Thursday, October 21, 2004


During much of this presidential campaign whenever I have discussed preferences with friends and colleagues I have tried to steer the conversation toward the reasons why one might be for a particular candidate rather than merely the reasons why one might be against his opponent. After some reflection, I have decided to abandon this particular line of analysis because it is patently unrealistic and, in my case, a bit dishonest. Upon some self-reflection, I have concluded that in virtually every presidential election, my own vote was more a vote against one major candidate than a vote for one. This pattern has not translated into races for Senate or House seats; I have enthusiastically supported and even volunteered to campaign for a number of Senate and House candidates, both Democrat and Republican. But when it comes to the President, I find that my vote has invariably been of the “lesser of the two evils” variety rather than one of unabashed support for one candidate over the other. This election is no exception. I will vote for George W. Bush on November 2, but will do so while holding my nose and cursing the political system that presents me with such an unpalatable choice.

And, like past elections, my vote will be not so much for Bush as against Kerry. For the benefit of my two or three loyal readers I will attempt to articulate one reason a day why I will not vote for Kerry. I doubt that my reasons will change any minds but I nevertheless feel compelled to try to articulate my case as best I can.

REASON #1 John Kerry has a miserable Senate record

During the last debate, Bush claimed that Kerry had passed only five bills during his 20-year senate career. Kerry responded

"I've actually passed 56 individual bills that I've personally written."

The folks at (not .com pace Dick Cheney) did a little research about Kerry’s claim.

Their conclusion:
Actually, we found eleven measures authored by Kerry have been signed into law, including a save-the-dolphins law, a law naming a federal building, a law giving a posthumous award to Jackie Robinson last year, and laws declaring "world population awareness weeks" in 1989 and 1991.
Bush counted only measures technically defined as "bills," leaving out four "joint resolutions" that also have the force of law, and he also omitted two laws whose House versions were adopted in a form nearly identical to Senate versions authored by Kerry.
When Kerry said "I've actually passed 56 individual bills that I've personally written" he was counting everything that had passed the Senate, whether or not it cleared the House. He also counts 24 resolutions that have no force of law.

Much of this is hair-splitting and jargon-laden semantics. But let’s give Kerry the benefit of the doubt and assume that he is genuinely proud of his 56 bills (that’s an average of 2.8 bills per year for those who are keeping score at home), What did this legislative titan actually accomplish? Well, first, there are the bills that everyone, even the Bush team, agree that Kerry passed:

· S.791: Authorizes $53 million over four years to provide grants to woman-owned small businesses. (1999)

· S.1206: Names a federal building in Waltham, Massachusetts after Frederick C. Murphy, who was killed in action during World War II and awarded (posthumously) the Medal of Honor. (1994)

· S.1636: A save-the-dolphins measure aiming “to improve the program to reduce the incidental taking of marine mammals during the course of commercial fishing operations.” (1994)

· S.1563: Funding the National Sea Grant College Program, which supports university-based research, public education, and other projects “to promote better understanding, conservation and use of America’s coastal resources.” (1991)

· S.423: Granting a visa and admission to the U.S. as a permanent resident to Kil Joon Yu Callahan. (1987)

Then there are two more that Kerry authored but were altered slightly before becoming law:

· H.R.1900 (S.300): Awarded a congressional gold medal to Jackie Robinson (posthumously), and called for a national day of recognition. (2003)

· H.R.1860 (S.856): Increased the maximum research grants for small businesses from $500,000 to $750,000 under the Small Business Technology Transfer Program. (2001)
In addition, there are four “joint resolutions”

1. A Joint Resolution Designating The Week Beginning October 20, 1991, As “World Population Awareness Week.” (S.J. Res. 160, Latest Major Action: 10/30/1991 Signed by President)

2. A Joint Resolution Designating November 13, 1992, As “Vietnam Veterans Memorial 10th Anniversary Day.” (S.J. Res. 318, Latest Major Action: 10/24/1992 Became Public Law No: 102-518)

3. A Joint Resolution Designating September 18, 1992, As “National POW/MIA Recognition Day,” And Authorizing Display Of The National League Of Families POW/MIA Flag. (S.J. Res. 337, Latest Major Action: 9/30/1992 Became Public Law No: 102-373)

4. A Joint Resolution Designating October 22 Through 28, 1989, As “World Population Awareness Week.” (S.J. Res. 158, Latest Major Action: 10/25/1990 Signed by President)

The rest?

Kerry counted all measures he wrote that were approved by the Senate. While Bush defined “bills” in the strictest sense, Kerry included bills, joint resolutions, concurrent resolutions with no force of law, and even simple Senate resolutions that aren't even considered by the House. Kerry would have been more accurate to say he wrote 56 "measures" that passed the Senate, including 11 that became law. (Kerry's total of 56 does not include the private law.)
Padding the Numbers
Of Kerry's total, 24 were concurrent resolutions or simple Senate resolutions that had no chance of becoming law. Some examples.
· S.Res.123: To change the name of the Committee on Small Business to the "Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship." (2001)

· S.Res.133: To make May 21, 1991 “National Land Trust Appreciation Day.” (1991)

· S.Res.144: To encourage the European Community to vote to ban driftnets for all European Community fishing fleets. (1991 )

· S.Res.216: Honoring Milton D. Stewart for his leadership and service at the Small Business Administration. (2002)

· S.Con.Res.26: Calling for the United States to support a new agreement providing for a ban on commercial mining of minerals in Antarctica. (1991)
Kerry's total also includes 10 Senate-passed bills that would have done nothing more than grant waivers to specific foreign-built vessels to transport cargo or people along the US coastline despite a 1920 law requiring that only US-built vessels be allowed to operate between US ports. Because there were 10 different vessels, Kerry introduced 10 separate bills. All died in the House.

