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June 6, 2004
The Kerry Response: Classy, And Something More?

John Kerry responded to the passing of Ronald Reagan with class and restraint yesterday, even deciding to allow for a pause in his campaign schedule to attend a Reagan memorial today and possibly for a few days more. Kerry, speaking about the opposition's greatest inspiration for generations, said this in a press release shortly after the news of Reagan's death went public:

Even when he was breaking Democrats hearts, he did so with a smile and in the spirit of honest and open debate," Kerry said in a statement. "The differences were real, but because of the way President Reagan led, he taught us that there is a big difference between strong beliefs and bitter partisanship.

Another quote in the same release, however, has Kerry's political fingerprints all over it, and points towards a possible strategy for Kerry to use to attract swing voters with lasting affection for the 40th president:

Kerry, who had previously scheduled Saturday off from campaigning, urged political leaders to look to Reagan's example.

"Today in the face of new challenges," Kerry said, "his example reminds us that we must move forward with optimism and resolve. He was our oldest president, but he made America young again."

Let me say that I'm not scolding John Kerry for using Reagan's death for political gain. He hasn't done anything like that yet, and besides, I think it's inevitable that both sides will try to co-opt Reagan as much as possible in this election. The Reagan legacy is far too attractive to leave alone. Despite generating some bitter partisanship during his terms in office -- let's not forget that Borking began with Democrats during Reagan's presidency -- he has become an avuncular figure in politics, because for the most part he's remembered for his personality and not his policies. Now that he's passed on, memories of Reagan among a large bloc of the electorate may get almost saintly.

To me, it looks as though Kerry wants to make his case for being the natural heir to the Reagan mystique, but in that same superficial manner. Kerry wants to lay claim to that optimism and resolve without doing anything except talking about it. Reagan was a man of words and action, while all Kerry offers in contrast to George Bush is a lot more talk. He wants to talk more before doing anything -- he wants to talk to the UN, to France and Germany, to Arab kleptocracies and mullahcracies before taking any kind of action. In a way, Reagan's nickname, The Great Communicator, does him a bit of injustice. Reagan was also the Great Doer.

It's instructive to see how John Kerry reacted to Reagan's deeds when they took place instead of his well-intentioned platitudes now. Newsmax had posted a number of such Kerry responses to Reagan's actions back in March of this year. (While Newsmax isn't a very good source for breaking news, it's adequate for this kind of review.) For instance, in Reagan's response to terrorism in the 1986 retaliatory strike on Libya for the German disco bombing that killed American GIs, Kerry said the following:

Admitting that the evidence tying Tripoli to the disco bombing was irrefutable, the U.S. had failed the proportionality test, Kerry argued:

It is obvious that our response was not proportional to the disco bombing and even violated the Administrations own guidelines to hit clearly defined terrorist targets, thereby minimizing the risk to innocent civilians. ...

There are numerous other actions we can take, in concert with our allies, to bring significant pressure to bear on countries supporting or harboring terrorists.

Sound familiar? In fact, it's the exact same rhetoric used by John Kerry today, 18 years later, in combating terrorism. And Kerry was spectacularly wrong -- Reagan's actions forced Gaddafi to give up terrorism, just as Bush's capture of Saddam Hussein forced him to give up his WMD programs.

Next, Kerry on Reagan's defense budgets:

The Reagan Administration has no rational plan for our military. Instead, it acts on misinformed assumptions about the strength of the Soviet military and a presumed window of vulnerability, which we now know not to exist. And Congress, rather than having the moral courage to challenge the Reagan Administration, has given Ronald Reagan almost every military request he has made, no matter how wasteful, no matter how useless, no matter how dangerous.

The biggest defense buildup since World War II has not given us a better defense. Americans feel more threatened by the prospect of war, not less so. And our national priorities become more and more distorted as the share of our countrys resources devoted to human needs diminishes.

Using his defense build-up as a tool of economic war against the Soviet Union, Ronald Reagan bankrupted their empire and caused it to collapse from within. Five years after Kerry spoke these words, the Berlin Wall crumbled, and with it the entire Iron Curtain. And yet Kerry didn't learn anything from that experience. To this day, Kerry continues to argue that despite our dismantling of two of the worst terrorist-supporting tyrannies in the world, we are no safer than we were on 9/11.

Kerry may well pass up the opportunity to wrap the Reagan legacy around his campaign, but I suspect that eventually his staff will focus on "optimism" as a campaign strategy. The difference is that Reagan gave specific policies and philosophies that supported his optimism; he stood for his ideas and became legendary for sticking to them. Kerry offers little but a distant echo of Reagan in voice, and a parody of him in practice.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 6, 2004 9:15 AM

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