Jewish World Review Nov. 22, 2002 / 17 Kislev, 5763
The slippery senator
Al Gore took another step to the left last week, telling an audience
in New York that he now favors a national single-payer health insurance
system. He offered no details, but a spokesman says a speech on the
subject is in the works.
A Canada-style single-payer scheme would mean a major decline in US
health care -- just ask a Canadian who has had to wait weeks for the
results of an AIDS test, or months for cancer radiation therapy, or more
than a year for a hip replacement -- and I doubt that Americans are any
keener on the idea now than they were when Hillary Clinton was peddling
it eight years ago. A single-payer plan was on the ballot in Oregon
this month; voters crushed it in a landslide. The fact that Gore thinks
it would be a good idea is one more reason to steer clear of Gore in
But give the former vice president credit for taking a concrete
stand -- for openly embracing a policy that he knows many voters reject,
for not hiding behind a cloud of cliches and being careful to say
nothing unpopular. For not being, that is, more like Senator John
The current issue of The Boston Phoenix features a 1,300-word essay
by Kerry headlined "A clarion call for Democrats." Now, most
politicians are given to bloviating from time to time, but this "clarion
call" is a masterpiece of meretriciousness -- one gaudy bromide after
another, paragraph upon paragraph promising everything while saying
For example: "We Democrats must have the courage of our convictions.
We must be ready to refuse the course of least resistance, to confront
the seemingly popular, and to offer a vision that looks beyond the next
poll to the next decade and the next generation. Instead of just
quoting the words of Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy and Robert
Kennedy, we need to match their leadership with our own, with daring and
commitment, with new thinking equal to a new and different time." It's
all foam, no beer.
Kerry is against making last year's drawn-out income tax cut
permanent ("We must say it plainly: Stop the new Bush tax cut for those
at the top"). Other than that, you search this manifesto in vain for
anything resembling a hard position. "We can build housing and renew
community," he declares. "We can have smaller class sizes and
after-school safety for children. We can keep our promise to veterans
and break the gridlock on our highways. We can clean up our lakes and
rivers and escape the stranglehold of foreign oil."
Yes, and we can fly to the moon on gossamer wings, but we'd better
not wait for Kerry to tell us how, or what price we'll have to pay to
get there, or which Democratic constituency he is prepared to take on to
make it happen.
"To do any of these things in the world," Kerry writes, "Democrats
must be willing to stand for something." That's just the problem: What
does John Kerry stand for?
Well, he stands forthrightly against going to war to liberate Iraq.
Or does he? Today he says he will "forcefully and vociferously" oppose
any attempt by President Bush to launch such a war absent proof of "an
imminent threat." Yet last month he voted for a congressional
resolution granting Bush the authority to do just that. His vote, in
turn, came after weeks of denouncing not only the administration's Iraq
policy ("very amateurish and almost irresponsible"), but the
administration's Iraq policymakers ("these guys are fakers"). Where in
all this twisting and turning is the real Kerry? Is there a real
I think the real Kerry cares considerably more about his own
political standing and White House ambitions than he does about Iraq or
its dictator. Blasting Bush's foreign policy earns points with liberal
Democrats -- the kind who turn out for presidential primaries -- so he
blasts away. But voting against the Iraq resolution would have cost
points with moderate and conservative Americans -- the majority that
decides presidential elections -- so he voted for it.
In 1991, when presidential politics weren't a concern, Kerry cast
what he doubtless thought was a safe vote against the Gulf War
resolution. "Is the liberation of Kuwait," he demanded, "so imperative
that all those risks are worthwhile at this moment?" Back then, at
least, he wasn't trying to be all things to all people.
Or maybe he was. When a constituent wrote in support of using force
against Iraq, the response from Kerry expressed firm opposition to the
war resolution and said that economic sanctions should have been given
"more time to work." Nine days later, there came a second letter, this
one saying Kerry "strongly and unequivocally supported President [George
H. W.] Bush's response." When The Boston Globe published the letters
side by side, Kerry blamed the glaring contradiction on a computer
glitch, and said the constituent should have received yet a third
letter, one opposing the war but supporting the troops.
Funny, no one ever has to ask where Ted Kennedy stands. Why is it
always so hard to pin Kerry down? And if he's this slippery and artful
even when it comes to issues of war and peace, how can we trust him to
play it straight on any other issue?
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Jeff Jacoby is a Boston Globe columnist. Comment by clicking here.
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