Despite missteps, Bush is better able to steer nation through difficulties ahead
Sunday, October 24, 2004
Like millions of American voters, The Dispatch is less than enthused about the choices in next week’s presidential election. Neither President Bush nor Sen. John Kerry has built a record that leads to a clear-cut decision.
Since President Bush took office, this newspaper repeatedly has criticized his administration’s borrow-and-spend fiscal policies, which have resulted in massive deficits that weaken America.
The Dispatch also strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq, contending the case had not been made that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction or posed an imminent threat to this nation.
On the other hand, neither Kerry’s 20-year Senate record nor his shifting positions during the presidential campaign inspire confidence that he would provide the strong, resolute leadership America desperately needs.
Confronted with these disappointments and this choice, The Dispatch believes a second-term George W. Bush would stand a better chance of leading the nation up the difficult road that lies ahead.
The most crucial challenge facing the next president is winning the peace in Iraq. Although the rationale for the Iraq war has been proved wrong, no one should underestimate the stakes now. The United States must see the job through to the end.
For far too long, dictators and terrorists have believed that Americans lack staying power. Friends and enemies of the United States are watching closely to see if the casualties and expense of the war will sap the nation’s will to plant democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. For America, there is no other choice but to succeed. Failure will sow more terrorism and tyranny.
Like it or not, America must stand firm.
Although the president, unfortunately, seems incapable of admitting obvious error, Kerry has not provided a vision of what he would do differently in Iraq. He agrees the United States must be successful in pacifying Iraq. He claims he could be more successful in getting other nations to help shoulder the burden, but that is not realistic.
During the presidential campaign, Kerry has revised his stance on Iraq almost as frequently as there have been shifts in opinion polls. He appears to lack solid convictions on how to proceed.
His vow to repair the damage done by Bush to the nation’s alliances sounds good, but his longstanding ambivalence about deploying American power raises questions about his willingness to defy world opinion if and when that might become necessary in pursuit of U.S. national security. If Bush has been too willing to deploy that power on slim pretexts, Kerry may be too hesitant to unleash it even when justified.
How the rest of the world will view the outcome of the election also plays into the Dispatch’s decision. A victory for Bush will signal to the world and terrorists that the United States is committed to victory in Iraq and Afghanistan. A Kerry victory will send an ambiguous signal that may raise doubts about American staying power.
On domestic issues, voters are confronted with an avowed conservative who spends like a liberal, and a confirmed liberal who promises the fiscal constraint of a conservative.
Bush has vastly expanded the reach of the federal government with the Medicare drug benefit and the No Child Left Behind Act. The first will add more than $500 billion to the nation’s debt over the next decade. The NCLB, despite its worthy goals, is a vast federal encroachment into education, traditionally a preserve of state and local government. This act unnecessarily pre-empted state initiatives to bring more accountability to elementary and secondary education.
At the same time he has increased the government’s obligations, Bush has slashed taxes, resulting in the highest budget deficits in U.S. history.
This is not a conservative record.
Kerry, whose voting record marks him as one of the most liberal senators in the nation, is painting himself as a fiscal conservative. He promises to cut the deficit in half and to find a way to pay for any new spending that he proposes.
But once in office, with all the expectations of his party and with liberal special interests to appease and reward, would Kerry stick to those promises? This seems unlikely. As Bush and other presidents have demonstrated, excuses for expanding government on credit always are at hand.
Without a track record as a disciplined fiscal steward or as a believer in limited government, Kerry’s promises are suspect.
The next president will appoint many federal judges, and perhaps three or four U.S. Supreme Court justices. The impact on the judiciary will be lasting. The Dispatch believes Bush’s appointments would more likely respect the principles of judicial restraint and separation of powers.
One other factor gives Bush an edge. In a second term, relieved of concern about re-election, presidents look to their legacy. This is when they feel free to take chances and expend political capital. There is no bigger problem facing the nation long term than senior entitlements. Without significant reform, Social Security and Medicare are headed for fiscal collapse under the press of millions of retiring baby boomers.
Kerry, who knows touching these programs is political suicide, has ruled out any change in how they currently operate. But with trillions of dollars in unfunded liabilities, they are unsustainable as they currently operate. Electing Kerry would simply delay action for four more years.
Bush has every reason to take on precisely this sort of challenge, especially if he hopes to ensure that history remembers him for something other than the Iraq mess.
If Bush wins and Republicans retain control of Congress, the stars finally may be aligned in a way that allows the nation to confront the entitlement goliath.
If he is elected, Bush should make good on his pledge to reduce the deficit by half. Better yet, he should eliminate it. The president refuses to acknowledge mistakes, and that is unlikely to change in a second term. But he still should correct them.
He should put enough troops and resources into Iraq and Afghanistan to get the job done. He should ask the American people to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve that, even if that means paying more taxes.
Since Sept. 11, Americans have been ready and willing to sacrifice to avenge the attacks and prevent future ones. Bush shouldn’t hesitate any longer: Enlist them in the fight. That might be one way to heal the deep division that now afflicts the country.
After all, four years ago, Bush promised to be a uniter, not a divider. Perhaps more than any other, he should make good on that promise.
C'MON C'MON THE CLUB IS OPEN