Quad-City Times

Thursday, January 8, 2004

A time for John Kerry

A funny thing about the Iowa caucuses: Candidates spend an inordinate amount of time trying to come across as ordinary guys in the coffee shops, grain elevators, at the factory gates and school gyms.

John Kerry just can’t cut it.

He’s not ordinary.

He’s extraordinary, in the nicest and most qualitative sense.

At the QUAD-CITY TIMES, before he parleyed with editorial board members, we took Kerry to a break room unannounced to talk with three of our co-workers who took a few minutes off the packaging insertion production line. In just minutes, he was speaking easily with them about hopes, dreams, troubles and disappointments and answering their questions. He handled the curve ball deftly and walked away talking about what he learned from them.

That was among the experiences that differentiated Kerry.

All the candidates we met spoke very well.

Kerry listens.

He ponders questions, asks follow-ups and answers thoughtfully. He appears to be continually learning, whether it is the kite-surfing he took up a couple years ago, the guitar lessons he has put on hold during this campaign, or asking our opinion on Mississippi River lock expansion.

That quality and an extraordinary record of public service make him the best potential president among the crop of contenders in Iowa.

And there are some quality candidates. Our interviews reminded us again and again about the brightest side of elective public service and how well our system can work.

We like the candidates who realize that part of the Bush tax cut must be rescinded to pay down the crippling deficit and better insure the health of our countrymen. This tax cut was odd, of course, in that it was not one sought by the people but foisted on us by those who think our loyalty can be bought relatively cheaply.

We like the candidates committed to getting out of Iraq, but who won’t cut and run from those to whom we have made life and death and liberty commitments. We have to leave Iraq in better shape than we found it.

We like the ones who favor government incentives to make healthcare affordable for individuals and employers, while keeping the system private.

We like the ones with an aggressive alternative energy policy that steers us away from reliance on a teetering, wantonly corrupt Saudi regime.

We also favor the ones who value the Iowa caucus process as much as we do.

Since that covers several Democrats, we looked deeper. Kerry stands out with a breadth of foreign affairs experience, from commanding a Navy gunboat in Vietnam and earning a Silver Star to leading an international task force on the African AIDS epidemic to countless visits with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“Never in the last 20 years has the government of the United States been as isolated as it is today.” That’s a line from Kerry’s 1966 Yale Class Oration, given after he had enlisted in the Navy but weeks before he began his service. The oration was an indictment of clumsy American imperialism — heady stuff for a 22-year-old who already was committed to a combat role in Vietnam.

His Silver and Bronze Stars and Purple Heart are testament to his belief that duty and honor sometimes override personal beliefs.

Nearly 38 years after that oration, he believes the United States is even more isolated. “President Bush has proven the White House is not the place for on-the-job training,” he told the Times editorial board.

We agree and have heard from many of you who share that collective worry.

While other candidates demonstrate a promise for leadership in world affairs, Kerry has graduated from that school. Phi Beta Kappa.

A Washington insider? You bet, in the best sense with a track record of working well with Republicans and earning the friendship and support in Congress from Sen. John McCain.

A blue-blood Boston patrician? Definitely, with a Yale education and a Boston College law degree. He’s married to a millionaire wife who took notice when she overheard him singing Catholic hymns in Portuguese during a church service at an environmental summit in Brazil.

A regular guy? Not hardly.

It will take an exceptional individual to build coalitions that can add jobs to our economic recovery, corral healthcare costs and do the right thing in Iraq. Kerry has proven success building coalitions to get things done on a state, national and international level.

And he leaves an impression that his greatest successes — and ours — lie ahead.

Copyright © 2004 Quad-City Times.  Reprinted by permission.

Editorial Board: Mark Ridolfi (Editor of the Editorial Page), Michael Phelps (Publisher); Dan Adams (VP of Circulation and Advertising); Terry Wilson (Marketing Director); Jim Thompson (Circulation Director); Marc Wilson (Town News, Inc. president).
Mark Ridolfi (1/12/04): "The board discussed all candidates, but personally met with Dean, Edwards, Kucinich and Kerry.  As Editorial Page Editor, I went to events for every candidate except Clark, Sharpton and Moseley-Braun."