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Sunday, August 31, 2003

Kerry on Meet the Press

The Meet the Press transcript from today isn't posted online yet, but when it is it will be here.

So I can't quote directly. In any case, I was not impressed, though I should admit I don't like Kerry much to begin with, probably because I'm a Massachusetts Democrat who has seen his song and dance before. He's equivocating and looking out only for himself in this campaign, as usual.

The first segment of the Russert interview, focusing on Iraq, was basically characterized by Kerry saying "Let me be clear" and then making lots of qualifications without taking a firm stance. I'm reasonably intelligent and aware of current events, and I paid attention, and I still don't get his Iraq views. Somehow Kerry voted for the war, is critical of the war, and still thinks that his vote was the right thing to do anyway. Russert pressed him on all of this, revealing the internal contradictions. For example, Kerry said that the president misled the senators who voted for the war resolution, and his vote was based on information that turned out to be false. But he won't admit that voting as he did was the wrong thing to do, even though his vote helped bring about a situation he now admits is very bad. This is the problem that will continue to dog him: if he persists in criticizing the war, people have to conclude either that Kerry was wrong or was duped, neither of which is a conclusion people make about someone they vote for in the presidential race.

From all I heard, John Kerry's Iraq policy boils down to this: "elect me." (The campaign site's page on Iraq focuses on how to rebuild the country, not revisiting the vote or attacking Bush. Check the spelling of wavered as "waivered" in the first sentence. I'm also not sure how practical his proposal is to bring in international troops while keeping all US soldiers under US command.)

The second half of the interview was on domestic issues, primarily the economy. Kerry emphasized that he doesn't want to repeal the entirety of the Bush tax cuts, as candidates like Dean and Gephardt have advocated, because doing so would raise taxes on middle class people. I think this is a destructive strategy that helps Kerry at the expense of Democratic rivals while also playing into the president's hands. Kerry's emphasis implies that the Bush tax cuts were mostly a boost to middle class people struggling to get by, when in fact they were almost completely a boon to the very rich. I can envision Kerry trying to argue this in the general election and Bush's campaign replying that Kerry himself had extolled the gains to the middle class from the tax cuts during the primary season.

Instead, I would like to see Kerry say, "You know, the tax cuts enacted in the last few years are largely a give away to the super rich, and those cuts are not justified either economically or morally. But the small portions of the cuts that do benefit middle class people are the sections that we should maintain, and that is where I differ with some others seeking the nomination." (The Kerry campaign site's page on economic policy is reasonable on this, alleging Bush's reaction to the weak economy has been to "cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans and run up the deficit to starve the government." Base on this and the Iraq page, I gather his web site and his comments to reporters differ in some important ways.)

For more background on Kerry, I suggest the Boston Globe seven-part biographical series.