Chicago Tribune Editorial
George W. Bush for president
October 17, 2004
One by one, Americans typically settle on a presidential candidate after weighing his, and his rival's, views on the mosaic of issues that each of us finds important.
Some years, though, force vectors we didn't anticipate turn some of our usual priorities--our pet causes, our own economic interest--into narcissistic luxuries. As Election Day nears, the new force vectors drive our decision-making.
This is one of those years--distinct in ways best framed by Sen. John McCain, perhaps this country's most broadly respected politician. Seven weeks ago, McCain looked with chilling calm into TV cameras and told Americans, with our rich diversity of clashing worldviews, what is at stake for every one of us in the first presidential election since Sept. 11 of 2001:
"So it is, whether we wished it or not, that we have come to the test of our generation, to our rendezvous with destiny. ... All of us, despite the differences that enliven our politics, are united in the one big idea that freedom is our birthright and its defense is always our first responsibility. All other responsibilities come second." If we waver, McCain said, "we will fail the one mission no American generation has ever failed--to provide to our children a stronger, better country than the one we were blessed to inherit."
This year, each of us has the privilege of choosing between two major-party candidates whose integrity, intentions and abilities are exemplary.
One of those candidates, Sen. John Kerry, embraces an ongoing struggle against murderous terrorists, although with limited U.S. entanglements overseas. The other candidate, President George W. Bush, talks more freely about what is at risk for this country: the cold-eyed possibility that fresh attacks no better coordinated than those of Sept. 11--but with far deadlier weapons--could ravage American metropolises. Bush, then, embraces a bolder struggle not only with those who sow terror, but also with rogue governments that harbor, finance or arm them.
This was a radical strategy when the president articulated it in 2001, even as dust carrying the DNA of innocents wafted up from ground zero. And it is the unambiguous strategy that, as this page repeatedly has contended, is most likely to deliver the more secure future that John McCain wishes for our children.
A President Kerry certainly would punish those who want us dead. As he pledged, with cautiously calibrated words, in accepting his party's nomination: "Any attack will be met with a swift and certain response." Bush, by contrast, insists on taking the fight to terrorists, depriving them of oxygen by encouraging free and democratic governments in tough neighborhoods. As he stated in his National Security Strategy in 2002: "The United States can no longer solely rely on a reactive posture as we have in the past. ... We cannot let our enemies strike first."
Bush's sense of a president's duty to defend America is wider in scope than Kerry's, more ambitious in its tactics, more prone, frankly, to yield both casualties and lasting results. This is the stark difference on which American voters should choose a president.
There is much the current president could have done differently over the last four years. There are lessons he needs to have learned. And there are reasons--apart from the global perils likely to dominate the next presidency--to recommend either of these two good candidates.
But for his resoluteness on the defining challenge of our age--a resoluteness John Kerry has not been able to demonstrate--the Chicago Tribune urges the re-election of George W. Bush as president of the United States.
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Bush, his critics say, displays an arrogance that turns friends into foes. Spurned at the United Nations by "Old Europe"--France, Germany, Russia--he was too long in admitting he wanted their help in a war. He needs to acknowledge that his country's future interests are best served by fixing frayed friendships. And if re-elected, he needs to accomplish that goal.
But that is not the whole story. Consider:
Bush has nurtured newer alliances with many nations such as Poland, Romania and Ukraine (combined population, close to 110 million) that want more than to be America's friends: Having seized their liberty from tyrants, they are determined now to be on the right side of history.
Kerry is an internationalist, a man of conspicuous intellect. He is a keen student of world affairs and their impact at home.
But that is not the whole story. Consider:
On the most crucial issue of our time, Kerry has serially dodged for political advantage. Through much of the 2004 election cycle, he used his status as a war hero as an excuse not to have a coherent position on America's national security. Even now, when Kerry grasps a microphone, it can be difficult to fathom who is speaking--the war hero, or the anti-war hero.
