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December 24, 2013

After 15 years, sharing my words still worthwhile

By Cary Brunswick
The Daily Star

---- — I keep wondering, if our high court had not declared George W. Bush president after the 2000 election, what would I have written about during those eight years that he led the nation.

Of course, I’ll never know, but that was one question that came to mind when reflecting on the highlights of the past decade and a half of column writing. Yes, with this installment, I complete my first 15 years of writing a regular column for The Daily Star.

And I never missed a turn, though I know some readers wished that I had missed my deadline on numerous occasions.

My reputation today may be as a liberal commentator on political and economic issues, but that was never my intention. In fact, in 1999 and 2000, few of my columns were political. I wrote about such topics as the Y2K bug that never materialized, MOSA, the 30th anniversary of the first moon landing, and teen angst (since I had two teenage daughters).

Being against wars since the 1960s, in 1999 I did question why there was so little opposition to the NATO/U.S. air strikes in Yugoslavia. But it was the 2000 election that sent me over the political edge, and for the first time I attracted a swarm of negative reaction.

A column, written a few days after the election, questioned the wisdom of voters for electing Bush, and suggested that he would lower the bar for the presidency.

I was accused of “biased reporting,” having “misguided ideas,” spouting “seedy drivel” disguised as writing and, in effect, calling voters “morons.” In my next column, I had to explain the difference between news reporting and opinion writing.

Unfortunately, it did not take long for my greatest fears about President Bush to be warranted. Months before 9/11, I warned about the saber-rattling going on in Washington.

After the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks, the door was open to take military action in Afghanistan and squelch our civil rights with the Patriot Act. And just months later all the talk was about an invasion of Iraq.

Aug. 24, 2002: ``As an Iraq invasion blows noisily in the wind, corporate criminals are robbing our savings, the economy stagnates, health-care costs skyrocket and the environmental clouds darken.

``Meanwhile, Americans discuss a possible invasion as if it were a weather forecast, perhaps not realizing what the president has done to our national priorities.’’

Did I become obsessed with Bush and Cheney, their wars and the crackdown on civil liberties at home? Perhaps. But I am not ashamed to admit that half of my columns during Bush’s first term dealt with his wars or the implications of the Patriot Act.

And there was no reason to expect anything different during his second term, since there were no changes in Bush’s policies. The number of columns dealing with those policies dropped to about 40 percent.

However, the biggest controversy of my columnist career arose in 2007 and had nothing to do with Bush or Iraq. For some reason, and many have questioned what that reason might have been, I decided to write about religion, as in, come on, it’s the 21st century, let’s move beyond such obsolete notions. I said too many people were being killed in God’s name.

Needless to say, there was a mad rush of letters to the editor, probably 5-1 against me, with some calling for my ouster.

In 2008, Bush’s last year in office, I turned my attention to the future.

July 12, 2008: ``But the question facing our leaders next year is how do we get out of the mess Bush has created. Some observers say it will take years to right our ship and get it moving in a different direction.’’

Yes, it sure is taking years, thanks in part to President Obama’s failure to live up to the pledges for change that helped get him elected.

Meanwhile, while lamenting Obama’s shortfalls in foreign policy, my columns began addressing more-immediate subjects: the economy, fracking, pipelines and the environment, poverty and the minimum wage, and civil liberties and government surveillance. And those issues are not going away.

Of course, frequently feeling the need to get away from politics, I have written often about books, including a series on what titles might be passed along to young people to help them prepare for life.

In suggesting book titles, I know at least a few people have followed my advice. But I have to admit, humbly, that over the years presidents and other national leaders have not heard or listened to my messages.

Perhaps, as long as I can stimulate a few readers to slow down and think a bit differently about an issue, the columns are worthwhile. I will continue that effort in 2014.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at The views expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of The Daily Star and its editorial board.