- The Washington Times - Friday, June 18, 2004

It’s time to flush Sen. John Kerry out on the issues and expose his liberalism for all to see. Then we’ll find out how evenly divided this country really is.

When better than after the remarkable week honoring Ronald Reagan and his conservative ideals to begin demanding Mr. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat provide policy specifics, beyond merely opposing everything President Bush stands for?

Interestingly, both The Washington Times and The Washington Post ran stories Monday bearing on Mr. Kerry’s policy compass and his failure to thoroughly articulate it. The Times’ Bill Sammon noted the Bush campaign has adopted a strategy to force Democratic candidates either to “embrace or reject Sen. John Kerry’s liberalism.”

This, Mr. Sammon observed, could be especially effective in the South, where Democrats are more conservative. Remember Mr. Kerry’s January speech at Dartmouth dismissing the South?

“Everybody always makes the mistake of looking South,” said Mr. Kerry. “Al Gore proved he could have been president of the United States without winning one Southern state, including his own.”

Shouldn’t Republicans play that clip over and over, not just in the South to show his contempt for that region, but in all places where conservatives reside — since his dismissal of the South is mostly a slap at political conservatism?

And shouldn’t Bush operatives also remind voters Mr. Kerry was named the most liberal senator of 2003 by the widely respected and nonpartisan Washington Journal?

Sure, this has been discussed before. But Mr. Kerry has tried to wave it away. He must not be allowed to. This was not a snapshot of one or a few votes that could be explained away with nuance. It was a picture of Mr. Kerry’s voting record for an entire year, and it is one of extreme liberalism. Look at his competitors, including Sen. Edward Kennedy.

Mr. Kerry simply can’t weasel out of this if pressed to the mat. And he should be, relentlessly. His only answer thus far has been to sidestep the charge and attempt to turn it around on Mr. Bush, questioning the president’s conservatism.

Query: If Democrats are so sure the nation is evenly split along ideological fault lines, why won’t Mr. Kerry own up to his liberalism and happily paint George Bush as a conservative? (That’s a rhetorical question, by the way. No need to answer.)

The Washington Post’s story “Doubts linger as Kerry advances, supporters want a sharper image,” gives us more of the same. Even this liberal paper reports Mr. Kerry hasn’t been truly candid about what he believes.

The Post says Democrats are more motivated to defeat Mr. Bush than to elect Mr. Kerry — as if that’s a revelation. But “the chief reason” for it is: “The senator from Massachusetts, they say, has not crisply articulated what a Kerry presidency would stand for beyond undoing much of Bush’s agenda.”

Well, The Post should know there might be a good reason for Mr. Kerry’s reluctance to share. The more liberal presidential candidates who were open about their liberalism, like Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis, were trounced in their elections.

So it’s time for the GOP to flush out Mr. Kerry on both his policies and ideology, which ultimately are inseparable. And this doesn’t mean going negative, unless it is negative to expose a liberal’s liberalism. That’s an interesting thought.

Mr. Kerry has been riding the coattails of the antiBush, antiwar Democratic sentiment since he received the baton from Howard Dean, and he has been hiding his true self ever since. Mr. Bush, mostly, is the opposite: We know where he stands.

Republicans should highlight this contrast. Ronald Reagan was a man of big ideas, and so is George Bush. Big ideas are not vague ideas, but quite the opposite. Mr. Kerry, at this point, has offered no big ideas, and certainly no clear ones. He has been nebulous at best.

We’re not just talking about Mr. Kerry’s flip-flopping here, though Mr. Kerry certainly has distinguished himself as a virtuoso of that art. We’re saying Mr. Kerry has been closed, uncertain, reluctant, tentative and irresolute. Flip-flopping is just a part of that.

Mr. Kerry is either hiding the ball about his true beliefs and policies for fear the public will reject them (and him), or he is truly wishy-washy. Based on his behavior the past few months, it’s probably a bit of both.

Either way, this country can ill-afford a vacillating, unsure leader, particularly during a war — and even less so one not comfortable enough to be honest about where he stands.

David Limbaugh is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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