- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 11, 2004

On Wednesday, President Bush proved himself to be the gutsiest politician in the country. He actually defended, without quibble, the value of international trade to the American economy and to the economic well-being of American workers and consumers. He called the current fevered bewailing about “outsourcing” what it is — economic isolationism.

All over Washington, fearful and intellectually dishonest senators and congressmen are calling for laws banning the dreaded practice of American companies and government agencies seeking the cheapest price for goods and services, wherever they may be in the world. “They’re wrong,” the president said of the timorous politicians. “If we are to continue growing this economy and creating new jobs, America must remain confident and strong about our ability to trade in the world.” Every credible economist — from FederalReserveChairmanAlan Greenspan to all of President Clinton’s top economists — agrees on this point.

The coward in chief among the cowardly candidates is, of course, Sen. John Kerry, who for 209 of his 211 months in the Senate has understood the value of and fought for free trade. Mr. Kerry is a smart man, but he doesn’t let that get in the way of proposing destructive policies if he can get some votes out of it.

After all those years of virtuous and thoughtful advocacy of free trade, Mr. Kerry has thrown all of that overboard because the over-reporting of a few hundred thousand outsourced jobs has whipped much of the country into a tizzy of fear and despondency. In fact, the American economy destroys and creates millions of jobs every year. It’s called economic growth, and Mr. Kerry knows it — and he always has.

Whatever courage he showed in Vietnam he seems to have lost in the face of the American voter. He seems prepared to lead the country off an economic cliff — as long as the voters will follow him. Mr. Kerry only started talking about outsourcing when his primary opponent, Sen. John Edwards, started making a few points with the voters on this phony issue last month. Indeed, Mr. Kerry only started opposing the decision to go to war in Iraq when another primary opponent, Howard Dean, started making a few points with the voters last fall on that issue.

Mr. Bush, on the other hand, even as he is behind in the polls, refuses to give the American public bad advice, even if it would benefit him to do so. If Mr. Bush were to follow the Kerry method of political leadership, he would co-opt Mr. Kerry on the outsourcing issue by declaring an economic emergency, and thereby become the champion of a momentarily popular though destructive policy. Presidents have the power to do such things. It tells us a lot about Mr. Bush that he won’t take the easy path to political safety. And it tells us all we need to know about Mr. Kerry that he already has. Do we have to learn the hard way, again, that when it comes to choosing a president, character counts?

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