John Kerry well could Massachusetts-size the country

Posted: May 06, 2004 12:00 AM

With his recent "Jobs First" bus tour of Midwestern swing states, John Kerry kicked off his general election campaign. About the same time Al Gore threw his not inconsiderable weight behind the Kerry election enterprise, in addition to $4 million left over from Gore's failed effort four years ago. So OK, the race is on. Some random thoughts as Kerry leaves the gate...

Kerry started out with talk about jobs. "This administration," he said, "is standing by while the jobs are being outsourced, the jobs are going overseas." He insistently did not say that in his 20 years as a U.S. senator he has voted against just about every tax-reduction measure that - in the words of Cato Institute senior fellow Stephen Moore - "would have made the U.S. a friendlier place for capital investment and new jobs."

In fact, Kerry spent much of his time (a) blasting (several newspapers termed it "targeting") Vice President Cheney, (b) ripping Cheney's and President Bush's Vietnam-era records, and (most of his time) (c) backing and filling about his own actions in Vietnam and thereafter his words and actions in the anti-war movement with the likes of Jane Fonda. He edged toward apologies for the latter when he termed his extremist rhetoric about alleged war crimes by American troops "a little bit excessive" and "a little bit over the top."

Elsewhere, Kerry has gone after Bush for an alleged "secret deal" with the Saudis to lower oil prices before the November elections. He also holds Bush responsible for higher gasoline prices. Given that Kerry has advocated raising the federal gasoline tax by 50 cents a gallon, questions abound about his own commitment to lower prices at the pump.

Recalling Jimmy Carter's consultation with daughter Amy about The Bomb, Kerry consulted with Jesse Jackson and then proclaimed that the Bush administration's approach to Iraq is "gridlocked by its own ideology and its own arrogance."

As a Washington Post editorial put it, "Where once he named Democracy as a task to be completed, and the alternative to 'cutting and running' or a 'false success,' Kerry now says Democracy is optional. Where once he warned against setting the conditions for an early but irresponsible withdrawal of U.S. forces, now he does so himself by defining the exit standard as 'stability,' a term that could describe Saudi Arabia or Iran - or the Iraq of Saddam Hussein."

In addition, let's see: (1) Kerry blames Bush for the loss of jobs in the nation's coal industry, when he himself repeatedly has supported environmentalist measures that would do much to put the coal industry in the tank; (2) Kerry also blames Bush, inter alia, for the deficit, steeply rising health-care costs, higher college tuition, alienating America's allies and not taking the U.N. seriously; (3) Kerry opposes a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage, which Bush supports; (4) Kerry is pro-abortion while Bush is pro-life (indeed, Kerry was one of 34 senators voting against the federal ban on partial-birth abortions signed into law by Bush last year); and (5) Kerry generally opposes the death penalty, while Bush is generally pro.

Would the election of Kerry represent the Massachusettsization of the country? Kerry is from Massachusetts and bears the same initials as John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the last Massachusetts president. The convention that will confirm Kerry as the nominee will be held in Boston. Teddy Kennedy, who appeared at anti-war rallies organized by Kerry in the early 1970s, is a principal Kerry campaign surrogate now. Kerry's campaign director, spokesman, and spin meister all are former Kennedy functionaries. Kerry was lieutenant governor to Gov. Michael Dukakis, in 1988 the last Democratic nominee for president from Massachusetts. Who can forget the leading role the Massachusetts Supreme Court has played in moving homosexual marriage to the fore? Oh, and Harvard (located in Massachusetts) ranks among Kerry's top 10 career campaign donors.

The push is on, of course, to redefine the leftist Kerry as a centrist. Hear Washington Post staff writer Jim VandeHei, in a page-one story April 21: "As he prepares for the most ambitious and defining phase of his presidential candidacy, Sen. John Kerry is relying on image-makers schooled in traditional Kennedy liberalism to sell himself anew to voters as a 21st-century centrist Democrat, a muscular hawk on national defense and deficits."

But Kerry fan Richard Cohen thinks that instead of an ideological retrofit Kerry needs a sense of humor: "He needs to lighten up. ... My candidate is a dour man. At least that's the way he seems on TV. Sometimes he seems angry, which is not good, but most of the time he just seems gloomy. It does not help that he has a face that hardly needs to be enlarged for Mount Rushmore, but what really matters is that he seems as if he is no fun. No one would call Kerry, as FDR did Al Smith, "the happy warrior" or discern some impishness in him. Bush has that quality and so, of course, did Bill Clinton. About the only recent presidents who were decidedly un-impish were (one-termers) Jimmy Carter, who came to Washington to take the fun out of politics, and the first George Bush."