Thursday, January 22, 2004
Heading into the 2004 election, American voters have
reason to be concerned about the health of the economy and the economics
of health, but the overriding concern is the ultimate public health issue
-- national security. Prosecuting the war on terrorism, handling the aftermath
of the war in Iraq, mending this country's strained relationships with
allies, and striking the proper balance between liberty and security are
the issues that will and should dominate the coming campaign. John Kerry,
the veteran senator from Massachusetts, has proved himself the Democratic
candidate most capable of addressing those matters and offering a compelling
alternative to the George W. Bush presidency.
Unlike the incumbent president, Kerry did not need to experience a direct attack on American soil to awaken his interest in foreign affairs. The son of a foreign service officer, Kerry first achieved prominence through his involvement in Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which he joined after decorated Naval service in Southeast Asia. Kerry's published journals from his tour of duty and his eloquent 1971 testimony to Congress -- "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" -- speak of a man who is battle-tested both literally and figuratively and who has thought long and hard about the enormous consequences of going to war. Both qualities would provide a welcome change from Bush.
True, Kerry's impressive background didn't save him in October 2002 when Bush asked for congressional authorization to go to war in Iraq. Kerry was among the 23 Democrats who sided with the administration. Kerry explains that he thought it important to give the president a credible threat to use against Saddam Hussein, but that the president shouldn't have exercised that authority without first assembling an international coalition. In evaluating that explanation, it's important to remember that what now seems like an easy call was anything but at the time. The question in October 2002 wasn't whether Iraq posed a threat, but what should be done
about it. The extent to which the Bush administration had oversold the nature of the menace is only now becoming clear.
While Kerry's Senate career is best known for his foreign-policy accomplishments -- service on the Foreign Relations Committee, pushing for information on missing-in-action servicemen, publicizing of the Reagan administration's illegal funding of Nicaragua's Contras -- he also has compiled an admirable record on domestic issues. His environmental record has earned him praise from the League of Conservation Voters and other environmental groups. He has been a steadfast supporter of increased access to health care insurance (and is now advocating a plan to make coverage more affordable by having the federal government help employers cover catastrophic cases). And he is a self-described fiscal hawk, a label that can only help at a time when federal deficits have hit the half-trillion level.
Give Howard Dean credit for giving voice to the deep-seated frustration felt by many Democrats about the Bush administration's reckless foreign policy and tax cuts. But Dean in recent days seems to have become a victim of his own success: Having discovered the value of anger as a campaign tool, he now seems unsure how to introduce voters to the political persona that Vermonters are familiar with -- the pragmatic and mostly level-headed decision-maker. Wesley Clark, with his military career, leadership of NATO and command of the Kosovo bombing operation, certainly offers impressive credentials. But considering that he's almost as new to the Democratic Party as he is to politics, the retired general is more of a wild card than Dean. Sen. John Edwards presumably would boost the party's chances in the South, but leave the rest of the country wondering why a man who hasn't finished his first term in the Senate feels qualified to serve as president. And although Sen. Joseph Lieberman is articulate, principled and experienced, he also happens to be wrong on too many issues.
During a campaign that has featured a protracted debate about which candidate is best suited to defeat Bush -- the paramount concern of many Democrats -- Kerry's electability has been called into question. He may be experienced and articulate, but he can also come across as a stuffed shirt. Set against the self-deprecating, aw-shucks amiability of the incumbent, Kerry's patrician demeanor might prove a huge liability.
Kerry's impressive showing in the Iowa caucuses should put to rest many of those fears. In a six-person field, he captured 38 percent of the delegates and, according to exit polls, demonstrated an appeal to a wide array of the party faithful. It's not yet entirely clear why the once-flat Kerry campaign surged to life, although his discussion of health care policy during a December interview at the Valley News made clear one of his strengths: He can be an informed, impassioned and persuasive advocate.
And although national security topics will attract much of the focus of the 2004 campaign, the election will ultimately serve as a referendum on George Bush. John Kerry, we believe, is the best Democrat to offer not just an insightful critique of the incumbent but an attractive replacement.
Copyright 2004 Valley News.
Reprinted by permission. (Jim Fox, 02/24/04)
Jim Fox, Editor (02/24/04):
"The editorial board consists of the publisher, the editor, the managing editor and the editorial page editor. We had meetings with the following candidates in the period leading up to the primary: Wesley Clark, John Edwards, John Kerry. We had had many editorial board meetings over the years with Howard Dean when he was governor of Vermont.
"We waited to endorse until after the Iowa caucuses because we wanted to have as much information as possible before making a choice."
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