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January 24, 2004
Kerry's Long Record His Biggest Liability

Now that he has moved to the front of the pack, Senator John Kerry's long record of service in the US Senate may be both his biggest qualification and his greatest liability, according to a story in tomorrow's New York Times:

The sheer length of Mr. Kerry's service means that he has built a paper trail of positions on education, the military, intelligence and other issues — stands that might have looked one way when he took them but that resonate differently now.

For example, at the end of the cold war, Mr. Kerry advocated scaling back the Central Intelligence Agency, but after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he complained about a lack of intelligence capability. In the 1980's, he opposed the death penalty for terrorists who killed Americans abroad, but he now supports the death penalty for terrorist acts. In the 1990's, he joined with Republican colleagues to sponsor proposals to end tenure for public school teachers and allow direct grants to religion-based charities, measures that many Democratic groups opposed. In 1997, he voted to require elderly people with higher incomes to pay a larger share of Medicare premiums.

The rest of the article provides a roadmap for other Democratic candidates to follow in a sophisticated attack on Kerry's contradictory record and positions. Kerry, who has tried to have his cake on Iraq and eat it too by voting for the initial authorization for war and then voting to cut off funding for the troops, has also done the same thing with intelligence and national security in the past:

After the end of the cold war, Mr. Kerry asked why the nation's "vast intelligence apparatus continues to grow even as government resources for new and essential priorities fall far short of what is necessary," as he put it in remarks in the Senate in 1997. He proposed a series of mostly failed measures to cut spending programs for intelligence.

But after the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Kerry said on the CBS News program "Face the Nation," "The tragedy is, at the moment, that the single most important weapon for the United States of America is intelligence, and we are weakest, frankly, in that particular area."

Obviously, George Bush and Karl Rove will be all over those bills and attempts to gut American intelligence operations in November, assuming that Kerry gets that far. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see Wes Clark or, even more likely, Joe Lieberman take up that argument against Kerry in the final hours before the Granite State goes to the polls.

John Kerry came out of almost nowhere to take Iowa away from a stumbling Dean. Now that Kerry is out in front and in the open, expect all of his rivals -- both current and potential -- to start framing their speeches and attacks on Kerry's most vulnerable Senate actions. Kerry has at least as many inconsistencies as Dean and Clark (the most consistent Democrat, Lieberman, doesn't have a prayer) to exploit.

Due to the nature of the Democratic primaries, any candidate who gets at least 15% of the vote gets delegates in proportion to their share of the overall vote. If Kerry loses momentum under the inevitable scrutiny he will get as the front-runner, the delegates from at least the first primaries will get split up fairly evenly if Edwards can keep his funding up. A brokered primary looks possible, and that will prove to be a disaster for the Democrats.

UPDATE: For another example, this time on the environment, see this post at QandO. I hear Karl sharpening the knives as we speak ...

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at January 24, 2004 8:33 PM

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