That’s it folks. That is what John F. Kerry has been doing the last twenty years of his public service. There’s nothing wrong with saving the dolphins or setting aside $53 million for women-owned small businesses. Heck, there’s nothing wrong with declaring “world population awareness week” (twice!). But there’s also nothing wrong with concluding that this is an undistinguished legislative record and not one that on its face gives one confidence about Kerry’s ability to be an effective president. Even Dan Quayle had his Job Partnership Training Act to fall back on. Kerry has the Frederick C. Murphy Building.

But perhaps I am being unfair to Kerry. After all, Senators do more than write legislation. And to be sure Kerry did take the lead in some important investigations such as the BCCI scandal. But his record in general is consistent with what I remember of Kerry during my five years living in his state of Massachusetts: nothing. That’s not exactly true, I do remember watching a news story that showed Kerry commemorating a memorial to Swift Boats. But I genuinely cannot remember another thing for good or ill that John Kerry did during the five years I lived in Massachusetts (1992-1997). I can remember things that Ted Kennedy, Joe Kennedy, Tom Menino, Bill Weld, Scott Harshbarger, Paul Cellucci, Ray Flynn, Barney Frank, and Edward Markey did (to name a few) but when it comes to Kerry, there’s nothing but a blank.

Some other senators may not have amassed a great deal of personally authored legislation but through persistent effort become known as an expert in a particular area, one that is turned to for advice, experience or simply sound bites when interest in that area arises. Think Bill Bradley and the tax system, Joe Biden or Dick Lugar and foreign policy, Al Gore and the environment. Now, quick, name Kerry’s one big area of specialization.

….. (crickets chirping) …..

I suppose, based on his legislative record, one can deduce an interest in things aquatic, but I’ve never heard of Kerry being referred to in that manner.
Other senators may not have a particular area of expertise but by dint of hard work they work their way up through the echelons of legislative leadership. Then, as senior leaders, they use their networks, their knowledge of the arcana of the legislative process, their years of favors, back-scratching, and arm-twisting, to oversee a general legislative agenda. An example of this might be Bob Dole. Others develop personal relationships that often reach across the aisle and result in effective legislation and leadership. I think of the frequent cooperation between the ideologically opposed Ted Kennedy and Orrin Hatch. Still others develop a reputation for rhetoric and institutional memory (like Robert Byrd). Kerry, as far as I can tell, has achieved none of these things during this 20 years in the senate. In fact, I think one would be hard pressed to find glowing commendation of Kerry from any of his colleagues (at least before the supercharged campaign forced some of his party to fall in line) for his accomplishments, demeanor, or relationships developed in the Senate. And now I am supposed to believe that he will be an effective leader that will be able to convince what will likely be an opposition Congress to follow his lead?

One final objection to Kerry’s senate record is this: much of his campaign centers on domestic policy. Kerry has mentioned many plans and proposals to deal with important issues such as Social Security, jobs, health care, and domestic security. If Kerry is so convinced as to the imperative necessity of his domestic proposals, where the heck has he been for the past twenty years when he was in a real position to do something about them? Only a tiny, tiny minority of Americans become members of Congress, let alone Senators. John Kerry wants me to forget the fact that for the past twenty years he was “busy” granting a visa to Kil Joon Yu Callahan, honoring Milton D. Stewart for his leadership and service, and awarding a posthumous medal to Jackie Robinson. Fine things, all. But not enough for me to get on board the Kerry wagon.

"Yes, Kerry may have a lackluster Senate record," you might say, but what about Bush? Well, I have to say that after many, many conversations with people of a variety of political persuasions, I can safely conclude that the vast majority of them aren't voting for Kerry, they're voting against Bush. I'm just doing the same thing in reverse.

UPDATE: Taking needed advice from a commenter, I have corrected the date of this year's election (Nov. 2, not Nov 3). I will vote accordingly.

Well said and explained. I look forward to seeing the rest of the reasons.

I keep hoping that one of the other parties will put up a candidate that is a viable alternative - not like they would win, but you have to start somewhere. No such luck so far.

Surprising to some, but at many points during this election (prior to the last couple of debates at least), I've been on the fence.

But on my way to work this morning, I realized that as close as this election is, there is a chance that Kerry may win by popular vote (or via the courts if we have another fiasco like 2000). I thought about his comments about redefining our goal as reducing terrorism to 'nuisance' levels, and a shiver literally went down my back.

I guess that cements my vote.

Professor Larsen,
This is a very witty post with a well-thought out message. As a fellow Bush voter (however reluctantly) I feel obliged to recommend that you cast your vote on or before November 2.

(Not to be snide - the truth is I really enjoy reading this blog and respect the thought that goes into the posts.)

- A former student.
Dr. Larsen:

Despite Kerry's lackluster Senate record, with regard to foreign policy, he's pulling a rabbit out of the Kennan hat. He didn't say it very well in the NYT interview, but he's advocating containment of the terrorist menace with overtones similar to our attitude toward the Soviets in 1946. However, Bush prefers the "scare the hell out of the American people" approach of the Truman Doctrine. Unfortunately, with people still spooked 3 years after Sept. 11, scaring the hell out of people who are already jumpy seems to be the more effective method.

Truman would be turning over in his grave to see a Republican used one aspect of his foreign policy while a Democrat used another. Such is our divided electorate.
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