January 26, 2004, 8:38 a.m.
MANCHESTER, N.H. - John Kerry has surged into first place here, proving his oft-repeated contention that he is a "good closer." Kerry has long said that he is a great fighter. If he completes his miraculous comeback to win the Democratic nomination, he will indeed have the fight of his life on his hands - against his own legislative record.
Kerry, of course, has struggled with his vote in 2002 to authorize the Iraq war. "We did not empower the president to do regime change," Kerry said of the resolution on Meet the Press last summer. Actually, the Kerry-supported resolution specifically cited regime change as a goal, and Kerry also voted to make regime change U.S. policy in 1998. That's two Kerry votes in favor of regime change, but who's counting? The Massachusetts senator has similar trouble with other prior votes, making him the first candidate in U.S. history to run a presidential campaign against himself.
Today's Kerry excoriates Attorney General John Ashcroft for violating American civil liberties with his evil tool, the Patriot Act. "We are a nation of laws and liberties, not of a knock in the night," Kerry huffs. "So it is time to end the era of John Ashcroft. That starts with replacing the Patriot Act with a new law that protects our people and our liberties at the same time." Maybe Kerry should have thought about that before voting for the Patriot Act in 2001 - since laws and liberties are pretty important and all.
Back before he had to worry about competing with one Howard Brush Dean, Kerry was positively delighted by the Patriot Act. "It reflects," he said on the Senate floor, "an enormous amount of hard work by the members of the Senate Banking Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee. I congratulate them and thank them for that work." While supportive of "sunset" provisions in the bill, Kerry pronounced himself "pleased at the compromise we have reached on the anti-terrorism legislation." These are not the words of a man about to help inaugurate an era of brown-shirt law enforcement.
John Kerry, A.D. (After Dean), attacks President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act as "one-size-fits-all testing mania." Worse, according to Kerry, "By signing the No Child Left Behind Act and then breaking his promise by not giving schools the resources to help meet new standards, George Bush has undermined public education and left millions of children behind." The funding charge is a canard - overall spending on education under Bush is up 65 percent - but it gives Kerry a way to join the Dean-led assault on the act, which he voted for - enthusiastically.
"This is groundbreaking legislation," John Kerry, B.D. (Before Dean), gushed on the Senate floor, "that enhances the federal government's commitment to our nation's public education system ... and embraces many of the principles and programs that I believe are critical to improving the public education system." He didn't just support the bill, he took credit for it: "Last year I worked with 10 of my Democratic colleagues to introduce legislation that would help break the stalemate and move beyond the tired, partisan debates of the past. Our education proposal became the foundation of the bill before us today."
As for the North American Free Trade Agreement, the target of Dean and other liberal critics, Kerry promises to "fix it." The agreement supposedly doesn't do enough to keep Mexico from employing low-wage workers, thus encouraging jobs to leave the United States and depressing wages here. True to form, he used to love the trade deal. "NAFTA is not the problem," he explained in 1993. "Job loss is taking place without NAFTA."
And so, if the senator grabs his party's nomination, it will make for the fight of the century, a brawl to the finish - Kerry vs. Kerry. No wonder he wants to get himself out of the Senate. By his own lights, Kerry's votes there were simply too dangerous and shortsighted for the nation to tolerate any longer.
Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.