Sobran's -- The Real News of the Month

 The L-Word Is Back 

July 20, 2004 
Is John Kerry a liberal? Well, is the Pope Catholic? Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.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 preferred.

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.

[Breaker quote: And it fits both candidates.]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 world.

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.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2004 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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