Mr. Kerry is our choice

Endorsement 2004

October 31, 2004

THAT HEADLINE will come as no surprise to regular readers of this page. Not because The Sun has a long history of lockstep Democratic presidential endorsements; it does not. But on the issues that divide the candidates -- indeed, issues that divide the nation -- in this election, The Sun has found President Bush's leadership wanting, and his decisions worse than questionable. Sen. John Kerry, for his part, brings more than just a new face; he brings credibility, intelligence and a precious opportunity to repair some of the woeful misjudgments of the past four years.

As we said in our primary endorsement of Mr. Kerry, he brings to the presidency two decades of distinguished and principled leadership in the Senate, an admirable familiarity with foreign policy and domestic issues, and a thoughtful, determined approach to governance.

In the last presidential race, Mr. Bush campaigned as a "compassionate conservative," an appealing combination that might actually have served the nation well. Sadly, he turned out to be neither.

His conservative credentials went out the window with a remarkable lack of restraint in taking the country to a pre-emptive war, with a host of astonishing assaults on civil liberties, and with a fiscal policy so irresponsible that the debt we will likely be leaving our children may well be the greatest financial burden any American generation has ever passed on to the next.

As for that compassion: In the last four years, this administration has cut funding for job training programs and Pell Grants (which subsidize college tuition for low- and moderate-income students) and steadfastly refused to support an increase in the minimum wage, which at $5.15 an hour is the lowest it has been in 50 years when adjusted for inflation.

But of course 9/11 changed everything. And certainly, in light of the terrorists' attack on this country, no president should be faulted for revising his priorities and adjusting his focus. However, President Bush has used the events of 9/11 to further an agenda that has included trampling individual rights and marching American soldiers into harm's way.

Make no mistake: We are engaged in two wars right now -- the one in Iraq and the one against terrorism. They are related only in that the focus on the former has used money and manpower that ought to have gone to the latter. As a result, Americans are less safe, not more so -- and are mired in a seemingly endless bloody conflict as well.

There was no immediate threat to these shores from Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. There was no plan to win the peace, in the unlikely event that that opportunity should ever present itself.

Indeed, perhaps the only aspect of the war in Iraq that has been worse than the shifting justifications for launching it has been the actual conduct of the occupation. Too few troops when it mattered, inaction during the widespread looting, the reliance on unsavory Iraqi allies, a predisposition to resort to airstrikes against urban insurgents, the torture and abuse of prisoners, the contempt for a free press, the "bring 'em on" taunt, the idea that the United States is prevailing over terrorism rather than stoking it in Iraq, and the lack of sufficient care to provide American troops with the equipment they need -- all these failings can fairly be laid at the doorstep of the Bush administration.

This is why changing horses even in midstream is a good idea. It's difficult to imagine that anyone could do a worse job in handling Iraq than Mr. Bush.

Yet we must face squarely the thought that should give every voter pause: Will the terrorist movements that have targeted American power interpret the electoral defeat of Mr. Bush as a strategic victory for them?

There would certainly be plenty of jihadist chest-thumping following a Kerry victory. But we are certain that it would be short-lived. Mr. Kerry is not talking about cutting and running. He would clearly take office with America's longtime allies bending over backward to give him the benefit of the doubt, so relieved would they be by the Republicans' departure. There is a far better likelihood under a President Kerry that the international community would be drawn together to find sensible ways of promoting good government in Iraq and isolating the extremists. The power of public opinion is enormous; Iraqis themselves would be inspired and encouraged by a new tone from Washington and its worldwide echoes. The solution to the conflict would be theirs -- as it must be, in the end -- with material and moral support from the United States.

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