The Philadelphia Inquirer

Sunday, October 10, 2004 

Kerry for President

The choice is vivid.  The stakes are vast.

Our nation is threatened by jihad warriors who scoff at boundaries.  It stumbles toward a fiscal ruin that will punish our children.  The rules that protect our air, water and health are weaker than we know.  When 45 million of our neighbors fall ill, they have no insurance card to hand to the doctor.

We boast of exporting liberty and rule of law, yet watch them erode at home.  A hooded prisoner on a box has replaced a soaring lady with a lamp as the global icon of America's intentions.  Our national discourse has grown peevish, choking on distortion and bile.

On Nov. 2, we can return to office the man who, since 2001, has spawned some of those ills and shown a shaky touch at healing the others.

Or we can go a new way, one alert to fresh global challenges yet rooted in the approaches that made the 1990s so productive.  We can elect Democratic nominee John F. Kerry.

Dear fellow citizen, this is as important an election as any in which you've had a chance to vote.

The Inquirer's urgent, deeply felt recommendation: Cast that ballot on Nov. 2 for JOHN F. KERRY.

The case for Kerry has two parts.  The first is the record of George W. Bush. The evidence is compelling, though tallied in sorrow: His was a presidency of high promise that lapsed into multiple disasters.

On his watch, useful surpluses have become a sea of red ink.  The economic rebound he bought with tax cuts is mild, barely more than would have occurred in the natural cycle.  Those slanted tax changes have left society more unequal, its safety net frayed.  His team's habits of ignoring science and punishing dissent hamper the search for solutions.

His plan for a second term is not to repair those mistakes, but to expand and entrench them.

Most worrisome, his response to the stunning blows of 9/11 has gone fatefully awry.  He has left Americans less safe than they could be and America less admired than it should be.

Those are strong words.  You deserve to see them documented thoroughly.

That is why, beginning today, we present a 21-day editorial series.  It will review the facts of the Bush record on an array of issues, from homeland security to Head Start, contrasting it with Kerry's ideas.  The first appears below.  Most days, on the facing page, a prominent supporter of President Bush will provide a contrasting view.

You deserve a fair and frank debate.

You also deserve a fair picture of the second half of the case for change: the record and views of John Kerry.

This, very few of you have gotten during a petty, dispiriting campaign.  Some blame rests with the Democrat.  He has not framed the debate with the force and clarity he must master to be an outstanding president.

More blame, though, rests with Bush.  Awash in millions from the corporate donors to whom his White House caters so avidly, the President has spent more time ridiculing Kerry through distortions than presenting his own plans.

Bush backers cling to a tired, tiresome slogan of elections past: Kerry is a clueless liberal, out of touch with the American mainstream.

Here is what Kerry thinks, and what his record as a U.S. senator, lieutenant governor and prosecutor underscores:

John Kerry thinks government should pursue solutions to problems that haunt American lives, but must pay for each initiative as it goes - not stick the nation's children with the tab.  Robert Rubin, the superb Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton, praises Kerry as a senator who stood tall on the tough votes that tamed deficits.

He thinks work is better than welfare; he voted for welfare reform.

He thinks it's unacceptable that 45 million Americans lack health coverage; he has a smart plan to shrink that number dramatically.

He wants science to do all it can to speed cures for illnesses.

He knows that protection of America's air, land and water can't be left to the whims of corporations.

He doesn't just shrug when he sees American children slipping into poverty, or more paychecks losing buying power.

If those aren't mainstream American values, then God help America.  But of course these are American values.

If you're an undecided voter, consider this: As president, Kerry will have to work with a Congress where at least one chamber is Republican.  Checks and balances, a prescription for moderation.  A vote for Bush risks one-party rule, with Congress under the control of aggressive conservatives and reelection concerns no longer checking Bush's impulses.

You've heard - eight gazillion times - that John Kerry is a flip-flopper.  No doubt, he's a man who relishes nuance.  His penchant for thinking out loud is ill-suited to a sound-bite culture.  He'll have to curb that, seeking a more disciplined clarity. But the flip-flop label rests mainly on one sound bite.  All together now: "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

Muddy words, but a defensible vote.  The Bush campaign's incessant mockery of it relies on voters' unfamiliarity with the workings of the Senate, where two or more versions of a bill often come up for votes.  Kerry voted for a Democratic version of this Iraq appropriation, which would have rescinded tax cuts for the affluent to pay for body armor, etc., for the troops.  The GOP version, which passed easily, added to the ever-growing load of debt we are leaving to our kids.

Let's deal with another pack of poisonous distortions: Vietnam.

Kerry served, showed courage, won medals, then raised an honorable, if hyperbolic, alarm about a misguided war.  Case closed.  Perhaps the Boston convention overdid the allusions to those facts, but that doesn't justify the baseless Swift-boat assaults of August.

Kerry doesn't talk much about his Senate record, a curious omission.  That record isn't spectacular, but it is solid and qualifying.  Names on bills are just one road to effectiveness.  Kerry took the less glamorous path of investigation.  He had major successes.

He was one of the first to spot and expose the scandal that came to be known as Iran-contra.  He took the lead in unraveling the criminal deeds of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, which financed drug cartels and terrorists.  Finally, he worked well with John McCain and others to resolve the emotional issue of Vietnam MIAs.

Not flashy, not easy.  Just important.

The BCCI probe showed Kerry spotting early on a key thread in the global web of terror.

Thwarting terrorism is a president's core job in these haunted times.  Kerry's approach is more thorough than that of Bush, whose two main tools seem to be bombs and bombast.  Bush's reckless missteps in Iraq have cost a painful toll in lives, credibility, alliances, Islamic anger and lost opportunities.

Kerry is right to press hard on: tracking down loose nuclear material in Russia and elsewhere; repairing alliances that can help spot terror cells and roll up financing networks; better securing our chemical and nuclear plants and ports.

It is absurd to claim that, had Kerry been president on that awful day in 2001, he would merely have shrugged and sent a strongly worded memo to the World Court.  Any president would have done much of what Bush did in late 2001 - with less soaring eloquence perhaps.  But few would have raced as he did into the deadly detour of Iraq.

John Kerry isn't perfect.  He has things to learn.  One thing Americans should have learned by now, though, is that the incumbent lacks the realism, judgment and ability to adjust to events that the United States needs in its commander in chief.  In this perilous moment, the safer choice, the wiser choice, is John F. Kerry.

Copyright © 2004 The Philadelphia Inquirer.  Reprinted by permission.  (Harold Jackson Oct. 15, 2004)

Knight-Ridder. >