When I was growing up, the family dinner was a tradition. Above the clatter of plates, my parents discussed the world around us from their perspectives at either end of the great oak table. Together, we'd review the news of the day put into context by the events of yesterday, and always we'd think about tomorrow. Politics was a main course, and being a working-class family from Massachusetts, we were fed a healthy serving of Democratic Party principles.
I carried those beliefs along with me when I worked for Democrats in both the US House of Representatives and the Massachusetts state legislature. More important, I've always carried them with me into the voting booth.
But I expect to break with that tradition. Come November, I'll be casting my vote for George Bush.
When Mr. Bush first ran for president in 2000, I found both his politics and his campaign methods anathema to the American concept of justice. I was with the many who questioned whether his intellect, interest, and experience were commensurate with the demands of being the leader of the free world. I didn't approve of his so-called middle-class tax cuts, nor his incorporating nuclear power into his energy plan, nor his judgment in appointing an attorney general inclined to sheathe immodest works of art.
But then Sept. 11 happened. Our nation needed the strength of a leader, and I wondered where we'd find one.
It wasn't until the president stood with firefighters and rescue workers at ground zero that I began to wonder if perhaps I'd misjudged him. Previously wooden while delivering prepared speeches, the man who shouted into the bullhorn from where the World Trade Center had stood demanded to be heard. And I listened - the whole world listened.
I began to hope that our country finally had a leader who'd have the moral fortitude to say to our enemies around the world: Enough.
For nearly 25 years, America has been under attack by Muslim fundamentalists - attacks virtually unanswered by all presidents as far back as Jimmy Carter.
We've somehow confused the systematic massacre of Americans for random acts of violence, though the collective onslaught - catalogued even incompletely - seems in retrospect to be a clear declaration of war:
• 1979 - The US Embassy in Iran was overrun by Islamic extremists who captured 66 Americans and held 53 of them for 444 days.
• 1983 - The US Embassy in Beirut was targeted by a truck bomb that killed 63.
• 1983 - The US Marine barracks in Beirut was destroyed by a truck bomb that killed 242 Americans.
• 1988 - US Marine Lt. Col. William Higgins, on a UN mission in Lebanon, was abducted, tortured, and hanged.
• 1988 - A bomb on Pan Am Flight 103 went off over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 on board and 11 people on the ground.
• 1993 - Terrorists drove an explosives-laden truck into the basement of the World Trade Center in New York City, killing six.
• 1993 - Followers of Osama bin Laden killed 18 American soldiers in an ambush on the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia.
• 1996 - The Khobar Towers in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia was destroyed by a tanker-truck bomb killing 19 Americans.
• 1998 - US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were simultaneously attacked by truck bombs killing 301.
• 2000 - The USS Cole was attacked in the port city of Yemen; 17 died.
Halfhearted rescue attempts, trade embargoes, and a smattering of cruise missiles thrown at the problem by former leaders had no follow-through, no long-term commitment necessary to stave off the continued systematic attacks. Not until George Bush vowed to protect the US from those who sought to destroy it - even if he had to stand without the support of UN allies.
I can't rely on the contenders from my own party to follow Bush's course. Only three of the nine running in Democratic primaries are viable candidates, and none is willing to risk political comfort to pledge a presidency to the messy business of routing terrorists and their sponsor nations. Howard Dean, Wesley Clark, and John Kerry are now all against the war in Iraq, though both General Clark and Senator Kerry supported it once, and may again.
But I'm tired of presidents fluent in the language of doublespeak.
Bush isn't timid about disappointing a nation used to instant gratification. He has reminded us repeatedly that the war on terror will be long, and people will die in the process. Many on both sides have died already. Yet Bush was resolute when he began by defending America in Afghanistan following Sept. 11. He then brought the fight to Iraq at a time when experts around the world were convinced Saddam Hussein had chemical and biological weapons and was actively pursuing a nuclear arsenal.
And let's not forget the geography of the region.
Iraq borders Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, with Qatar not far away. We know that 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers were Saudis. We know there's increasing dissatisfaction with the House of Saud among their own countrymen because of the family's ties to the US. We also know that terrorist attacks within Saudi borders are on the increase by those emboldened by Muslims' discontent. Middle Eastern experts speculate that all this points to cracks in the palace walls of the House of Saud.
Imagine if Saudi Arabia had been overtaken by Islamic extremists while Hussein was still in power. A significant portion of the world's oil reserves would be controlled by those bent on destroying the US. It's conceivable Hussein would have attempted another invasion of Kuwait.
The forward-thinking, big-picture scenario demanded the US protect itself from enemies gaining control of America's access to oil because oil still controls America.
It's a lesson we should have learned following the oil crisis of the '70s, but again we chose to ignore the inevitable at our own peril. Imagine if our enemies had been so empowered; what would the impact have been on the US?
It's conjecture, but all a leader has to base his decisions on are the events of the past, the news of the present, and his concern for tomorrow. Remember how absurd the terrorists' goals for the first WTC attack seemed at the time?
Bush alerted terrorists around the world that the US is no longer the hesitant giant it was after the Vietnam experience. We've licked our wounds and found our footing. We are fighting back. Already Libya has responded to our new foreign policy by agreeing to forgo weapons of mass destruction and welcome inspectors to confirm this newfound truce with the West.
So in November, I'll break with tradition and vote for a Republican. I'll place my trust, fears, and future in the hands of a man who has shown the world what it means to lead a nation. It's a tradition of leadership that began with Washington and Lincoln, continued with FDR, and has been resurrected by Bush.
It's a tradition I expect our future presidents to follow.
• P. Amy MacKinnon, a freelance writer, has worked for Democrats in Congress and the Massachusetts State House.