Friday, October 22, 2004


Reason #2 ““I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”

Kerry’s record on foreign policy does not convince me that he regards the threat of terrorism with the seriousness it warrants.

First, some caveats and observations. This is not about Kerry’s statements about wanting to fight a more “sensitive” war or his desire to return to the days in which terrorism was merely a “nuisance.” In both cases, Kerry’s opponents have taken Kerry’s statements wildly out of context. I’m not a big fan of the “gotcha” campaigning that seems so prevalent these days.

Second, I do not believe that should Kerry be our next president that he will merely roll over and allow terrorists to stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue strewing clouds of poison gas as they go. But having said that, I do believe that there are differences between Bush and Kerry on foreign policy.

Third, there has been much criticism of late of both parties engaging in “the politics of fear” (whatever that means). There may indeed be cases in which the politics of fear is indeed inappropriate. But if you don’t feel at least a little fear that the people that flew two airplanes into the World Trade Centers may have more in store for us, you need to pull your head out of the sand.

Anyway, back to “I actually did vote for the $87 billion …” Kerry’s supporters often praise the Senator’s ability to appreciate nuance and complexity in contrast to Bush’s simplistic Manichean view of the world. But to me there was nothing too complex about this particular vote. American troops were fighting in Iraq (with Kerry’s permission) and needed more resources. When faced with the request, Kerry decided in the end that it was more important to stick it to the upper class than to vote for the needed resources. End of story. This from the guy who couldn’t be caught without his “band of brothers” for most of the first half of 2004. Was making the infamous wealthiest 1% shoulder a heftier share of the burden of paying for the war a worthy cause? I believe it was. But at the end of the day, Kerry was unable to convince enough of his Senate colleagues to see his way (see my Reason #1 for more discussion of Kerry’s less than stellar legislative career). And so he was faced with a stark choice: vote to support the troops or not. And he chose not to.

Was it simply his outraged sense of fairness that influenced his decision? Perhaps, but this quote from an anonymous Kerry adviser offers another possible reason
:"Off the record, he did it because of Howard Dean. On the record, he has an elaborate explanation."

The Howard Dean/Michael Moore wing of the Democratic Party has been pretty quiescent of late. Their hatred of Bush trumps whatever disappointments they see in Kerry. But is it reasonable to assume that a President Kerry will not be influenced in the slightest by these prominent and powerful members of his own party?

While I’m at it, two more of Kerry’s foreign policy votes trouble me as well.

First, was Kerry’s vote to authorize Bush to go to war in Iraq in the first place. Recall that this is John Kerry, a man whose experience in Vietnam has seared, seared, in him lessons never to be forgotten. Well, how about the lesson of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution: don’t give blanket authority to the executive to fight a war if you don’t really want that authority to be used. Yes, Kerry droned on on the Senate floor about how he would rather that Bush exhaust all other possible avenues before going to war. But guess what: no such language was included in the actual resolution. Once again, Kerry was confronted with a stark choice: give Bush blanket authority or don’t. He chose to give that authority and subsequently has spent the last 18 months trying to wriggle out responsibility for his choice because things in Iraq haven’t quite turned out as planned. This is akin to giving a speech about the need to eat healthy foods before giving your six-year-old a bag of candy and then being shocked, shocked, when the entire bag is devoured in short order.

Second was Kerry’s vote against the first Gulf War. This was a case that would seem to have fit all of his stated criteria for going to war: a clear, unequivocal provocation: Saddam Hussein’s invasion of the sovereign state of Kuwait; widespread condemnation of Iraq’s invasion by the international community including resolutions from the United Nations approving the use of force to resolve the situation; and an impressive international coalition including several Arab and Muslim nations poised ready to enforce the UN resolutions and the international community’s will. And still Kerry voted against it. I’m sure there is an “elaborate explanation” but this was a case that probably didn’t warrant all that much nuance.

So at the end of the day, I still am not entirely sure what Kerry’s foreign policy will actually be. He says he will hunt and kill the terrorists (often spoken with a steely determination that attempts to give the impression that he will do this personally, with his bare hands if he has to). He says he will never give a foreign nation or international body a veto over American policy. But his past record doesn’t give me confidence as to what his core principles actually are or how malleable he is willing to be about them. While I don’t think a Kerry administration will invite the apocalypse, I feel more comfortable with Bush’s resolute determination (for all its flaws in execution) to deal with the threat of terrorism until it is eliminated.


