Boulder Daily Camera

Sunday, October 16, 2004

Kerry for president

It's time for a fresh start under new leadership

The terrorists who struck the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, altered the course of national history and the presidency of George W. Bush in ways no one had foreseen. Profound change was inevitable. The character of that change was not.

This nation did not have to become as fractured, overextended and isolated as it is today. It did not have to define its military objectives so broadly — and everything else, from civil liberties to economic and social needs, so narrowly. To treat those changes as inevitable, or to dismiss them with a defiant chorus of "We're at war!", is to deny that the most powerful nation on Earth had any choice in shaping its own destiny. It did. The United States chose to follow a course set by George W. Bush, and is weaker today because of it.

Bush's initial response to the terrorist attack was his finest achievement as president. His stirring and cogent words to Congress, and his swift retaliation against the Taliban, stamped him in the public mind as a strong and principled wartime leader. He was right to define the war against Islamic fundamentalism as "a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen" — a conflict of ideas, covert operations and economic strategies as well as military action.

How quickly the promise of that moment dissipated. A president who began with his eye fixed squarely where it belonged — on the al-Qaida terrorist network — led the nation into a needless conflict in Iraq, ignoring the objections of allies overseas and loyal opponents at home. The central premise of that war — that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction — was false. So was the claim, asserted in explicit and subtle ways, of a connection between Saddam and al-Qaida. So were the Bush team's calculations about the aftermath of the war, particularly Vice President Dick Cheney's complacent assertion that the Iraqis would greet us as "liberators." The United States will pay a price for years because President Bush failed to anticipate, manage or speak candidly about the consequences of the war.

How quickly the president forgot his own message to the nation only nine days after the terrorist attacks: "We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them." The USA PATRIOT Act constricted individual liberties in the name of preserving freedom. The administration proclaimed (until the courts intervened) its authority to detain without trial anyone it suspected of being an "enemy combatant." Bush's choice for Attorney General, John Ashcroft, was his all-too-willing accomplice in these and other infringements of basic liberties.

A nation cannot wage war indefinitely while undermining its economic and social foundations at home. Yet the president insisted year after year on tax cuts, skewed disproportionately toward the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, while ratcheting up discretionary domestic spending at a rate that distressed even his own natural allies. The consequences were predictable: A slide from surplus into deficit, made inevitable by the war, was deepened and lengthened by Bush policies.

Installed by a court's decision after losing the popular vote, Bush essentially thumbed his nose at his opponents, responding with indifference or outright hostility to dissenting opinions and inconvenient facts. He ignored the consensus of expert opinion on scientific issues such as the global effects of climate change. He chose to divide the country in wartime over peripheral issues such as the Federal Marriage Amendment. His administration pushed through an expensive new benefit — prescription drugs for senior citizens — by concealing its true costs and squelching a government actuary who wanted to tell the truth. He even opposed an inquiry into the causes of the 9/11 attacks before agreeing, reluctantly and with conditions, to accept it.

Asked about national divisions in last Wednesday's debate, the president said this: "My biggest disappointment in Washington is how partisan the town is." It was vintage Bush: Somehow the "town," not his own heavy-handed governance, is responsible for divisiveness.

Of course the spirit of rancor is not all Bush's doing: Some of his opponents, in the Democratic party and to the left, have been shrill and occasionally hysterical in their criticism. But the president's style of leadership in his first term raises legitimate questions about what he might do with a second one, freed from the obligation to stand for re-election. The next four years might also give him an opportunity to reshape the Supreme Court in his own image by appointing as many as four justices, with lasting consequences long after he leaves office, on issues such as abortion and civil liberties.

George W. Bush brings to the war on terrorism a set of firm principles — and a demonstrated inability to apply those principles in leading the nation through one of the most trying times in its history. The United States needs a fresh start, a new direction and a rejuvenated sense of its own possibilities under new leadership. We believe that the Democratic candidate, U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, can provide that leadership.

John Kerry is a seasoned public servant with a clear-eyed awareness of the real enemy in the war on terrorism: Islamic fundamentalism. His immediate goals in Iraq are not substantially different from Bush's — why should they be, when the options have narrowed so dramatically? — but he understands, as Bush apparently does not, the need for an honest and public confrontation with the facts about our quandary in Iraq.

Those facts will constrain any president, Democrat or Republican. But Kerry would have no need to defend old mistakes — and no personal baggage as he attempts to rebuild our relationships with old allies and our reputation in the world community. He'll also bring a fresh perspective in dealing with other trouble spots on the global map, such as Iran and North Korea.

On domestic issues, this race is no contest. Even some old-fashioned conservatives recognize Kerry as the more fiscally responsible of the two candidates, despite Bush's tired attempts to hang the free-spending "liberal" tag around his opponent's neck. Kerry is committed to a pay-as-you-go approach on new programs, he wants to end tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, he vows to slash the deficit during his first term in office, and he'd end tax incentives for companies that ship jobs overseas.

Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, would revive national debate on issues too long neglected during the war on terrorism. On health care, Kerry far surpasses Bush in addressing a central issue: Too many Americans have little or no access to health insurance. He proposes to extend coverage to millions of Americans who don't have it, and would enlist government to share the costs of catastrophic coverage — a move that could bring down the cost of insurance for millions of Americans.

On the energy issue, Kerry is a long-time advocate of higher fuel-economy standards for automobiles and SUVs (and has bucked some of his fellow Democrats on the issue). In marked contrast to Bush, he also wants to mandate that a higher percentage of energy comes from renewable sources within the next 15 years.

John Kerry may not have his opponent's instinctive ability to connect with ordinary Americans. But he possesses three qualities even more important at this hour in history — a willingness to assess the facts honestly, to level with the public, and to tap the best minds regardless of political affiliation. American presidents once sought counsel from experts in the opposition party — and even appointed them to Cabinet positions from time to time. Kerry shows refreshing signs of a bipartisan spirit that Bush utterly lacks.

President Bush's early response to the terrorist attacks offered some basis for hope that he might lead the United States effectively through the ordeal of an unprecedented war. The wreckage of that hope is now strewn across the country and around the world. Bring on new leadership, a new vision and new hope. John Kerry is the clear choice in the 2004 election.

Copyright © 2004 The Daily CameraReprinted by permission.  (Sue Deans 01/03/05)

Editorial Board: Publisher Greg Anderson, Editor Sue Deans, Editorial Page Editor Steve Millard, Associate Editor Clint Talbott, Associate Editor Clay Evans. 

The Daily Camera is an E.W. Scripps Co. newspaper.  Since 1912 editors of the Scripps papers had met to make a group presidential endorsement.  That policy was changed with this election and individual papers were allowed to make their own endorsements.  "We took it very seriously," stated editor Sue Deans.