Chattanooga Times Free Press

Sunday, February 8, 2004

For Sen. John Kerry on Tuesday

    Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry clearly is not the "comeback kid" anymore. After sweeping the Iowa caucuses, the New Hampshire primary, and five of last Tuesday’s seven primaries, including those in bellwether Missouri and heavily Hispanic Arizona, Sen. Kerry had become the targeted front-runner. Regardless of how the Michigan and Washington caucuses went on Friday and Saturday (this editorial went to press early Friday), Sen. Kerry seems to be closing fast on the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.

    But that should not be surprising. With a record such as his — a genuine war hero, a public prosecutor, and 19 distinguished years in Congress — he is clearly the party’s best-prepared, most well-rounded, most deserving and most electable candidate. He deserves the party’s nomination and the opportunity to challenge George Bush for the presidency in the November election.

    Tennessee’s Democrats should help give him that opportunity by voting for him in Tuesday’s primary.

    Sen. Kerry, to be sure, will be labeled by the Republicans as a Massachusetts liberal who is out-of-step with conservative American values. Indeed, GOP tacticians, as The New York Times confirmed Thursday, already are studying his record for votes they can slam. But let’s be clear about the inadequacy and inaccuracy of labels to paint a credible picture of a politician. Sen. Kerry is a far more responsible political leader than George W. Bush, and his record confirms that.

    Mr. Bush has proven himself a conservative in label only. His policies actually reveal him as recklessly radical: more a deficit-hugging, war-making, bankruptcyprone, anti-environmental president than anyone imagined he would be. His policies, if his irresponsible tax-cuts for the wealthy are made permanent, will give the nation $3 trillion in new debts over the next 10 years, and stunning annual budget deficits as far as the eye can see.

    His audaciously reckless fiscal policies have set the nation on a course that will require slashing Social Security, Medicare and other vital domestic services in just a few years. His unaffordable policies are not "conservative": They are bankrupting the nation, threatening a global recession, jeopardizing the basic social safety net, undermining the environment, and making America resented in much of the world — and not much safer from terrorism.

    If Mr. Kerry is, by contrast, a "liberal," at least his policies make sense and would benefit all Americans. He has supported the sort of responsible domestic policies that boost education, support job creation and improve health care for all. With his personal war experience and deep background in foreign policy, he would exercise sound diplomacy in foreign affairs.

    Sen. Kerry also has been conservative enough in Massachusetts to go against the liberal mold and advocate changes in teacher tenure and for charter schools. He’s bucked the prevailing liberal view to support targeted elimination of capital gains to boost crucial, technical industries.  He joined Republican Sen. John McCain early on in the difficult fight, against the majority in Congress, for campaign finance reform. He also worked with Sen. McCain to secure searches for the missing POW/MIA soldiers in Vietnam. And he risked support from Massachusetts’ unions to support free trade agreements.

    Although his war record already is being maligned by Republicans, his service is the genuine article. He volunteered for the Navy before finishing college, served two tours (the second a volunteer tour) in Vietnam, and was wounded three times — once when he braved heavy fire on the river gunboat he captained to pluck a Green Beret from the water. That act earned him the Bronze Start with the V for Valor. The man he rescued, Jim Rassman, a Republican, is now campaigning for him, as are many other Vietnam vets.

    George Bush, by contrast, traded on his daddy’s office to get a tour in the Texas National Guard at the height of the Vietnam War in 1998. Then he skipped out on the last year of that easy homeland duty to campaign for an Alabama politician.

    That’s indicative of the big difference, in substance and labels, between the two.

    There are still more notable differences in domestic and foreign policies between the two that need to be examined. But the first task for Tennessee Democrats is to hasten the conclusion of the primary contest among Sen. Kerry and his worthy opponents so the party can focus on the campaign against Mr. Bush. A vote for Sen. Kerry on Tuesday is the next step.

Copyright © 2004 Chattanooga Times Free Press.  Reprinted by permission.  (Tom Griscom 03/02/04)

Tom Griscom, executive editor and publisher of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, explained the paper's editorial pages (March 2, 2004 e-mail): "At the merger of the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, the separate editorial opinions were maintained. Every day readers of the Times Free Press receive the conservative viewpoint of the Free Press and the more moderate to liberal perspective of the Times. For your reference, the Free Press side endorsed Bush on the same day that the Times endorsed Kerry. Our editorial endorsements are in the hands of the separate editorial page editors. As the publisher and executive editor, I discuss with them their ideas and timing; part of that discussion  is to determine whether they plan to make an endorsement. For our readers, it is an interesting journalistic experience because readers are exposed to a wide-range of opinions, both through opinion columns and separate editorial pages."  Note: The Editorial Page Editor for the Times is Harry Austin.