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A president who “won” despite getting fewer votes than his opponent should have to work very hard to be elected again. If he also presided over the loss of 2 million jobs he ought to be in even bigger trouble. If that president is also bogged down militarily in a foreign country when he said the mission was already accomplished his problems would seem to be insurmountable. His political obituary should be written if 3,000 people died after warnings of a terror attack were ignored or mishandled. Fortunately for President George W. Bush his opponent is Senator John Kerry, a man who can’t seem to profit from the President’s failures and lies.

The Democratic party is headed for defeat if the nominee can’t articulate coherent policies in response to Bush administration incompetence. On the same day that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was on the hot seat before the commission investigating September 11th, Kerry had no comment about the commission, or about Rice’s testimony. Instead he declared in a speech on economic policy that he would eliminate portions of his own domestic agenda in order to have a balanced budget. As Bush’s Iraq policy unraveled before our eyes Kerry’s only comment was to say that he didn’t have a comment. Because he already gave two speeches to wonkish establishment audiences he didn’t feel the need to add very much on the subject of Iraq.

It is just as well. When he does have the courage to say something we get these gems of wisdom.

“Right now, what I would do differently is, I mean, look, I'm not the president, and I didn't create this mess so I don't want to acknowledge a mistake that I haven't made.”

“The mistake is in the way that they are going about it. So I would change the way you're going about it.”

Poor Kerry keeps repeating what he has been saying for months when the Iraq situation is constantly changing. At this juncture it is useless to expect other nations to step into the mess they predicted would take place. When European nations told us not to hit the hornet nest we called them “old Europe,” refused to use the word “French” with anything, including potatoes, and demonized them as ungrateful appeasers. Old Europe is now saying I told you so and laughing at America’s expense. They are not going to follow John Kerry’s advice and jump in when marines are fighting house to house in Fallujah.

While Americans watched scenes of carnage administration officials backtracked from previous comments that either made the case for going to war or that made it all seem easy. Secretary of State Colin Powell has confessed that his performance at the United Nations last year, complete with a prop vial of fake anthrax, was based on information that “…it now appears wasn’t so solid.” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld flip flopped from his insistence in 2003 that more troops aren’t needed in Iraq. He now says that more may be on the way. If Kerry is at a loss for comments on Iraq he should at least be able to point out when administration officials have lied to the American people about going to war.

Kerry’s difficulty in engaging the President on Iraq stems in large part from his 2002 vote in favor of the use of force resolution. The resolution not only gave the President approval to attack militarily but it also allowed him to keep Congress in the dark for 48 hours after starting a war. John Kerry voted to cut himself and his colleagues out of the loop.

He has tried to have it both ways ever since. When Howard Dean was the flavor of the month in the fall of 2003 Kerry voted against $87 billion to pay for the reconstruction of Iraq. Now he doesn’t want to own up to cutting the Bush purse strings. “I actually did vote for the $87 billion, before I voted against it.”

The Kerry strategy seems to be based on hope. He hopes that the economy will not improve before November and that Iraq will be such a mess that he won’t have to say anything about it. This passivity is fatal in a presidential election. Incumbents are not unseated unless their challengers actually challenge them.

Other Democrats must also stop being passive with Kerry. When Kerry came close to backing the Bush policy of ousting Hugo Chavez, the elected President of Venezuela, Democrats were silent. It was obvious that the linking of Chavez with Fidel Castro was an attempt to get the votes of Florida’s Cuban community. Florida Cubans are solidly Republican. Democratic saber rattling at Castro never changes that fact. Kerry not only sold his soul but he sold his soul in a losing effort.

Pandering in Florida raises other issues of course. Florida should no longer be called the Sunshine State. Since November 2000 it has been the Amnesia State. Kerry and the rest of the Democratic party establishment refuse to talk about how the state was really lost. Thousands of eligible voters, most of them black, were removed from the rolls months before Election Day. Kerry has said nothing about the vote purge and nothing about the new electronic voting machines that will make fraud easy and difficult to trace.

Kerry can be carried over the finish line if Democrats aren’t afraid to embrace a good fight on policy issues and admit that the nominee is in serious need of help. Unity is the mantra for Democrats these days. Political unity usually comes about after post-argument kissing and making up. Democrats must speak up when Kerry tries to be Bush light or doesn’t know what to do when opportunity knocks at his door. Kerry was given a gift when Iraq and 9/11 both broke in his favor. If he can’t capitalize when the tide turns in his favor and the party doesn’t take him to task we can prepare to watch another Bush inauguration in January.

Margaret Kimberley’s Freedom Rider column appears weekly in .  Ms. Kimberley is a freelance writer living in New York City.  She can be reached via e-Mail at [email protected]. You can read more of Ms. Kimberley's writings at



April 15 2004
Issue 86

is published every Thursday.

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