Dallas, TX – What can we expect if John Kerry is elected president? Will he be the most liberal leader since Lyndon Johnson, as one observer has suggested? If so, what would that mean? In an atmosphere that has blown markedly to the right in the past 25 years, would he find himself able to enact sweeping new programs? Does he have any wish to do that?
I doubt it. There's nothing in his legislative record to suggest ambition in the direction of LBJ's Great Society and every reason to suppose that he would be as hemmed in as Bill Clinton was by Republican majorities or something close to them in both houses of Congress. Nor, given the deficit, would there by any money to pay for vast initiatives.
Under such circumstances we could assume that Kerry as president would support choice for women which would imply allowing federal dollars to flow to the United Nations Population Fund, expand stem cell research, never mention a Constitutional amendment against gay marriage (Mr. Kerry opposes gay marriage and favors civil unions but has not called for including either in the Constitution), block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, urge higher fuel standards for U.S. automobiles and raise taxes. It would reasonable to suppose renewed attention to the interests of trial lawyers and the waning influence of the oil industry.
Certainly John Kerry shows every sign of being a foreign-policy president, just like the first George Bush. In fact, in an article in the New Yorker Mr. Kerry refers to a book by President Bush 41 and his national security adviser Brent Scowcroft in which they explain their decision not to pursue Saddam Hussein all the way to Baghdad in 1991.
To go after Saddam Hussein in the aftermath of the Persian Gulf War, they said, would have incurred "incalculable human and political costs. We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well.
"Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold-War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations Mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression we hoped to establish. Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land. It would have been a dramatically different - and perhaps barren - outcome."
There it is - the issue that more than any other divides John Kerry from George W. Bush. Like the president's father, Kerry prefers a multilateral approach to waging war. But is the first George Bush's vision of a New World Order relevant after September 11th? His son says no. Kerry says yes.
Mr. Kerry did not favor the Persian Gulf War, but he did support our actions in Bosnia and Kosovo. There's no reason to think that he would be unwilling to act militarily even though his service in Vietnam led him to the anti-war movement any more than the gaps in Bush's Air National Guard record were any guide to his behavior in the war on terrorism.
Even so, the two overriding question for voters in November are these: if further military action should be necessary, which candidate would act with the surest hand and the soundest defense and diplomatic team and which would be the more effective in rallying allies and the American people behind that action? Which really means, who would be the more credible in case of crisis?
Lee Cullum is a contributor to the Dallas Morning News and to KERA.