Presidential elections are always full of sound bites and fury, but what does Bush vs. Kerry signify for HIVers? The race has set new standards not only in money ($1 billion down the campaign drain), but in nastiness. If Republicans and Democrats agree on anything, it’s the naked truth exposed by ACT UP (and some 500,000 other demonstrators) at the GOP convention here in New York City: After four years of George W. Bush—who campaigned in 2000 as a “uniter” and then assumed the presidency (under a cloud of illegitimacy) as a “healer”—we are a nation deeply and destructively divided against itself.

That’s why POZ supports regime change. From the first, Bush looked to our admittedly self-interested HIVer eyes not like a “compassionate conservative” but like a radical crusader. Rather than approaching HIV as a public-health problem—and a national security threat—for scientific experts, he used it shamelessly for his own political ends, making policy to win points with fundamentalist Christian fans. Hell, yeah, we were partisan—and the more we investigated his administration’s AIDS agenda, the more at war we felt.

Take condoms. In four years, as infections have climbed, our community has had to table painful but vital debates about new prevention methods, personal responsibility and barebacking in order to defend latex. How did we lose that much freedom—to talk honestly, to think critically—so fast? How much more will we lose if Bush is reelected? These are the questions many Americans are asking.

You’ll find answers in “Vote ’04,” our special election package, which filters out the flak to pinpoint where each candidate stands on HIV. While Bush gets the expected drubbing, we don’t let Kerry off lightly: He has promised us a lot on paper but barely says AIDS in public. You’ll also hear from HIVers—pundits, politicos and civilians. Most are more pissed off at Bush than passionate about Kerry. Many have little faith in either party. But all will vote on November 2—and, come what may, all intend to outlive the next presidency.

So if you must hold your nose to pull the lever, remember: Whoever wins this critical election, we’ll survive to see another day—and to defend our freedom (and condoms). Even if we have to do it naked.