Jewish World Review Oct. 12, 2004 / 27 Tishrei 5765

Paul Greenberg

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Notes on a debate; simplicity vs. finesse | What sort of president do you think John Kerry would make? What do you think he really thinks? About Iraq, for instance. Opinions vary. Maybe because John Kerry does. And maybe that's the essential difference between these two candidates. Nobody has to wonder what kind of president George W. Bush would make. Whether you agree or disagree with his position on the war, or on just about anything else, he has one.

The president never laid a glove on John Kerry's plan for Iraq. How could he? Senator Kerry has taken so many positions on the war, each of which cancels out another, that in the end there's nothing to come to grips with.

Is he going to dispatch more troops to Iraq in order to start pulling them out in six months? Is he going to win this wrong war at the wrong time in the wrong place? Is he going to persuade more allies to join in this colossal misjudgment, this grand diversion? Is he going to shift more responsibility to the new Iraqi government under Ayad Allawi, who has no credibility?

Of all the statements John Kerry made in this debate, or in this campaign, the most incredible was: "Let me tell you straight up, I've never changed my mind about Iraq."

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John Kerry wants to make it clear that he did support the war in Afghanistan. Of course he did. That one's turning out better.

Have no fear: If somehow Iraq also turns out well, if elections can actually be held there in January, and more of the country can be secured by the Iraqis themselves, and if the first relatively democratic government in the Arab world takes tenuous root in that ancient cradle of civilization, it'll turn out that John Kerry supported this war all along. Indeed, it will have been his idea. He voted to authorize it, didn't?

He may be the uncertain candidate, but this much the American voter can be certain of: John F. Kerry will never abandon us in our hour of victory.

Senator Kerry says he has a plan for the war in Iraq (and everything else). What is it? It's to win the support of a broader international alliance, pass a global test by having the United Nations give its blessings to our efforts, and be prepared to use more troops — just as we did in the successful first Gulf War against Saddam. Which he also disapproved of. Explain that one.

John Kerry has a plan to fix Medicare, too. Indeed, he claims to have fixed it in 1997, when he voted for the Balanced Budget Act of that year. But isn't that the act that mandates these new, higher premiums — 17.5 percent higher! — that seniors are complaining about? That's the biggest jump in 14 years. Is that John Kerry's idea of fixing the system?

George W. Bush's fix has been far from perfect — a compromise that pleases no one. But at least he has done something to encourage competition and individual choice and medical savings, which in the end is the only way to lower the runaway costs of health care in this country.

For me, the lowest point of John Kerry's performance came when one of the folks at this town-hall meeting dared him to step up, look the camera in the eye and promise, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die, that he would never raise taxes on Americans making less than $200,000 a year. He did.

I'd have respected him more if he'd looked straight at that camera and said:

"No, I won't promise not to raise your taxes. Life is uncertain. And I've learned never to say never. You can't tell when an emergency will arise and we'll need to raise taxes — or lower them to fight a recession. My opponent's father, the first President Bush, once promised not to raise taxes — Read My Lips — but then felt he had to because it was the right thing to do. I won't put myself in that box. No president should."

W. is just no match for John Kerry in the finesse department. He was almost jumping off his chair, as if he couldn't wait to start tearing into his opponent again. It's a wonder how this feisty little battler ever organized a complex, worldwide response to the insidious danger that now threatens the West, what with his black-and-white view of the world and his Give-'em-Hell style.

And no wonder W. is so unpopular in sophisticated European circles — and American ones, too. There hasn't been so plain and blunt an American president facing so grave and complicated a challenge since Harry Truman occupied the White House. The sophisticates misunderestimated that president, too. After all, what person of taste and refinement wouldn't have preferred the distinguished, well-spoken Thomas E. Dewey?

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JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

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