So argues Ralph Cossa.
Whether you are a Republican or Democrat, if you are concerned about events on the Korean peninsula, you had to come away from the first presidential debate feeling quite distressed. Neither President Bush nor Sen. John Kerry had his facts straight and, collectively, they managed to significantly reduce the already slim chance that there would be any near-term progress in the currently stalled six-party talks to denuclearize North Korea.

Neither candidate seemed to know that Beijing like Seoul, Moscow and even Tokyo has long encouraged Washington to deal directly with Pyongyang or that, in late June, a bilateral U.S.-North Korea discussion actually occurred, much to China's delight.

By repeatedly pledging that his administration would not discuss the problem one on one with the North because "it's precisely what Kim Jong-il wants," Mr. Bush has again undercut the credibility of his own negotiators while seemingly putting his personal disdain for North Korea's leader ahead of U.S. national security interests.
A few random reactions:
--I suspect that one reason why the PRC has favored direct bilateral talks and has been reluctant to get on board the six-party format is the fear that the talks will fail. If the failure comes after a genuine and sincere offer made in the six-party format (an offer that has yet to be made by diplomats in Washington whose hands are tied by internal division and Bush's stated aversion to "appeasement), the PRC has little to no justification for resisting what might follow: an American attempt to impose consequences on North Korea for its intransigence--either sanctions (which the DPRK has repeatedly stated are tantamount to an act of war) or a military strike. If the failed talks are bilateral U.S.-DPRK only, the PRC can claim that the impasse is due to intransigence on both sides and argue that there is no international consensus for taking more harsh measures toward the DPRK. And it can, at its leisure, ignore American calls for sanctions (or worse)
--It has occurred to me in recent days that perhaps this long, drawn-out, tedious process of holding round after round of unproductive talks, working groups etc. might actually be the best possible alternative because it delays and defers the excruciatingly difficult question of what to do if (when?) North Korea says "no" to whatever package deal the U.S. (or the five parties) put together. If this happens, North Korea's neighbors are left with the choice of doing nothing and allowing the DPRK nuclear weapons program to continue or of taking more severe measures and facing the potential consequences. Perhaps muddling through an endless succession of indecisive talks is the best we can hope for.
--The presidential debate and most of the American opinion--whether in the mass media or in wonk/punditland--focuses on U.S. policy as the key determinant. I agree that American policy is not inconsequential. And, I would argue that for what it is worth, a six-party format is more likely to achieve some sort of negotiated settlement than a bilateral one which allows the DPRK to use its time-tested tactic of divide and conquer. But, at the end of the day, I also believe that far more important than Bush or Kerry, or six- or two-party talks formats, is what the Kim Jong Il regime really wants. The rest is secondary.

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.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


Gordon Flake argues the answer is "yes.
"Given the paucity of detailed information regarding Senator Kerry’s approach, it is perhaps more useful to instead focus upon the underlying political dynamics that will influence any such policy. If Pyongyang assumes that a willingness to engage in a dialogue presages a return to the relatively benign “engagement” policies of the Clinton era, they are likely in for a rude awakening. In fact, given the underlying politics, it is plausible, if not likely, that a Kerry approach to North Korea could turn out to be more “hard line” than that taken by the Bush Administration.

For all its rhetoric--labeling North Korea a member of the “axis of evil,” indicating loathing and distrust for Kim Jong Il, and most recently in branding Kim a “tyrant”--the Bush administration has done surprising little in response to North Korean provocations and its dash across previously drawn “red lines” related to its nuclear program. Despite such inaction, the Bush administration has been shielded by its conservative credentials and has faced little pressure from the conservatives in the U.S. Congress who were the scourge of the Clinton-era attempts to engage the North.

A political axiom in the United States holds that “Only Nixon could go to China.” In an era of strong anti-communist sentiment in the U.S., only a vocal conservative like Nixon could politically afford to engage the Chinese leadership. For a Democratic president, laboring under the stigma of being “soft” on communism, such an attempt would have been political suicide. A version of this dynamic is at play in the U.S. today. “Only Bush can ignore North Korea.” A Kerry administration would face very real political pressure to respond vigorously to North Korean provocations or intransigence.
I agree that the dynamics that will motivate and constrain a Kerry Administration are larger and more complex than the crude "Bush = hardline hawk, Kerry = internationalist dove" images indicate. I would add that there is a definite sense of "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me" attitude toward dealing with North Korea in some circles inside the beltway.

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