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Times recommends: Election 2004

John Kerry is better choice for president

He has shown his commitment to his country on the battlefield and in public service, while George W. Bush has stumbled.

Published October 17, 2004

President Bush has so polarized this country, and so antagonized most of the rest of the world, that it's easy to forget the breadth of the domestic and international support he enjoyed just three years ago. In the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the president showed solid leadership when a wounded nation needed it most. And when he quickly ordered our forces to retaliate in Afghanistan against al-Qaida and its Taliban protectors, his decision won virtually unanimous backing at home and abroad.

Bush promised during the 2000 presidential campaign to be "a uniter, not a divider." He also said he intended to conduct a humble foreign policy. If he had lived up to those words, he might have consolidated his post-9/11 support by working to build a united front in the war against terrorism and by seeking a broad consensus for dealing with important social and economic issues at home. Instead, he squandered that support by pressing divisive and arrogant policies, including a pre-emptive war in Iraq.

At home, the president's economic policies have intentionally widened the gulf between rich and poor Americans. Regressive tax cuts have produced a series of windfalls for corporations and the very wealthiest individuals. But largely as a result of those cuts and other irresponsible fiscal policies, this administration has frittered away the record surpluses it inherited, leaving the country saddled with structural deficits that, if not corrected, will place an unsustainable burden on future generations.

Meanwhile, the population of middle-class workers is squeezed and shrinking. George W. Bush is the first president since Herbert Hoover to preside over an economy that produced a net loss of jobs. Bush also has broken his 2000 promise to make health care more accessible and affordable. Five-million more Americans are uninsured now than when Bush took office, and this White House has blocked common-sense proposals, such as the importation of prescription drugs from Canada, that could help to bring health care costs under control.

President Bush's domestic policies have been divisive in other ways, from the rollback of environmental laws that protect our air, water and forests to the cynical push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. In those and other cases, this administration has pandered to its core supporters, such as polluting industries and hard-line social conservatives, rather than taking mainstream positions that can earn broad support.

The promise of a humble foreign policy also is long forgotten. Three years ago, most of the civilized world was prepared to fight alongside the United States in the war against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups. But the Bush administration chose instead to rush to war in Iraq in ways that continue to divide the international community as well as our own country.

The war already has cost us dearly. More than 1,000 troops have died, and thousands have been grievously injured. Americans also are bearing most of the burden of paying for the war, a tab that is well over $100-billion and growing. And the war has done incalculable harm to our government's credibility. The president's own handpicked investigators have demolished the administration's original rationale for going to war. They found no evidence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, or even a functioning program aimed at producing them. They also found no evidence Hussein had a collaborative relationship with al-Qaida, much less an involvement in the 9/11 attacks.

Yet the president continues to try to defend the indefensible: pre-emptive war based only on the possibility that Iraq might one day have posed an imminent threat to the United States. That standard makes a mockery of American tradition and international law. It also sets a dangerous precedent that could be seized by other governments claiming a right to pre-emptive war.

The best evidence of the poverty of the Bush administration's record is the Bush re-election team's incessantly negative campaign against John Kerry. The president can't very well base his campaign on the military and moral achievements associated with the war in Iraq. He can't hang his hopes on the economy, the deficit or health care reform (although his campaign uses skewed statistics to put the best face on those and other subjects).

So most of the president's speeches and campaign ads are devoted to bashing Kerry. Bush allowed surrogates to slander Kerry's service in Vietnam. Then he called Kerry a flip-flopper. Now he says Kerry is the most consistently liberal member of the Senate.

The cynicism and illogic of those attacks - nobody can be a flip-flopper and a left-wing ideologue at the same time - should be obvious. Voters who take the time to research Kerry's record and platform will see for themselves that the Democratic challenger doesn't fit the stereotypes the Bush campaign is trying to pin on him.

Kerry long ago broke from liberal orthodoxy on issues such as a balanced budget and welfare reform. In fact, if addiction to federal spending and big deficits is the mark of a liberal, Bush, not Kerry, is the biggest liberal in U.S. history. Kerry also has reached across the aisle to Republican senators on issues, such as normalizing relations with Vietnam, that should be above partisan posturing.

On health care, Kerry has a detailed, sensible plan to make coverage more accessible and affordable for millions of Americans. Contrary to the president's distorted criticism, the Kerry plan would not limit recipients' choices or create a huge new government program. Instead, it would provide a package of tax credits, cost controls and other reforms that would expand Americans' choices and reduce the terrible risk that a medical emergency could become an economic emergency as well.

Kerry has made another important commitment that puts the lie to Bush's attempts to paint him as a liberal big spender. He would work to reinstitute the pay-as-you-go rules that Congress and the White House dispensed with during their four-year spending spree, and he promises to defer any of his own favored programs that can't be paid for without breaking his pledge to cut the deficit in half.

The three presidential debates were a revelation for millions of Americans who until then had known Kerry primarily through the distortions of the Bush campaign. They saw a poised, statesmanlike candidate who talked much more honestly than the president has about our challenges at home and abroad. They also saw a candidate whose mainstream plans for meeting those challenges bear little resemblance to the Bush campaign's scare stories.

This is an especially important election for the United States and the world. It will be crucial in determining whether our government can regain its position of moral leadership in confronting terrorism, genocide, AIDS and other modern horrors. It also will be crucial in determining whether our government and people can forge a renewed sense of unity in confronting our economic and social challenges at home.

President Bush hasn't lived up to his promise to be a uniter at home and in world affairs, and he shows no evidence of having recognized, much less learned from, the mistakes that have left this country less united and less secure. John Kerry isn't a perfect candidate. No one is. But he is an intelligent, principled leader who has demonstrated his commitment to his country on the battlefield and in public service. The Times recommends Kerry as the candidate best equipped to fulfill the promises George W. Bush made four years ago and failed to keep.

[Last modified October 16, 2004, 01:13:08]


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