Though he again looked largely polished and smooth, John Kerry showed unusual temerity in taking multiple positions on each issue during the same debate?making him look more like a panderer than a president.
Providing stark contrast was a finally-presidential George W. Bush, confidently and cogently explaining his positions, taking 30 extra seconds for follow-ups instead of begging for them. Even his slightly stranger moments??got some wood??somehow worked.
Whether on the economy, Iraq, abortion, or stem-cell research, Kerry gave alternately confused and contradictory answers. Perhaps those with ?superior intellects? might be able to reconcile Kerry?s various stances, but ordinary voters likely saw him for the shameless shill he was.
The billionaire?s spouse attempted to pose as a fiscal conservative, yet announced spending plans far larger than any partial repeal of Bush?s tax cuts?and that?s before factoring in the tax cut Kerry supposedly supports for 98% of Americans.
The ?anti-war candidate? who has pledged to withdraw troops from Iraq promised on Friday night ?to add 40,000 active duty forces to the military.?
The former anti-war protestor who voted to authorize the Iraq war but voted against the $87 billion to fund the rebuilding (after voting for it) claimed on Friday night to have had one position on Iraq all along. What would that position be?
Apparently one that, had Kerry been President, would mean that Saddam would ?not necessarily? be in power.
Where the senator from Massachusetts completely ran aground, though, was on two questions near the end, one on stem-cell research and one on taxpayer funding of abortion.
Knowing that the election?s battleground states?Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Wisconsin (Missouri, West Virginia, Tennessee, and Arkansas are pretty firmly Bush country now)?are brimming with culturally conservative Reagan Democrats, Kerry did his best to sound ?moderate.?
Though he probably expected?and hoped?that the stem-cell issue would be raised, Kerry was floored, absolutely flabbergasted, by the question he was asked. A calm and poised woman asked Kerry, ?Senator Kerry, thousands of people have already been cured or treated by the use of adult stem cells or umbilical cord stem cells. However, no one has been cured by using embryonic stem cells. Wouldn?t it be wide to use stem cells obtained without the destruction of an embryo??
A noticeably stunned Kerry stammered, ?I really respect your,? and waited a few seconds to figure out what he respected, then concluded, ?the feeling that?s in your question.? He obviously didn?t respect the question, as he chose not to answer it.
What he did instead was give the answer he had been prepared to deliver, a remarkably shallow one given the gravity of the issue.
After collecting himself, Kerry rattled off a celebrity laundry list?Nancy Reagan, Michael J. Fox, and (the now-departed) Christopher Reeve?and then made the bizarre claim that ?we have the option, which scientists tell us we do, of curing Parkinson?s, curing diabetes, curing, you know, some kind of a, you know, paraplegic or quadriplegic or, you know, a spinal cord injury, anything.? With not even one clinical trial under way involving embryonic stem cells, ?we? certainly don?t ?have the option? that Kerry suggests. (For more, see Robert P. George in NRO.)
Hitting an even lower low moments later, Kerry fielded a question about taxpayer funding of abortion. After spending a moment lavishing ?respect? on the questioner, Kerry said, ?Religion has been a huge part of my life. It helped lead me through a war.?
Only Kerry could turn an abortion question into a Vietnam answer.
When he finally found time to answer the woman?s question directly, the lifelong Catholic made a startling policy statement: poor women have a Constitutional right to taxpayer-funded abortions. (Bush, though, failed to respond to that point.) The Supreme Court has never declared that poor women have a Constitutional right to a taxpayer-funded abortion, and only the die-hard abortion rights activists share this view.
Rebutting President Bush?s response to that same question moments later, Kerry flat-out lied. In attempting to cast parental consent as a complex, nuanced issue, he raised the specter of incest: ?With respect to parental notification, I'm not going to require a 16-or 17-year-old kid who?s been raped by her father and who?s pregnant to have to notify her father.?
Only one problem with Kerry?s answer: every parental consent law has a judicial bypass, meaning a teen girl fearing abuse can bypass parental consent or notification by going to a judge, because the Supreme Court said so in Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992. Kerry?s example, then, was a canard, plain and simple.
Seconds before using the incest red herring, Kerry uttered the words that most likely guide his overall philosophy: ?It?s just not that simple.?
But the question for Kerry that must be raised by the Bush campaign in the closing weeks is that when it comes to terrorism, bringing freedom to Iraqis, and promoting a culture of life, ?why not??