What does John Kerry stand for? This is now the political parlor game of the election season upon us. Of course, what doesn't John Kerry stand for?
There may be something purely comic in the anecdote about the Kerry constituent who, in 1991, received two letters from the Massachusetts senator, nine days apart, the first opposing the Gulf War, the second supporting it. But this anecdote is as good a metaphor as any for Kerry's stands on significant issues. In January, for example, he was castigating President Bush for his "exaggeration" of the terrorist threat -- a point on which John Edwards, his erstwhile rival, saw fit to take him to task. In February, Kerry was still castigating Bush -- but this time for having mustered an inadequate response to the same terrorist threat. "I do not fault George Bush for doing too much in the war on terror," Kerry said. "I believe he's done too little."
More amazing than the policy shifts that occur a month or days apart are the shifts that are little more than a jot of punctuation. Last fall, Kerry explained his decision to oppose the president's plan to fund the post-liberation reconstruction of Iraq: "I voted against that $87 billion in Washington yesterday," Kerry said. "But let me make it clear, I am for winning the war in Iraq." Translation: I don't want to support the stabilization and rebuilding of Iraq, but I want to stabilize and rebuild Iraq.
Sometimes Kerry's position depends on who's listening. An Arab-American audience in Michigan last fall heard all about how Israel's security is just "another barrier to peace." As Kerry put it, "I know how disheartened Palestinians are by the Israeli government's decision to build a barrier off the Green Line -- cutting deep into Palestinian areas. We don't need another barrier to peace. Provocative and counterproductive measures only harm Israelis' security over the long term, increase the hardships to Palestinian people, and make the process of negotiating an eventual settlement that much harder."
In the run-up to Super Tuesday -- which included a primary in notably Jewish New York -- Kerry spoke out of a different side of his mouth. "Israel's security fence is a legitimate act of self-defense," he said. "No nation can stand by while its children are blown up at pizza parlors and on buses. While President Bush is rightly discussing with Israel the exact route of the fence to minimize the hardship it causes innocent Palestinians, Israel has a right and duty to defend its citizens. The fence only exists in response to the wave of terror attacks against Israel."
Kerry would go on to tell the New York Daily News that the old "barrier to peace" routine was "a not very artfully drawn paragraph" that reflected "the rush of the campaign." Rush of the campaign, sure -- from one political audience to another.
One belief John Kerry has held consistently is multilateralism. (No wonder the only mention of "war" in his Super Tuesday speech -- besides HoWARd Dean, John EdWARds, and Republican reWARds to the rich -- concerned a "pledge to rejoin the community of nations" to achieve "final victory in the war on terror.") To John Kerry, alliances not blessed by the United Nations -- such as the one that liberated 25 million Iraqis from Saddam Hussein's Baathist dictatorship -- don't rate, while unilateralism is burn-at-the-stake heresy.
Or is it? Having heard Kerry's critique of the Bush administration's Haiti actions, the Daily News also reported that Kerry said his administration would have given the rebels a 48-hour ultimatum to come up with a peaceful agreement. "Otherwise," Kerry was quoted as saying, "we're coming in."
Otherwise we're coming in? "I would intervene with the international community, and absent an international force, I'd do it unilaterally," Kerry explained. Maybe it's that old rush of the campaign again. Or maybe Kerry reserves the right to act unilaterally in all cases outside America's strategic interests. Meanwhile, in real life, the United Nations has since voted unanimously to send a multinational peace-keeping force to Haiti, while French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin has described Jean Bertrand Aristide's departure as being "the result of perfect coordination" between Washington and Paris.
C'est la guerre.
Kerry said on Super Tuesday: "When I first led veterans to the Mall here in Washington to stop the Vietnam War ... it was a time when millions of Americans could not trust or believe what their leaders were telling them ... Now, today, many Americans are once again wondering if they can trust and believe the leadership of our country."
Senator Flip-Flop is one to talk.