Kerry displays great faith in diplomacy as the way to solve virtually all problems. Diplomatic solutions should always be the goal. Yet that principle would be more compelling if the world had a better record of confronting true crises, whether proffered by the nuclear-crazed ayatollahs of Iran, the dark eccentrics of North Korea, the genocidal murderers of villagers in Sudan--or the Butcher of Baghdad.
In each of these cases, Bush has pursued multilateral strategies. In Iraq, when the UN refused to enforce its 17th stern resolution--the more we learn about the UN's corrupt Oil-for-Food program, the more it's clear the fix was in--Bush acted. He thus reminded many of the world's governments why they dislike conservative and stubborn U.S. presidents (see Reagan, Ronald).
Bush has scored a great success in Afghanistan--not only by ousting the Taliban regime and nurturing a new democracy, but also by ignoring the chronic doubters who said a war there would be a quagmire. He and his administration provoked Libya to surrender its weapons program, turned Pakistan into an ally against terrorists (something Bill Clinton's diplomats couldn't do) and helped shut down A.Q. Khan, the world's most menacing rogue nuclear proliferator.
Many of these cross-currents in Bush's and Kerry's worldviews collide in Iraq.
Bush arguably invaded with too few allies and not enough troops. He will go to his tomb defending his reliance on intelligence from agencies around the globe that turned out to be wrong. And he has refused to admit any errors.
Kerry, though, has lost his way. The now-professed anti-war candidate says he still would vote to authorize the war he didn't vote to finance. He used the presidential debates to telegraph a policy of withdrawal. His Iraq plan essentially is Bush's plan. All of which perplexes many.
Worse, it plainly perplexes Kerry. ("I do believe Saddam Hussein was a threat," he said Oct. 8, adding that Bush was preoccupied with Iraq, "where there wasn't a threat.") What's not debatable is that Kerry did nothing to oppose White House policy on Iraq until he trailed the dovish Howard Dean in the race for his party's nomination. Also haunting Kerry: his Senate vote against the Persian Gulf war--driven by faith that, yes, more diplomacy could end Saddam Hussein's rape of Kuwait.
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On domestic issues, the choice is also clear. In critical areas such as public education and health care, Bush's emphasis is on greater competition. His No Child Left Behind Act has flaws, but its requirements have created a new climate of expectation and accountability. On both of these important fronts, but especially with his expensive health-care plan, Kerry primarily sees a need to raise and spend more money.
The failure of either candidate to offer spending and taxation proposals that remotely approach balancing the federal budget is an embarrassment to both. The non-partisan Concord Coalition calculates the 10-year impact of Bush's proposals as a negative $1.33 trillion; the impact of Kerry's is a nearly identical $1.27 trillion. Kerry correctly cites the disturbingly expensive legacy of Bush's tax cuts--while, in the same breath, promising new tax cuts of his own.
This is a genre of American fiction that Bush, if he is re-elected, cannot perpetuate. To Bush's credit, his tax policies have had the aggregate effect of pushing Americans toward more savings and investment--the capital with which the world's strongest economy generates jobs. But he has not shown the necessary discipline on discretionary spending. Two particularly egregious examples: Medicare prescription drug coverage and an enormously expensive farm subsidy bill, both signed by Bush.
This country's paramount issue, though, remains the threat to its national security.
John Kerry has been a discerning critic of where Bush has erred. But Kerry's message--a more restrained assault on global threats, earnest comfort with the international community's noble inaction--suggests what many voters sense: After 20 years in the Senate, the moral certitude Kerry once displayed has evaporated. There is no landmark Kennedy-Kerry Education Act, no Kerry-Frist Health Bill. Today's Kerry is more about plans and process than solutions. He is better suited to analysis than to action. He has not delivered a compelling blueprint for change.
For three years, Bush has kept Americans, and their government, focused--effectively--on this nation's security. The experience, dating from Sept. 11, 2001, has readied him for the next four years, a period that could prove as pivotal in this nation's history as were the four years of World War II.
That demonstrated ability, and that crucible of experience, argue for the re-election of President George W. Bush. He has the steadfastness, and the strength, to execute the one mission no American generation has ever failed.
Copyright © 2006, Chicago Tribune
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