Politics as art and science - or dishonesty?

Posted: Mar 17, 2004 12:00 AM

The high-minded definition of politics is: "the art or science of government; the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy." It is only when you keep reading in Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary that you get closer to the truth: "political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices."

Many politicians change their minds or flat out lie in order to win or stay in office. Some announce their work is "not finished" and run again after pledging to limit their terms in office; others promise not to raise taxes and do; still others claim to be pro-life and then switch to the other side as a strategy to protect their political lives. Flip-flopping, shading the truth and denying that he said what he is on the record as having said are also expected in politics. It seems the one you want in office is the one who does these things less frequently than his opponent and on issues of less concern to you.

This brings us to John Kerry, whose sole attraction appears to be that he is the candidate the Bush-haters have settled on to limit the president to a single term. Not many seem enthusiastic about Kerry, the man. He is merely a tool, and an elitist one at that. If he were a hammer, he would be made of sterling silver. He'd be Tiffany & Co. to President Bush's Wal-Mart. Like an intern in the Clinton White House, Kerry is to be used for the pleasure and purpose of the Bush-haters. He inspires no commitment, no loyalty. He is just a ticket-to-ride.

What should concern principled Democrats is Kerry's record. He has a long history of changing positions on almost any issue, and so fast that he is on the other side of where he previously stood before most people notice.

The Washington Post took notice of Kerry's dangerous and constant shifts in a March 11 editorial. After observing that President Bush has shifted his positions on some issues such as nation-building and that "flip-flops aren't always bad," the Post got to the heart of the Kerry problem: "It's not always clear what, if anything, he's committed to.. Where are the bedrock principles that would guide him in office?"

A few days ago, a grinning Howard Dean appeared with Kerry; Dean reportedly is close to endorsing his former rival. The former Vermont governor now says the things that unite Kerry and himself are more important than the things that divide them. Does Dean mean that, or is he simply playing the cynical political game? As recently as Feb. 1, Tim Russert on NBC's "Meet the Press" reminded Dean what he had told the New York Times the previous week: "This is what you said.'(Dean) defined the nomination battle as a choice between (himself)' and 'a Washington insider who shifts back and forth with every poll.' Who is that?" "That's John Kerry," responded Dean. Asked "On what issues?" Dean responded, "Iraq, for one. He couldn't make up his mind whether he was for Iraq or not for the longest time. No Child Left Behind, he voted for that, didn't have the nerve to stand up against that when I did a long, long time ago."

One wonders what "important" things Dean has in mind - other than defeating President Bush - because he has criticized Kerry's positions and behavior on so many issues, from taking special interest money to talking about health care but doing nothing, trade and "whining" when asked about his positions.

The two issues about which Kerry seems "convicted" rather than conflicted are higher taxes and more spending. Don't look for him to flip on these because they define a modern liberal Democrat. That's why the president's reelection team is running commercials hitting the only non-moving target Kerry has presented. It's difficult to attack someone who, as the Post editorial noted, engages in "campaign-trail straddles on a wide range of issues."

That may be politics as usual for Kerry, but is it politics the way the voters want it?