Rich Lowry

Saying what you don't mean can, despite all its political benefits, be confusing. Kerry voted for the Patriot Act, then declared that he didn't really mean it during the Democratic primaries. Now, attacked by the Bush team for opposing the Patriot Act, Kerry objects that he didn't mean that either. Which position doesn't he mean more?

Who can know? It was once said of the famously contentious 17th-century Puritan rebel John Lilburne, "If the world were emptied of all but John Lilburne, Lilburne would quarrel with John, and John with Lilburne." If he were similarly left all alone on the field of political combat, John would quarrel with Kerry, and Kerry with John.

In the Senate, Kerry defended free trade for years. Lately, he has explained to protectionist Democratic voters that he didn't mean it. He advocates including labor and environmental standards in trade agreements, a position that will make it difficult for the United States to forge future free-trade agreements. And he supports a crackdown on "outsourcing," also known as free trade in labor. If Kerry follows through, he will be the first U.S. president in 50 years to abandon the U.S. posture of pushing for more global economic openness. But maybe he hasn't meant what he has said in the course of explaining that he didn't mean what he used to say on trade.

Or maybe he's being sincere. That would be truly frightening.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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