Wednesday, July 14, 2004

As liberals' champion, Kerry not the real deal

Imagine this, the Boston Globe claims the poodle is not a liberal. Well I suppose in a city like Boston, Mao would be a moderate and Castro a right winger. Just another example of media bias, the Globe trying to help the poodle shed his liberal cape. But we already know better. - Sailor

As liberals' champion, Kerry not the real deal
By Peter S. Canellos, Boston Globe Columnist | July 13, 2004

WASHINGTON -- John Kerry's version of Madonna's ''Reinvention" tour began last week with the selection of John Edwards as his running mate and will culminate in about two weeks with his acceptance speech at the FleetCenter.

Kerry's emergence from the shadows of the campaign trail occurs amid growing evidence that the country is open to an alternative to President Bush but doesn't have a clear picture of Kerry. Republicans have been sketching furiously to fill that blank page, drawing from a collection of liberal caricatures the way a tattoo artist chooses which dragon to paint on a fleshy forearm.

Meanwhile, real-life liberals have some qualms of their own. They've watched their supposedly liberal standard-bearer come out against gay marriage, declare that life begins at conception, join Bush in endorsing Israel's refusal even to negotiate over a Palestinian right of return, and slash back his promises on college aid and national service.

Then, last week, Kerry declared that he was in touch with the ''conservative values" of the heartland.

Don't expect any uprisings at the FleetCenter, even if Kerry gives the crowd even less to cheer about than the Bruins or the Celtics. Except for a few Massachusetts unions, the traditional Democratic agitators have decided to sublimate their demands to the purpose of defeating Bush.

Still, both sides are eager to discover Kerry's true north, and the location seems likely to disappoint both the Republican caricaturists and liberal idealists: Kerry isn't much of a liberal at all.

He's got a strong contrarian streak and has long sought to shake free of party dogma.

His skepticism of any received wisdom was duly earned in the Vietnam War, when he followed his own path and emerged morally unscathed -- just about the only prominent figure of the era to have done so.

As both soldier and protester, he escaped former Nebraska senator Bob Kerrey's guilt over never having spoken out about civilian casualties, and he lacks the sense of moral compromise that follows those like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush who made decisions that kept them off the front lines.

Kerry's 20-year voting record in the Senate points in the liberal direction, but not all the time.

The National Journal assessment used to support GOP talking points and the Boston Herald's inimitable ''Left of Ted" headline -- using Ted Kennedy as a fixed point on the political map, like a 7-eleven on the corner of Bleeding Heart Boulevard -- is incomplete.

The National Journal rates senators in three major areas -- economic policy, foreign policy, and social policy -- but only if they voted on more than half the issues. Kerry spent most of 2003 on the campaign trail and amassed only enough votes to be assessed on economics. He wasn't even rated on foreign or social issues.

In other years, when he's been present to vote, Kerry has veered between his party's left wing and moderate center.

But even when Kerry chalked up a liberal voting record, he left plenty of evidence to suggest he was eager to break ranks, yet kept getting yanked back by the demands of his left-leaning state.

In 1992, before Clinton's Sister Souljah attack, Kerry made his own highly publicized break with liberal theology on race, bemoaning the lack of personal responsibility in poor urban neighborhoods and suggesting that affirmative action sent the wrong message to the underclass.

After days of rebukes up in Boston, Kerry didn't back down, but applied so many layers of conciliatory clothing to his remarks that any sharp edges got covered.

Then, after the Democrats lost control of Congress in 1994, Kerry acted like a man unchained. He professed to be ''delighted by the shakeup," which has tabled the liberal agenda for a decade.

Whether joining with Republicans to promote a budget-cutting plan or staring with incredulousness at a roomful of Boston reporters who questioned why he believed openly gay soldiers would harm the morale of the military, Kerry never seemed so happy as when challenging his hometown ideology.

Likewise, his efforts to expose the Reagan administration's ''secret wars" in Central America -- portrayed by Republicans as softness on communism -- were more an expression of his prosecutor's zeal to uncover lies and inconsistencies.

Like Republican moderates Arlen Specter and Rudolph Giuliani, and Democratic moderates Joseph I. Lieberman and Joe Biden, Kerry enjoys wagging a finger at powerful interests of any type, demanding truth and transparency.

Presidential campaigns either find their moment or dissolve, and Kerry's insistence on a rigorous means rather than a prescribed end provides a natural contrast to Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. It doesn't offer an ideological counterweight to the Republicans so much as a side route around ideological roadblocks.

The relatively simple, unexciting guideposts Kerry has promised -- a return to ''pay as you go" economics, a foreign policy based on vigilance but also rigorous analysis -- is about all there is to his proposed administration.

John Kerry is neither a liberal dragon nor a liberal angel.

He's no liberal at all.

His dry husk of an agenda is all process and few goals.

But it's his unusual fortune to rise up against an administration widely accused of having too little process and too many goals.

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