In less than a month, the American people will choose their president for the next four years. No election, however, is just about the immediate future — and this one in particular will decide the long-term course of our nation. Rarely have we seen such a dichotomy between the candidates’ positions on everything from foreign policy to gay and women’s rights. Rarely have we seen a public more bitterly divided over disparate values. The outcome of the 2004 election will be a statement about who we are, but more importantly about what we will become: Whom we choose to lead us now will impact where we are in 50 or 100 years. In the long run, George W. Bush and the interests he represents are antithetical to the American vision and poisonous to a bright future.

Firstly, President Bush’s character is a low bar for the office of the president of the United States. Many Bush supporters cite the president’s “good character” and “likeability” as their primary reasons for backing Bush-Cheney ’04. Why does the perception that President Bush would be fun to have a beer with automatically make him a good person? I do not consider a former alcoholic who was arrested for driving under the influence (at age 30!) to be of particularly good character. By the time Bush was cleaning up his life, John Kerry was already a U.S. Senator. Having failed at most things, the president has had to adopt a fanatical sense of religion and an unyielding and juvenile outlook of right versus wrong in order to succeed. The character of our president is a statement of our country’s values, and we should represent ourselves better.

His personal failures aside, George W. Bush’s politics are my primary objection to his presidency. Here at home, Bush seems to have nothing but contempt for the democratic ideals of this country, bidding entry to any and all big corporations into the federal government and dismissing all opinions different from his own. The Bush administration has aggressively moved to strip the American public of civil rights and to enrich the elite by discriminatory tax cuts. In the last four years, Bush has rolled back reproductive rights, progress in stem cell research and the freedom of the press. This summer, Congress debated for the first time a constitutional amendment to deny people rights. Attorney General John Ashcroft terminated the United States’ 25-year policy of not spying on its own citizens, and he has removed sexual orientation from the government’s Equal Opportunity Employer statement.

My point: The federal government should empower people, not divide them. The freedom and diversity of the American people are the United States’ greatest assets — we should be choosing a president who is interested in addressing the needs of all of the population, not just part of it.

President Bush is also greatly weakening our political system itself. His re-election campaign has broken its own 2000 fund-raising record — forever raising the bar on the amount of money needed to run for president. Bush and Cheney have gleefully berated Kerry for “flip-flopping” on the issues, when in fact Kerry is an academic capable of seeing finer distinctions in issues and capable of admitting when he was wrong.

There is nothing off-limits to Bush’s campaign: The president has even dared to question Kerry’s military service in Vietnam when he himself failed to adequately complete National Guard duty. The administration has immorally colluded with huge corporations like Halliburton and Enron, and the president is pushing for a relaxation of media laws so that huge news corporations, like Fox News, can acquire a greater percentage of the market. The president has never even admitted his mistake about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Altogether, the Bush administration is making remarkable progress in transforming American politics into a nonstop carnival show, with rabble-rousing messages that prize volume over content and play to the lowest common denominator.

In the international arena, President Bush has led us into a disastrous bloodbath, fueled the fires of hate against us and pursued a foreign policy that leaves us isolated and weak. Our preemptive attack on Iraq was a mistake for which we should be ashamed. Yes, it is great that Saddam Hussein will be brought to justice, but at what price to us and Iraq, and with what precedent for the future? We have rushed into a situation we don’t understand and are incapable of fixing.

The Bush administration’s theory of preemptive war risks global destabilization. As described in the Sept. 25 issue of The Economist, Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Russian President Vladimir Putin — taking their cue from Washington — are both now considering preemptive strikes against regional threats like Bali, Chechnya and Georgia’s Pankisi gorge. Enter massive global disorder, stage right. All the while, North Korea and Iran seem to be spinning out of control. I demand a president who is interested and capable of resolving these problems without death on a massive scale.

I urge people to think about the future and the precedents we set up today. We are in a time of great change and we must be careful of what we become. Think about the level of character and accomplishment you want in a president. Do you value a government that is rational, impartial and accountable to the populace? Are our allies our strength or our weakness? I believe that to debate and question are integral components of our democracy, that we should expect more than mediocrity from our leader, and that it is our responsibility to the world to act responsibly. You, however, must vote as you believe.

Peter Hamilton is a sophomore in Berkeley College.