Examining Senator John Kerry

A. J. Atchue

As the Democratic presidential primary season drags on, it is becoming increasingly clear that Senator John Kerry will challenge President Bush in November. Judging his record over the past 20 years, it is amazing how often Kerry has changed positions on key issues depending on the political climate at the time. While it is not fair to engage in a smear war, it is fair game to examine the political consistency of a potential president.

Issue one is Kerry’s stance on gay marriage. In 1996, Kerry was one of only 14 senators to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, calling it “legislative gay-bashing.” However, he now claims to be against same-sex marriage, for civil unions, but won’t take a stance on a potential Massachusetts Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. No need to be overly committal.

At the same time, Kerry claims to “have the same position Dick Cheney has,” which is that marriage is a state-by-state issue. Apparently it’s too dangerous for the Senator to take a clear position of his own. Whichever way the gay marriage debate goes, Kerry will be able to claim he was there all along.

Issue two is the Patriot Act. As a Presidential candidate, Kerry criticizes the 2001 anti-terrorism law as taking away civil liberties and leading us toward a police state. However, he voted for the act, along with 98 of his 99 colleagues, and openly praised it after passage. Along the same lines is his criticism of the federal No Child Left Behind Act on education. Kerry voted for that, too, but now seems to have changed his mind.

Kerry’s penchant for flip-flopping doesn’t stop at the American border. On national security and defense issues, he also likes having it both ways. For instance, from the late 1980’s right through the Clinton administration, Kerry repeatedly called for vast reductions in intelligence spending, some of which were obtained.

But what did he then say just 12 days after 9/11? This: “And the tragedy is, at the moment, that the single most important weapon for the United States of America is intelligence…And we are weakest, frankly, in that particular area.” Gee, Senator, I wonder how that happened.

The most striking Kerry opportunism concerns the war. It became funny last fall watching Kerry try to position his 2002 vote in favor of the Iraq war with his newfound opposition to it as a presidential candidate. He claims that he was voting to “create a threat” and build international support for a just cause, even though the congressional resolution clearly gave Bush authority to use force in Iraq at his discretion. So, conveniently, whatever your stance on the war, Kerry can say he’s the candidate for you.

In 1991, the situation was reversed. Kerry voted against the Gulf War, but later supported it. And at the time, he was concerned that it might turn into another Vietnam, but now he says he wanted the first President Bush to amass more domestic support. In the end, though, he agreed with the liberation of Kuwait.

Kerry says he voted against a war he was really for and for a war he was really against. But he didn’t decide for sure in either case until after he had voted on them. Kerry will have to square that zany history with confused voters.

What’s important here is that we know where Bush stands on the major issues, whether or not you agree with him. But do we really know where Kerry consistently stands on anything? Voters might want to.