The Oregonian

Sunday October 10, 2004

Kerry for president
The Democrat could help rebuild the United States' standing in the world while restoring balance at home

W hen George W. Bush entered the White House in 2001, he and his team moved quickly to push government hard to the right.

This effort came even though Bush campaigned as a moderate and his narrow, contested election was anything but a mandate for sweeping change.

But if Bush partisans could turn aside disagreement with a brusque "elections have consequences" in 2001, it turns out today that governing has consequences, too.

One of them should be that Americans elect John Kerry president in November.

Bush's term in office has been marked by two major failures.  One is his conduct of the war in Iraq.  The other is his stewardship of the nation's fiscal health.  Bush ran for president as a "compassionate conservative."  But true conservatives don't choose to go to war without proper planning or pursue fiscal policies leading to the deepest federal deficits in our nation's history.

Certainly the president has done many things right.  He handled the murderous terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, about as well as we can imagine any national leader could.  His decision to attack and destroy the Taliban regime and al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan was vigorous and correct.

The federal No Child Left Behind Act, which the president proposed and signed, isn't perfect.  But it's a huge, necessary step for better accountability in education, especially for low-income and minority students.

We supported going to war in Iraq, and we'll discuss the war and the campaign further in this space soon.  For now, though, let us say our concerns center on how President Bush has carried out the war and isolated the United States.

We believe the White House's policy-makers approached the war with preconceived notions about success based on what the president later called "just guessing."  They brushed aside warnings and contrary opinions.  They chose ideology over expertise.  This arrogance led to a series of military, political and diplomatic blunders and, we believe, resulted in the unnecessary deaths of many brave Americans.

On fiscal policy, the White House and leaders in Congress have failed to fully acknowledge the threat posed by the giant deficits that the current recipe of tax cuts and profligate federal spending has brewed.  Addressing this will not be as simple as paying for tax cuts through spending cuts.  The anemic performance of the economy suggests also that the administration's hope that the country can grow its way out of trouble is overly optimistic, at best.

In almost every area, deliberate gaps between the administration's rhetoric and reality have become routine.  Last year's misinformation about the cost of Medicare drug coverage is just one example.

Elections, of course, are not just about the incumbents.  In John Kerry, the Democratic Party has not offered the perfect challenger.

The Bush campaign has succeeded in presenting Kerry as inconsistent on some important issues because Kerry has, indeed, been inconsistent.  Kerry deserves criticism, for example, for voting for the authorization to go to war but voting against the appropriation of money for it.

Even so, on the international front, Kerry understands something that Bush does not: Our nation's experience shows that strong international alliances are vital to erecting a bulwark against aggression, tyranny and terrorism.

The president's destructive rhetoric during the campaign reflects the administration's recklessness in this area.  This nation's role as the world's only military superpower does not grant it the unquestioned right to lead.  Other nations will follow a United States they respect and admire.  They will resist a United States they fear.

Foreign leaders may well understand that their long-term interests lie in sticking with the United States.  But Bush has made it politically impossible for them to do so.  Kerry has some chance of rebuilding the international alliances that Bush and his people have shattered.

Kerry also has demonstrated, through his personal heroism in Vietnam and his positions in this campaign, that he is strong, aggressive and thoughtful enough to perform well as commander in chief of the U.S. armed forces.

A long record of public service shows that he possesses a deep, nuanced understanding of the central domestic issues of our time.

Kerry is likely to select strong Cabinet secretaries, and he may even listen to them when they disagree with his inner circle.  During the Bush administration, there has been little evidence that solid Cabinet choices like Secretary of State Colin Powell are able to get their views heard on critical issues at critical times.

We believe the top choices in a Kerry administration also would be more vigorous in pursuing both the letter and spirit of the nation's environmental protection laws.  A Kerry attorney general might have a more coherent and defensible view of citizens' civil liberties and constitutional rights than John Ashcroft, Bush's attorney general.

President Bush has had no chance to name anyone to the Supreme Court but he has made it clear, through his words and his nominations to the federal bench, what sort of court he wants.

One or more seats on the high court may open in the next four years, and it would be a shame if they were filled with jurists with political and social agendas who seek to turn back the clock.  We believe Kerry would nominate more moderate candidates to the court.

When George W. Bush took office in a deeply divided nation, he promised to reach out to unite the country.  If anything, he has helped make the rifts deeper.  That may be his real failure as president.

John Kerry can do better.


Copyright © 2004 The Oregonian.  Reprinted by permission.  (Bob Caldwell, Oct. 12, 2004)

The board comprises Publisher Fred Stickel, Editor Sandy Rowe, Editorial Page Editor Bob Caldwell, Associate Editor David Reinhard, Associate Editor Mary Kitch, Associate Editor David Sarasohn, Associate Editor Doug Bates, Associate Editor Susan Nielsen, and Associate Editor Rick Attig.  Stickel and Reinhard strongly disagreed with the endorsement.  Caldwell wrote the editorial, though it was unsigned.