WSJ: Kerry, Like Clinton, Hopes to Campaign as a Centrist and Govern Like a Liberal

Roundup: Talking About History

Brendan Miniter, in the WSJ (Aug. 10, 2004):

With a wink and a nod John Kerry is running for president. He says he'll keep the troops in Iraq, even as he calls the war they are fighting optional. He promises to aggressively fight the war on terror, even as he promises to work better with France and his supporters rally to repeal the Patriot Act. And he's running as a fiscal conservative, even as he lays out a vigorous new spending agenda....

Bill Clinton knows a little bit about the pitfalls of the bait-and-switch approach. He was elected in 1992 on a similar wink and nod campaign and promptly veered to the left once in office. He managed to increase taxes, pass new gun control measures, cut military spending and roll out a massive health care initiative. And for a while it seemed liberalism was back.

But then the voters spoke in November 1994, handing Republicans control of both houses of Congress--it was the first time the GOP controlled Congress since Eisenhower was in the White House. Ever the populist, Mr. Clinton got the message--voters hadn't signed up for his voyage of liberalism. Mr. Clinton soon proclaimed the era of big government to be over, signed a landmark welfare reform bill and was re-elected.

This is a walk down electoral memory lane Democrats seem reluctant to take. So we must wonder, what would Mr. Kerry do in office? It's anyone's guess, but it seems likely he'd not only roll back Mr. Bush's taxes cuts for the "wealthy" but also allow most of the other tax breaks to expire five years from now. He'd probably keep up with Mr. Bush's defense spending levels, at least initially, and there's also the pipe dream of "energy independence." And it seems a safe bet that he'd toss more money into the public school furnace without doing much in the way of accountability.

But that's mostly the price of admission for a Democratic president. What about real reforms? It's not a sexy issue, but what about Social Security? He promises not to privatize it, but will he do anything to get the program onto the road of solvency? What about Medicare, immigration, trade and terrorism? Will he hire the spies we need and have the guts to drop them into dangerous territory? Will he keep the pressure on countries that would rather sit idly by in the war on terror? The list of tough issues is long.

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