- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 20, 2004

The high-minded definition of politics is: “the art or science of government; the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy.”

If you keep reading in Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, you get closer to the truth: “political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices.”

Many politicians change their minds or flat out lie to win or stay in office. Some announce their work is “not finished” and run again after pledging to limit their terms in office; others promise not to raise taxes and do; still others claim to be pro-life and then switch to the other side as a strategy to protect their political lives. Flip-flopping, shading the truth and denying he said what he is on the record as having said are also expected in politics. It seems the person you want in office is the one who does these things less frequently than his opponent and on issues of less concern to you.

This brings us to John Kerry, whose sole attraction appears to be he is the candidate the Bush-haters have settled on to limit the president to a single term. Not many seem enthusiastic about Mr. Kerry, the man. He is merely a tool, and an elitist one at that. If he were a hammer, he would be made of sterling silver. He’d be Tiffany & Co. to President Bush’s Wal-Mart. Like an intern in the Clinton White House, Mr. Kerry is to be used for the pleasure and purpose of the Bush-haters. He inspires no commitment, no loyalty. He is just a ticket to ride.

What should concern principled Democrats is Mr. Kerry’s record. He has a long history of changing positions on almost any issue, and so fast he is on the other side of where he previously stood before most people notice.

The Washington Post noticed Mr. Kerry’s dangerous and constant shifts in a March 11 editorial. After observing President Bush has shifted his positions on some issues such as nation-building and that “flip-flops aren’t always bad,” The Post got to the heart of the Kerry problem: “It’s not always clear what, if anything, he’s committed to…. Where are the bedrock principles that would guide him in office?”

A few days ago, a grinning Howard Dean appeared with Mr. Kerry; Mr. Dean reportedly is close to endorsing his former rival. The former Vermont governor now says the things that unite Mr. Kerry and himself are more important than the things that divide them. Does Mr. Dean mean that, or is he simply playing the cynical political game? As recently as Feb. 1, Tim Russert on NBC’s “Meet the Press” reminded Mr. Dean what he had told the New York Times the previous week: “This is what you said… ‘[Dean] defined the nomination battle as a choice between [himself]’ and ‘a Washington insider who shifts back and forth with every poll.’ Who is that?” “That’s John Kerry,” responded Mr. Dean. Asked “On what issues?,” Mr. Dean responded, “Iraq, for one. He couldn’t make up his mind whether he was for Iraq or not for the longest time. No Child Left Behind, he voted for that, didn’t have the nerve to stand up against that when I did a long, long time ago.”

One wonders what “important” things Mr. Dean has in mind — other than defeating President Bush — because he has criticized Mr. Kerry’s positions and behavior on so many issues, from taking special interest money to talking about health care but doing nothing, trade, and “whining” when asked about his positions.

The two issues about that Mr. Kerry seems “convicted” rather than conflicted are higher taxes and more spending. Don’t look for him to flip on these because they define a modern liberal Democrat. That’s why the president’s re-election team is running commercials hitting the only nonmoving target Mr. Kerry has presented. It’s difficult to attack someone who, as The Post editorial noted, engages in “campaign-trail straddles on a wide range of issues.”

That may be politics as usual for Mr. Kerry, but is it politics the way the voters want it?

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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