Four years later, just months away from another presidential election, Berry's commentary is still vitally, somewhat depressingly relevant. The stakes are the same; only the names have changed. McCain will try to sound more and more like George W. Bush in order to win back the conservative base - but without mentioning Bush by name, so the media can continue to portray him as a straight-talking maverick. We don't yet know the Democratic nominee, but it now seems likely that, come the general election, Obama or Clinton will face a barrage of attacks similar to those orchestrated by Karl Rove and the Swiftboat Veterans for Truth in 2004.
To my way of thinking, Berry's advice that Kerry should campaign "solidly and clearly on the traditional principles of politics and religion" is still the best strategy for victory in 2008. Such a message can resonate with voters across the political and socioeconomic spectra. It has the added benefit of being the right thing to do - elevating the political discourse and promoting unity by appealing to our common heritage. (I have a strong opinion as to which Democratic candidate can best embody and embrace this message. But I will leave that discussion for another time and another place.)
Here is Wendell Berry's 2004 commentary:
Facing this year's presidential election, our people are bitterly divided. This division is perhaps as great a threat to our future as is the possibility of a second term for Mr. Bush. And so the paramount question for Sen. Kerry's campaign is how to oppose Mr. Bush effectively without so exacerbating the country's political differences as to reduce the possibility of effective government should Sen. Kerry win the election.
One answer, I believe, is to base the campaign solidly and clearly upon our traditional principles of politics and religion. (I am reluctant to say that religion ought to be a political issue in the United States, but it is unstoppably an issue in this campaign.) If the campaign is based soundly enough on principles, then it can be carried out, at least by Democrats, as a reasoned argument, and thus without sensationalizing personal and emotional differences. The further great advantage is that the Bush administration can be shown all too handily to be in violation of many of our country's traditional political and religious principles.
Our government was understood by its founders, and it is understood by many of us still, as a government of laws -- of laws based in part on the laws of God. But the Bush administration, by various arrogations of power, has led us dangerously in the direction of autocracy. A government of laws cannot pardonably ignore either the rights of its citizens or its international treaties. A lot of people now long for national officials who are constantly and strictly mindful of our Bill of Rights.
Our government has a long -- though imperfect and incomplete -- history of international cooperation, the good results of which are now seriously threatened by Mr. Bush's unilateralism and his doctrine of preemptive war.
Both our political and religious traditions instruct us that the truth makes us free. Our kind of government can govern effectively only by telling the truth, just as effective citizenship depends on knowing the truth. Official secrecy and official lies, even in a "good cause," can carry us toward tyranny. Our government is meant to conduct the public's business in public.
Traditionally we have believed, and sometimes have acted on our belief, that political democracy depends upon a significant measure of economic democracy. Since World War II we have changed rapidly from a country owned by many people to a country owned by a few. This has been explicitly the program of some administrations, including that of Mr. Bush. We need an administration that is opposed to such a program. This country should not be entirely owned and run by the great corporations.
Our federal system was conceived as a way to balance national unity with local self-determination and self-sufficiency. Terrorism has made local economic integrity more necessary than ever before. All the regions of our country are dangerously dependent on long-distance transportation. The emphasis in agriculture should now be on genetic diversity, local adaptation, and conservation of energy. We need, for a change, an agriculture policy that focuses above all on the health of the land and the economic prosperity of smaller farmers, rather than the agribusiness corporations.
Along with all the rest of the world's people, we have inherited ancient instructions for the stewardship and good husbandry of the earth, with clear warnings, now significantly verified, of the disasters that will (and already do) attend our failure. We have responded by continuing our elaborately rationalized destructions. But bad precedent is no excuse for bad behavior. The Bush attitude toward the natural (God-given) world is sacrilegious and wildly uneconomic.
The human norm, as established by Christ (and others), is love even for enemies, forgiveness, neighborliness, and peace. It is therefore troubling that members of the present administration, while making much of their commitment to Christ, are insisting on the normality of hatred, greed, revenge, and unremitting war. To make us afraid, they speak much of the willingness of our terrorist enemies to kill themselves in order to kill us, as if this were an innovation. They forget, or they would like us to forget, that our policy of nuclear defense has been suicidal from the beginning. Our increasing destructiveness of the natural world is likewise suicidal. Such desperate security and prosperity cannot be reconciled with reverence for our Creator, who endowed all humans with certain inalienable rights, including life.