St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Sunday, October 10, 2004

DECISION 2004: Kerry for president

BASED ON HIS RECORD, President George W. Bush has not earned re-election.  He has mishandled the war on terrorism, shut his eyes to disagreeable facts, left the next generation in hock and presided over a sharp loss in jobs, health insurance and prosperity for millions of Americans.

Sen. John F. Kerry, D-Mass., understands that Mr. Bush took a wrong turn by transforming the war on terrorism into an invasion of Iraq.  He understands the importance of working with our traditional allies and the world community to fight terrorism.  And he wants to step up efforts to address real nuclear threats by disposing of nuclear materials in Russia and dealing directly with North Korea and Iran.

Mr. Kerry would reverse the tax cuts for the very wealthy and use the money to improve health care and help middle-class families pay for college.  His strong environmental record offers the prospect of a president whose environmentalism extends beyond cynical slogans such as "Clear Skies" and "Healthy Forests."

In the troubled election of 2000, Mr. Bush ran as a compassionate conservative who wanted to create a "lockbox" for Social Security and unite the nation, while conducting a humble foreign policy that eschewed nation-building.  He pried open the lockbox, conducted an arrogant foreign policy, tried to grow a democracy in burning sand and left the nation more divided than at any time since Vietnam.

The case against Mr. Bush

After Sept. 11, 2001, a stunned, angry nation and much of the world stood with Mr. Bush to depose the Taliban who had harbored al-Qaida in Afghanistan. Victory was swift, but Mr. Bush made a critical strategic blunder by failing to send U.S. troops to try to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora.  Instead, Mr. Bush redirected forces toward Iraq.

In the surge of patriotism, there were a few voices of restraint. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said there was a lack of planning for postwar Iraq.  United Nations weapons inspectors said they had not found weapons of mass destruction.  Traditional allies asked Mr. Bush to give inspections more time.

But Mr. Bush would not hear of it.  The prediction that our troops would be welcomed with flowers, and that a democracy would flourish in Iraq and spread throughout the Middle East turned out to be wishful thinking.  Those idealistic dreams look absurd today after the deaths of 1,000 Americans, the growth of an Iraqi insurgency, the alienation of Muslims, the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison and the estrangement of the United States from traditional allies.

Still Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney cling blindly to their story line.  When the Iraqi Survey Group concluded last week that Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Bush insisted the report had justified the war.  He even came up with a new, ludicrous rationale: Saddam's corruption of the U.N.'s oil-for-food program justified the pre-emptive invasion.

Meanwhile, Mr. Bush turned his back on the Geneva Conventions and Attorney General John D. Ashcroft conducted an inept and heavy-handed crackdown that violated civil liberties.  Prosecution after prosecution failed, and the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Mr. Bush's violations of the Constitution.

Mr. Bush's apparent inability to accept facts that are at odds with his ideology is perhaps his greatest vulnerability as a leader.  Just as he refuses to recognize reality in Iraq, he has advanced domestic policies that are at war with science.  The administration has pooh-poohed global warming, downplayed the value of embryonic stem-cell research, claimed a link between abortion and breast cancer and removed scientific papers from government Web sites.

The failure of Mr. Bush's economic policy is evident in the numbers:

A decline by 821,000 in the number of Americans with jobs since he took office, the worst jobs record since Herbert Hoover.

A decline in median household income, when adjusted for inflation.  This means the average family is doing a little worse now than four years ago.

The $236 billion annual budget surplus he inherited has turned into a $422 billion annual deficit.  We will pass this massive debt on to our children.

Mr. Bush entered office facing a mild recession.  His remedy was sharp tax cuts.  But in giving those cuts primarily to the rich, he limited the economic lift, while draining progressivity from the tax code.  Working families pay higher rates than rich families living off their investments.

Even Mr. Bush's "compassionate" agenda - the No Child Left Behind education law, the Medicare prescription drug benefit and the anti-AIDS effort in Africa - have fallen short.  Mr. Bush underfunded the school program and the AIDS initiative, and he refused to give the government leverage with drug companies to get lower prices for seniors.

The case for Mr. Kerry

Mr. Kerry has a distinguished record in foreign affairs and a program that addresses the nation's three most serious problems: the health care crisis, the sputtering economy and the war.

Under his health plan, the government would cover catastrophic health costs, triggering lower health insurance rates.  In addition, Mr. Kerry would expand health coverage for children, a federal program that he helped start.  The number of uninsured people, which rose to 45 million from 40 million during the Bush years, would be halved.

Mr. Kerry would steer a more moderate economic course, restoring fairness to the tax system and fiscal responsibility. He would raise the minimum wage and restore overtime pay for low-level white-collar workers.

In the Senate, Mr. Kerry was active in investigations of Iran-contra, the CIA connection to Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and the corruption of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International.  Long before Sept. 11, 2001, he called for regulating electronic money transfers and using the CIA against international criminal organizations.

Mr. Kerry was a leader on global warming, the ban on oil drilling in the Arctic and the effort to raise automobile fuel-efficiency standards - a sharp contrast to Mr. Bush's dismantling of environmental safeguards.

Mr. Kerry has had trouble explaining the consistency of his position on Iraq.  But his views reflect those of many Americans.  Like most people, he favored giving the president strong authority to eliminate weapons in Iraq, but wanted the president to act through the United Nations and as a last resort.  Like most people, he was shocked that Mr. Bush had not planned well for the occupation and refused to recognize the realities of the insurgency.

Mr. Kerry's plan to "win" the war in Iraq may be no more realistic than Mr. Bush's.  But Mr. Kerry's Vietnam record as a warrior and a protester has taught him about the limits of American power and the importance of a president playing it straight.

America needs a leader who sees the world as it is, who knows how to rebuild international alliances, who focuses on threats to homeland security, who runs the government for the benefit of all Americans.  By virtue of his knowledge of world affairs, his life story of national service and his moderate values, John Kerry is that leader.

Copyright © 2004 St. Louis Post-Dispatch L.L.C.  Reprinted by permission. (Christine Bertelson, 10/14/04)

The editorial board comprises Editorial Page Editor Christine Bertelson; Deputy Editorial Page Editor William H. Freivogel, Editorial Writers John G. Carlton, Jim Gallagher, Kevin Horrigan and Robert Joiner, Commentary Page Editor Eric Mink, Letters Editor Ray Gunter and Editor Ellen Soeteber. The Post-Dispatch presented a series of editorials on the issues leading up to the endorsement.

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