The L-Word is Back
July 20, 2004

by Joe Sobran

     Is John Kerry a liberal? Well, is the Pope Catholic? 
Actually, you may find more people willing to argue that 
the Pope isn't Catholic than that Kerry isn't a liberal.

     Kerry has been rated the most liberal member of the 
U.S. Senate by those who keep score, from THE NATIONAL 
JOURNAL to the Americans for Democratic Action, and 
Republicans are eager to spread the news. President Bush 
is basing his campaign largely on the L-word that was so 
lethal to Michael Dukakis when the first President Bush 
was elected in 1988.

     Dukakis, for you youngsters out there, was the 
archetypal Massachusetts liberal. During his televised 
debate with the elder Bush, he was asked if he'd get mad 
if Willie Horton took liberties with his wife, and he 
replied with a studied ambiguity that wasn't exactly what 
the voters were looking for. It didn't help a bit when a 
reporter reached Horton, back in the slammer for a rape 
he'd committed while on a furlough compliments of 
Governor Dukakis, and asked him which candidate he 

     Silly question. "Naturally, I'm for Dukakis," said 
Horton. Dukakis himself could hardly have coveted this 
endorsement, but he'd earned it. The Bush campaign had 
mentioned the Horton furlough in only a single ad; yet 
this sufficed to make the Democrats so furious they 
talked about nothing else until Election Day, ensuring a 
Bush landslide.

     Kerry has a long voting record, but he doesn't have 
a Willie Horton, and he's playing down his enthusiasm for 
things like late-term abortion, stressing instead the 
fact that he, like the Pope, is Catholic and has lots of 
values and stuff. Still, he doesn't want to be identified 
as a liberal; the Democrats, though more liberal than 
ever, have learned that the word is a turnoff for most 
voters nowadays.

     Even so, the label has lost a lot of its sting since 
1988. As long as Kerry doesn't promise to furlough Saddam 
Hussein, it probably won't do him as much harm as the 
Republicans are hoping it will.

     Besides, President Bush isn't what you'd call the 
polar opposite of a liberal. He's the biggest spender to 
occupy the White House since Lyndon Johnson; his prize 
accomplishment, to call it that, being a huge expansion 
of Medicare. No wonder he's concerned about unborn 
children. He's going to need them -- to pay all the taxes 
he's already ensured for the next generation.

     Bush, not Kerry, is the one who should be running 
away from his liberal record. No wonder Kerry is finding 
it hard to present himself in dramatic contrast to Bush. 
Except on a few symbolic "issues," where they differ 
chiefly in the gestures they make, the two men are much 
alike. Both parties stand for the status quo.

     Fred Barnes, editor of the neoconservative WEEKLY 
STANDARD, praises Bush as a "big-government 
conservative." That is to say, a liberal on domestic 
spending who is also willing to wage war around the 

     War now seems to rank high among conservative 
"values." The readiness to take military action is 
somehow felt not only to display patriotism, but to atone 
for (rather than compound) domestic spending. 
Conservatives still have a hard time seeing that war is 
inseparable from "big government," even though the War on 
Terror has made government bigger than ever.

     In this respect, Kerry looks less liberal than 
Bush, who has already added a Department of Homeland 
Security and wants to add more. Kerry is a conventional 
liberal; Bush, in an important way, is a new kind of 
liberal, sailing under conservative colors as he 
increases the power of the state over society.

     And Kerry, after all, has been known to vote against 
spending bills; Bush has yet to veto one. Voters who 
yearn for reduced government have little to choose 
between these two candidates; maybe the best they can 
realistically hope for is gridlock -- letting one party 
control the legislative branch, and the other the 
executive. That's the only outcome that may somewhat slow 
the growth of government.

     The status quo isn't static. It's the constant 
increase of state power. The one thing neither party, or 
candidate, promises is to repeal bad laws and worse 
spending programs. Both sides are committed to continuing 
an irreversible accumulation of power.


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