Don’t say you weren’t warned. Yes, you, that otherwise reasonable centrist voter who might be tempted to cast a “what the heck” vote for George W. Bush. Don’t kid yourself that the Cheneys, Ashcrofts and Rumsfelds who mold Bush’s thoughts will suddenly moderate their radical vision for remaking the world or dampen their attacks on our treasury and civil liberties. It won’t happen: Reward their rampage of the last four years with a new mandate to rule and they will only be emboldened.

Four more years of the Bush Administration threaten two essential ingredients of our system of government: checks and balances on the President’s exercise of power by Congress and the judiciary; and an informed citizenry alert to the attempts by a President to play fast and loose with the people’s future.

On the latter point, it is dangerous to reward rather than punish a President who exploited the tragedy of 9/11 to justify a costly war in Iraq. A vote for Bush is a vote for the neoconservative doctrine of preemptive war based on distorted evidence and the rule of fear. If the GOP wins in November, why shouldn’t a victorious Bush Administration feel empowered in its second term to invade another country on the basis of flimsy ties to Al Qaeda?

What is to stop the Administration from expanding attacks on our civil liberties or reinstituting a military draft in order to wage an ill-defined war on terror? Nothing, because Bush’s re-election would erase the doubts raised by his first dubious victory and validate his post 9/11 strategy of stoking our fears while robbing us of the information and logic needed to make rational policy choices.

A Bush victory would mean the dominance of that unholy alliance of the so-called Christian right and the adventurist neoconservatives over all three branches of government. Moderate Republicans in Congress are an endangered species no longer willing to challenge even the more extreme elements of their party. And with the Democrats frozen into a minority party posture, Americans can forget about any check on the hubris of the Bush Administration.

All this would be glaringly obvious in the domestic as well as the foreign policy area and nowhere more alarming than in the ideological shaping of the federal judiciary for generations to come. The odds are overwhelming that the modicum of restraint now exercised by the US Supreme Court would be swept aside by the inevitable Bush appointments in a second term. A High Court held in check by the swing vote of Sandra Day O’Connor, who has talked of retiring, would give way to the ideological far-right judges that Bush has been pushing onto the courts.

The High Court would become the Antonin Scalia court, faithfully served by the rigid obedience of newly minted clones of Clarence Thomas. Scalia is the justice who refused to recuse himself from a case involving Vice President Dick Cheney, his duck-hunting buddy. This would be the most politically activist court of modern time because its prevailing philosophy would be to greenlight the actions of this wildly activist President.

We have been warned about the dangerous excesses of the Bush White House by veterans of other GOP Administrations, beginning with John Dean, who was President Nixon’s White House counsel and who has condemned the unprecedented misuse of secrecy and national security as “worse than Watergate.” The warnings from former key players in the current Administration, such as Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, document a dangerous pattern of deceit and manipulation.

This is the time to decide whether this country and, by logical extension, the fate of the world should be in the hands of a leader whose essential mode of governance mocks the ideals of a free society.

This is too dangerous a time for voters to be blinded by the extra bucks in those tax breaks that are bankrupting our future economy or to indulge in some comic book fantasy about zapping the bad guys in those foreign countries. It is a time to think hard about the unbridled power of a second Bush term and whether you want Bush, Cheney & Co. to decide, on a political whim, to send your kid, or the one next door, to war.