The New Mexican (Santa Fe)

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Among the Dems, Kerry Has Best Chance

That was no "primal scream" issuing from Howard Dean's mouth after conceding his loss in Iowa caucus; it was the kind of yell you'd hear from a football coach trying to rally his players.

But Dean was bloodied in Iowa -- and an again-effete Eastern media establishment, feeling betrayed after so much pro-Dean coverage, was exacting its pound of flesh by portraying the Vermont governor as too unstable to carry the Democratic banner into November's contest against President Bush.

Before that, Dean was drygulched for daring to state the truth: We're no safer for having caught Saddam Hussein.

But the treatment Dean has gotten from the press, talk radio and TV is kid-glove compared with what would await him in the run-up to November. Lee Atwater, whose 1988 commercials on behalf of the first George Bush, painting Michael Dukakis as a doofus, died young -- but his successors are an even meaner lot -- GOP versions of those who created the "Barry Goldwater-and-the-Bomb" commercial contributing to Lyndon Johnson's 1964 landslide victory. The good Howard Dean is a sitting duck.

The Democrats need a candidate who can turn the cathode-ray gun on the Republicans. Old warriors Wesley Clark and John Kerry fill the bill. When they talk homeland security against terrorism, they don't mean neocolonial marches into Baghdad; they mean effective defense of American territory against diabolical attacks. On that count alone, they merit more confidence from their fellow citizens, Republican and Democratic alike, than the president does.

Both men realize that our country can't go on cutting taxes and spending itself silly. We're facing a half-trillion-dollar deficit -- and at the same time, the likelihood that Bush will be the first president since Herbert Hoover to finish a term with more Americans out of work than when he started. If that doesn't call for a Democrat, what does? Both candidates promise to put part of the tax burden back on the broad shoulders of the rich, while offering incentives to those whose companies come up with more jobs.

Clark and Kerry, taking a page from New Mexico's Sen. Jeff Bingaman, think Los Alamos, Sandia and our other national laboratories should be better partners with private enterprise in providing employment. For starters, they figure, we could
concentrate more on energy research and other productive fields -- and less on redundant weapons of mass destruction. If that sounds a little like Dwight Eisenhower's concern about the "military-industrial complex," it's music to our ears.

But can Clark withstand the $200 million media assault from the White House -- with help from the Pentagon, where Clark was up to his neck in the kind of intrigue that bored brass love to stir? Already, we envision commercials along the Dr. Strangelove line, maybe a touch of Seven Days in May, with Clark in the Sterling Hayden and Burt Lancaster roles ....

Kerry, a Navy lieutenant, had little time for the long knives wielded among the higher ranks; he was being shot at by snipers along the Mekong River. A Silver Star, a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts attest to his bravery. No Republican of sound mind will call Kerry's character into question.

While we question the Massachusetts senator's vote giving Bush the war power for his Iraqi venture, the GOP can't challenge Kerry on bogus "patriotic" grounds in what's sure to be a dirty general-election campaign.

In fact, John Kerry's real challenge, in our minds, is to engage fellow Yalie George Bush in a brawl before someone in the president's camp sucker-punches him.

If he can, he offers America's Democratic majority the best chance of winning the popular -- and electoral -- vote.

New Mexicans voting in Tuesday's caucus should give John Kerry their support, and urge him to roll up his sleeves for the coming fall's brutal battle.

Copyright © 2004 The Santa Fe New Mexican.  Reprinted by permission.  (Bill Waters Jan. 30, 2004)

Bill Waters: "We're a tiny newspaper, with no editorial board as such; our editorials, all of which I write, obviously represent the view of the publisher, Robin McKinney Martin. For seven months or so, we had standing request to talk with candidates. Only this month did we get responses from some, leading to phone conversations with Dean, Clark, Lieberman and Kerry...As for timing, we didn't get to talk with Kerry until the day before the editorial ran ....."