Senator John Kerry -vs- Presidential Candidate John Kerry
See if you can keep his
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Senator John Kerry
President Bush offered a wry critique of his Democratic challengers.
"They're for tax cuts and against them. They're for NAFTA and against NAFTA. They're
for the Patriot Act and against the Patriot Act. They're in favor of liberating Iraq, and
opposed to it. And that's just one senator from Massachusetts."
Now that John Kerry is the presumptive Democratic nominee, Republicans are
sure to focus the spotlight on his history of flip-flops. Kerry did vote for the Patriot
Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the war in Iraq, even though he constantly trashes
the Patriot Act, the No Child Left Behind Act, and the war in Iraq. He voted against the
Defense of Marriage Act, which limited marriage to a man and a woman, but he now says
marriage should be limited to a man and a woman. (Although he also points out that he once
attended a gay wedding.) And those are just the better-known issues on which Kerry has
Here is a guide to some of Kerry's other reversals on substantive issues.
This list doesn't include quickly withdrawn gaffes, such as Kerry's recent suggestion
(retracted after an uproar from Jewish groups) that he might make James Baker or Jimmy
Carter his Middle East envoy. It doesn't include long-renounced youthful indiscretions,
such as his proposal after returning from Vietnam to eliminate most of the CIA. It doesn't
include less clear-cut sins of omission and opportunism, such as his stirring
denunciations of companies caught in accounting frauds, even though he supported a 1995
law protecting those companies from liability. And it doesn't include the inevitable
fund-raising hypocrisies that accompany all modern campaigns, such as his donations from
some of the "Benedict Arnold" companies he routinely rips on the trail, or his
bundling of contributions from special interests despite his high-minded rejection of PAC
money. Even so, the list is long, and it isn't all-inclusive. Kerry's supporters cite his
reversals as evidence of the senator's capacity for nuance and complexity, growth and
change. His critics say they represent a fundamental lack of principles. Either way, we'll
be hearing a lot about them over the next few months.
||Kerry's Original Position
||Kerry's Revised Position
||In 1988, Sen. Kerry voted against a proposal to require at least
one parent in any two-parent welfare family to work a mere 16 hours a week, declaring the
work requirement "troublesome to me."
||During his 1996 re-election campaign, when his Republican
challenger, Gov. William Weld, was calling him soft on welfare, Kerry voted for the much
stricter welfare reform law that Clinton signed into law.
||In 1993 and 1994, the senator from liberal Massachusetts voted
against mandatory minimum sentences for gang activity, gun crimes, drug trafficking, and
drug sales to minors, explaining in an impassioned speech that long sentences for some
dealers who sell to minors would be "enormous injustices" and that some
convicted drug offenders were "so barely culpable it is sad." He also said
congressionally imposed mandatory minimums made no sense and would just create turf
battles between federal and local prosecutors.
||Today, presidential candidate Kerry strongly supports mandatory
minimum sentences for federal crimes, including the sale of drugs to minors.
||In 1992, Kerry created a huge stir among liberals and civil rights
groups with a major policy address arguing that affirmative action has "kept America
thinking in racial terms" and helped promote a "culture of dependency."
||Today, Kerry's campaign Web site vows to "Preserve
Affirmative Action," noting that he "consistently opposed efforts in the Senate
to undermine or eliminate affirmative action programs, and supports programs that seeks to
enhance diversity." It doesn't mention any downside.
||During one of his debates with Weld in 1996, Kerry ridiculed the
idea of capital punishment for terrorists as a "terrorist protection policy,"
predicting that it would just discourage other nations from extraditing captured
terrorists to the United States.
||Kerry still opposes capital punishment, but he now makes an
exception for terrorists.
||In a 1998 policy speech the Boston Globe described as
"a dramatic break from Democratic dogma," Kerry challenged teachers unions by
proposing to gut their tenure and seniority systems, giving principals far more power to
hire and fire unqualified or unmotivated teachers.
||Today, Kerry once again espouses pure Democratic dogma on
education. His Web site pledges to "stop blaming and start supporting public school
educators," vowing to give them "better training and better pay, with more
career opportunities, more empowerment and more mentors." It doesn't mention
seniority or tenure.
||In December 2002, Kerry broke with Democratic dogma yet again in a
Cleveland speech, calling for the abolition of the unfair "double taxation" of
stock dividends in order to promote more investment and more accurate valuations of
||Five weeks later, after President Bush proposed a second round of
tax cuts that included an end to this double taxation, Kerry changed his tune. He voted
against the dividend tax cuts that were ultimately enacted by Congress and now hopes to
roll them back as president, along with Bush's other tax cuts for upper-income Americans.
||In 1994, when the Concord Coalition gave Kerry a failing rating
for his deficit reduction votes, he complained that he should have gotten credit for
supporting a 50-cent increase in the gas tax.
||Today he no longer supports any increase in the gas tax.
||During the 1996 campaign, when I was a Globe reporter,
Kerry told me the Social Security system should be overhauled. He said Congress should
consider raising the retirement age and means-testing benefits and called it
"wacky" that payroll taxes did not apply to income over $62,700. "I know
it's all going to be unpopular," he said. "But this program has serious
problems, and we have a generational responsibility to fix them."
||Kerry no longer wants to mess with Social Security. "John
Kerry will never balance the budget on the backs of America's seniors," his Web site
||Kerry has been a consistent supporter of free trade deals, and as
late as December, when reporters asked if there was any issue on which he was
prepared to disagree with Democratic interest groups, Kerry replied: "Trade." Slate
editor Jacob Weisberg came away impressed by the depth of Kerry's commitment to the issue:
"Unlike Edwards, he supports international trade agreements without
||But that was three months ago! In recent weeks, when Kerry has
talked trade, he has talked nothing but qualification, calling for "fair trade"
rather than "free trade," claiming to agree completely with the protectionist
Edwards on trade issues, and vowing to "put teeth" into environmental and labor
restrictions in agreements like NAFTA.