to pay for healthcare, so I was treated as a charity patient in New York's hospitals. The United States is rich enough to make sure this doesn't happen to anybody else.

Any politician can appeal me by addressing several key questions. These questions touch directly on the character of America that so many speakers seemed to hold dear. But not even George W. Bush made the connection. Will we ever care enough about the persecution of Christians, Tibetans, members of Falun Gung, political dissidents and slave laborers in China to risk some trade profits by demanding Beijing end such oppression? Will any candidate ever insist that if Beijing refuses we will make it pay a political and economic penalty?

Will our government recognize that in the Sudan the slaughter of Christians and African animists and the return of slavery is genocide and under international law should bring at least international action against it?

On military matters, the Republican platform warns against growing Chinese power. But it says nothing about how American trade provided most of the money and technology. How long will we make the ring of the cash register our national anthem?

Iraq remember Iraq? A great armed force organized by President George Bush smashed Saddam 10 years ago. Now, Saddam has smashed the sanctions and inspections that could have caged him. He did it with the help of our allies, U.N. officials, our make-believe partners, Russia and China and the ineptitude of the Clinton administration.

Mr. Bush's choice for vice president dismisses the importance of sanctions, the only weapon for the United States short of war, if we can persuade our allies to observe them. If they refuse to enforce sanctions against a rogue nation, are we powerless pressure them? Even with all our money and trade? Unless the Republicans address these questions on Iraq, their platform will remain a rehash of Democratic warnings about Saddam, made but never carried out.

In Philadelphia, Republicans provided speeches and balloons but no answers that might annoy the multi-million dollar donors who are not at all keen on acting on human rights.

President Clinton ran on a human rights platform in his first presidential campaign. But he buried that plank during his first year in office. What will Vice President Al Gore say in Los Angeles about the failure of the government he served to keep Saddam caged or at least pressure our allies into not helping Iraq grow even stronger?

What will he say and do about the slaves taken in the Sudan? If he ever visits China, will he have the political guts to attend services at the illegal underground churches where those Christians pray who want to escape government domination of all religions?

The United States is not being asked to go to war just to the bank to get out some of the trade money to help the persecuted and weaken the persecutors. Maybe Los Angeles will give some answers. More likely, we will have to choose between two candidates who refuse to provide them. Still, if enough voters would wait longer before picking a candidate, one of of those candidates might come up with specific plans for using some of the U.S. wealth and influence for human rights, even if we have to skip the balloons.

A.M. Rosenthal, the former executive editor of the New York Times, is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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