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Kerry criticizes Bush's deficits but renounces the measures that would be necessary to fix them. According to the Concord Coalition, a nonpartisan fiscal-responsibility group, Bush's proposals would increase the deficit by about $1.3 trillion over the next 10 years, whereas Kerry's would increase the deficit by about—$1.3 trillion. Kerry's supporters argue their man is more likely to be fiscally responsible once in office, but that is thin gruel, given Kerry's face-to-camera promise not to raise taxes on the middle class, ever.
In Iraq, America faces its biggest and most draining foreign-policy commitment since Vietnam, and the largest and most difficult pacification effort since the Philippines a century ago. Kerry's plan for Iraq? Not to be George W. Bush. That's it.
Writing in this space four years ago, I said that the biggest policy difference between Bush and his Democratic opponent was that Bush might reform Social Security, which the Democrat had vowed not to do. Unfortunately, I'm still right, four years later. Having failed to deliver on Social Security reform, Bush is still promising. The Democrats are still promising to ignore the problem.
If Bush has shown anything, it is that the country needs a new legal process for detaining potential terrorists without disemboweling the Constitution. Kerry has evinced no interest in the issue. In general, he proposes few fresh ideas for solving the problems that Bush has variously created, exacerbated, been stuck with, and finessed. He offers many "plans," but no equivalent of Bill Clinton's "end welfare as we know it."
And what are Kerry's core beliefs? If you shake him awake at 3 a.m., what are the two or three things he knows deep down, the way Reagan knew that Big Government and Communism were bad and Bush knows that Al Qaeda and its allies have launched a global insurgency on behalf of a virulent totalitarian doctrine? I don't know.
There is nothing wrong with Kerry's senatorial "flip-flops." Maneuvering is what senators do. More disturbing has been his irresolution on Iraq since becoming a presidential candidate. Most disturbing of all is that, with only days to go before the election, I still don't feel I have a handle on what he is really all about. Perhaps Kerry is the scion of Dukakism, the doctrine that the election is about competence, not ideology. But Kerry is running for president, not city manager.
I don't believe he is an empty suit. I just wish I knew what was inside the suit. I can understand why my father fears that Kerry might be captured by the Left.
Bush is a dynamic leader, but he lacks what a president most needs: guardrails. Kerry has guardrails, but where is the road? A dispiriting choice.
What's a Swimmer to do? It helps to remember that the presidency matters a lot, but not quite as much as most people think. And that muddling through usually works out passably well. And that it is always darkest before the dawn, and you'll never walk alone, and tomorrow is another day.
Think on that. And have a Prozac.