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Reality check

Kerry could be just the right guy


George Bush has put off the search for Osama bin Laden in favor of a recruitment drive for new terrorists in Iraq.

His tax cuts -- skewed as they were toward heirs and investors -- are doing little to spur the spending that might have produced more jobs.

His keystone-cop "War on Terror" has become a national joke.

And this election's still a nail biter? I just don't get it.

Actually, maybe I do. Since last spring, the Bush-Cheney machine has been scaring people about John Kerry. Unfortunately, it's not that difficult to scare people to vote against the other guy. I'll show you what I mean:

Imagine our cocksure president ambling into the White House for a second term. Over the course of four years, Bush would get to nominate up to four hard-right justices to the Supreme Court. So, for the next 40 years, you might as well kiss abortion and privacy rights goodbye.

Even worse -- thanks to his mishandling of North Korea and Iran, and his failure to do as much as he should have to decommission Soviet-era nuclear bombs -- Bush may be forced in a second term to deal with the rising prospect of a nuclear attack.

Bush got his start in politics as his father's point man with the religious right. He brings the certainty of a true believer to the White House. From time to time, he's even hinted that God selected him to lead the nation in this time of crisis. And he has a habit, a very bad habit, of not allowing facts to get in the way of his "gut" instinct.

Yikes! Is that scary enough for you? This isn't the kind guy I trust with a finger on the button.

But I would trust John Kerry with his finger on the button.

Kerry has hardly any executive experience and often comes across as a rich snob. He seemed to play his Senate career with an eye toward running for president. Critics rightly note that he's not been the most productive legislator in the Senate.

But the last sitting senator to be elected president (the other JFK from Massachusetts) was neither an experienced executive nor a prodigious lawmaker. And there are plenty of hints that Kerry possesses the kind of strengths we seek in a president.

For example, he showed remarkable courage and leadership in his youth -- first as a war hero, then as a protester against America's misadventure in Vietnam. In the recent debates, Kerry displayed more leadership qualities, including a great command of the issues and an ability to communicate ideas without dumbing them down. In the post-debate polls, he consistently trounced Bush on the question of who seemed more "presidential."

A former prosecutor, Kerry made his mark in the Senate by leading high-profile investigations of global problems. Among them: nuclear proliferation, global criminal networks, money laundering, and the fate of Americans missing-in-action in Vietnam. That set of issues is similar to the ones confronting our nation in the fight against terrorism.

Of course, imagining Kerry as the more sensible choice if you're worried about terrorism doesn't comport with the caricature drawn of him by the Bush campaign. Kerry is supposed to be such a dove that he'd refuse to defend the nation against terror attacks; that over-the-top claim says more about the president's campaign tactics than it does about Kerry.

The president's surrogates and Bush himself have been particularly misleading about Kerry's position on Iraq. They've had a little help from the senator, who tried too hard to finesse his way through the strongly antiwar Democratic primaries.

But as early as the spring of 2002, the senator was on record with basically the same position that he takes now: He would give the president the authority to invade so long as Bush followed through on his assurance that he'd build a strong coalition and would wage war only as a last resort. It was Bush who flip-flopped, not Kerry.

Unlike Bush, Kerry offers reasonable solutions for a whole set of other problems that grip many American families. He'd leave in place the middle-class tax cuts that Democrats managed to tack onto Bush's tax cuts in 2001, and he'd add tax breaks to help people pay for child care and tuition. He'd use revenue recouped by rescinding tax cuts on families earning more than $200,000 to tackle the nations' health insurance crisis, basically by broadening eligibility for existing programs.

Of course, it's unclear how much of that sensible agenda Kerry could get through a Republican Congress. But unlike Bush he's likely to place a check on the most extreme tendencies of Congress.

And while either man will have a hell of a time dealing with Bush's folly in Iraq, Kerry at least offers some hope that both Arab and European nations will offer the United States more cooperation simply because he isn't Bush.

The bulk of the polls in recent days have pointed toward a sweet irony: Bush seems set to win the popular vote, they say, but Kerry could win the Electoral College. If that happens, I for one will be a little less scared.

CL Editor Ken Edelstein speaks for himself and maybe a couple of other people. He can be reached at

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