Portland Press Herald

Sunday, October 10, 2004

In the race for president, Kerry has the better plan

With the nation closely divided over what direction the country should take in both foreign and domestic policy, the major-party candidates for president and their supporters have sought an edge through negative campaigning.

It's not enough to pursue office by outlining distinctly different ideas for moving the nation forward.  The people in the middle, those genuine undecided voters, are not always motivated by the entreaties of the left or right.

So this has been a campaign dominated not by ideas, but demonization.  President Bush is portrayed by the left as unthinking, reckless and stubborn, despite his worthy efforts at leading the nation through some very difficult times.  Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., meanwhile, is accused of not being open-minded or thoughtful and instead is a "flip-flopper" whose commendable and clearly authentic war heroism is called into question.

Each man has an impressive record of public service.  Though neither man is without flaw, each is an established leader who can be counted upon to do his best to protect the nation and see to the well-being of its citizens.

Despite the best efforts of the campaigns to do otherwise, what sets these men apart is not their qualifications to be president, but their positions on the issues.  Bush and Kerry offer decidedly different visions for the country.  It is on this basis that the candidates are best judged, and it is because we believe Kerry has, on the whole, the better plan for America that we endorse him for President of the United States.


In his initial debate with the president, Kerry closed the credibility gap opened up by his opponents on his approach to world affairs, and in particular to the war in Iraq.

Recognizing that the United States cannot unilaterally withdraw from Iraq, Kerry would boost the American troop presence there marginally and seek more support from allies.

It's not at all certain that America's allies, in particular European nations, would be willing to put troops on the ground in Iraq, but Kerry would be right to seek such cooperation. In any event, his election would provide the potential for a fresh start with world leaders unhappy with current U.S. policy on Iraq.

It should be noted that neither Kerry nor his opponent have given enough attention in this campaign to the gathering threat posed by Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Still, Kerry's pledge to make American foreign policy and the war on terrorism less centered on Iraq suggests a better posture for dealing with the multitude of security concerns facing the United States.


While Bush the man has demonstrated strong leadership qualities, many of the policies he has pursued have failed.  Of particular concern is the president's handling of the economy - which has been shaky throughout his term - and the related issue of the federal budget.

Bush's dogged pursuit of tax cuts at the expense of fiscal responsibility has produced an unprecedented deficit in dollar terms - though as a percentage of the overall size of the economy it is well short of a record.

This red ink is not healthy for the economy in either the short or long term.  Over time, it makes interest rates higher than they would otherwise be. It also threatens the government's ability to tend to problems such as the looming shortfall in Social Security and funding the war on terrorism.

It's not just the tax cuts that have created the problem.  Spending has grown dramatically under Bush.  He has not lived up to the Republican conviction of smaller government.  For example, he has put his signature on a bloated farm subsidy bill and an expensive Medicare prescription drug bill that does not appear to be an effective response to the inability of many seniors to afford the medicines they need.

True, Kerry's plans for taxing and spending do not add up to significant deficit reductions, but the Democrat differs from the president in one important respect on the deficit: He supports "pay-as-you-go" rules for both new spending initiatives and tax cuts.  These rules would require new initiatives to be offset by either spending cuts or new taxes.  The president opposes having them apply to tax cuts.

Beyond the critical matter of the deficit, Kerry has better approaches to other pressing issues, including health care, education, energy and environmental policy.
Kerry's solid health care plan includes government help with paying for the most costly medical cases, expansion of proven programs covering low- and moderate-income people and giving the uninsured access to the health care plans used by federal employees.  How much can be done in this arena, however, depends on how good a job is done taming the deficit, and Kerry would be wise to temper his promises accordingly.

An initial supporter of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, Kerry now says he would make changes to it.  That's not a flip-flop, but a reasoned response to federal policy that has not worked as well as originally intended.

Of particular merit in Kerry's agenda is his desire to shift the focus of American energy policy from increasing the supply of oil and gas to the development of alternative sources of energy and conservation.  That's not only smart domestic policy, but it will enhance U.S. security abroad by reducing the nation's dependence on foreign oil.

Bush's environmental record, on the whole, is not as bad as his detractors try to paint it, but the president clearly endorses fewer environmental protections than does Kerry.  The more sensible path is toward greater environmental protection.  Americans' health suffers because of dirty air, dangerous mercury contaminates our waters and the government will soon be back in the business of subsidizing logging on federal lands.  Kerry's approach to the environment would better address these issues and more.


With four members of the U.S. Supreme Court over the age of 70, the next president is likely to have the opportunity to shape its ideological framework for years to come.  This has many implications and one issue especially stands out: President Bush is committed to appointing justices willing to overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that underpins abortion rights.

Reversal of Roe would harm the reproductive rights of women, of course, but could also drive abortion services underground, making it unsafe for those who choose exercise this right.  The person best qualified to decide whether to have an abortion is the woman who is pregnant.  The candidate most likely to protect that right to choose is Kerry.

Like his opponent, John Kerry has the skills and the experience to be commander in chief.  He also has an agenda that would serve Americans better than that of his opponent.  For that reason, he merits our endorsement for president.

Copyright © 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc..    (John W. Porter Oct. 15, 2004)

Editorial board members are: Publisher and CEO of Blethen Maine Newspapers Charles Cochran, Editor and Vice President Geninne Guttman, Editorial Page Editor John W. Porter, Editorial Writer Nikki Kallio, and Editorial Writer Micheal Harmon.  A useful commentary piece by Porter, "
It's not just about influencing outcomes," accompanied the endorsement.  Porter wrote, "...we're not telling people how to vote.  We are trying to stir the pot and get people engaged.  We're hoping, too, to add perspective."