- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

The so-called “debates” among the Democratic candidates in the primaries are not really debates — and that is a real shame. In a real debate, opponents could question each other’s statements — and there have been a lot of questionable statements made already in this young political season.

Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, for example, has included among his rhetorical flourishes poor children going to bed hungry at night in America. In reality, obesity is even more common among low-income than among high-income people.

Whether Mr. Edwards doesn’t know any better or doesn’t care about the facts, his statements could have been challenged in a real debate — or even in a no-holds-barred press conference. But, in the fashionable format of a pseudo-debate, where “going negative” is taboo, irresponsible demagoguery not only goes unchallenged but becomes the norm.

Meanwhile, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has pictured the United States as lagging among industrial nations by not having government-provided medical care for everyone. In a real debate, someone could have pointed out that we also differ considerably from those other countries in how quickly you can see a doctor and in not waiting months for surgery.

We also differ in having our much-denounced pharmaceutical industry produce a wholly disproportionate amount of the world’s new lifesaving medications. In a real debate, someone could point out the connection between incentives and results — and how so-called “obscene profits” are preferable to something truly obscene: needless pain and suffering and preventable deaths.

When Mr. Kerry argues for a higher minimum wage, someone in a real debate could point to evidence from around the world that higher minimum wages mean higher unemployment. There is a reason why economists say there is no free lunch, even though politicians get elected promising free lunches and calling them “rights.”

So long as elections — whether primary or general elections — are just contests in rhetoric and personalities, the reality of what has actually happened under various plausible-sounding schemes gets lost in the shuffle. And so long as media pundits treat politics as just a contest among politicians, there is no need for them to let the voters know the facts.

Perhaps the most dangerous political spin that goes unchallenged in either the candidate “debates” or the media pundit discussions is the image of Mr. Kerry as someone we could rely on when it comes to military defense, since he was a decorated war hero in Vietnam.

John Kerry the war hero deserves all the credit he earned in battle. But, if he becomes a candidate for president of the United States, we will not be voting on what he was, but on what he is and has been in the decades since then.

Mr. Kerry, like many other liberals in Congress, has for years voted to cut spending for the military and the intelligence agencies — even though these same liberal politicians are now loudly demanding to know why no one knew the September 11 terrorist attacks were coming.

There is no free lunch when it comes to gathering intelligence around the world or defending this country. The budgets of the intelligence agencies and the military have long been a tempting target for liberal politicians trying to find money to finance giveaway programs to buy votes. But their policies have helped make America a tempting target for terrorists.

The liberal organization Americans for Democratic Action has given Mr. Kerry an even higher approval rating as a liberal than they gave to Massachusetts’ other senator, Ted Kennedy. It takes one to know one. If anyone knows what a liberal is, the ADA should. Yet Mr. Kerry has tried to wave aside “labels.”

Like every other liberal Democrat running for president since the 1960s, Mr. Kerry tries to avoid having voters recognize him as the liberal he is and has been for decades — anti-military, pro-quotas, pro-taxes, pro-illegal immigrants, and pro-teachers unions that have ruined our schools.

What Mr. Kerry did more than 30 years ago is not the issue. What he has been doing since then is.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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