- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Sen. John Kerry is giving opportunism a bad name. First, there was his call for President Bush to release oil from the strategic petroleum reserve, in response to high gasoline prices. With a war raging in the Middle East, the last thing we need to do is reduce our own petroleum reserves for the sake of an election-year quick fix.

Mr. Kerry knows better. But he has to come up with something that at least gives the appearance of proposing his own policies and agendas, instead of just bashing Mr. Bush.

This was not an isolated example of Mr. Kerry’s opportunism. His whole campaign is based on opportunism. He voted for money to support the war in Iraq — and he also voted against it, as he himself has said.

Back in the 1970s, John Kerry protested the Vietnam War by symbolically throwing away his medals — apparently. In reality, it turned out that he kept his medals, and threw away someone else’s.

Mr. Kerry told the automobile workers he was proud to drive an SUV. But that isn’t what he said to the environmentalists. Now he was pointing out his family owned the SUV, not him.

Having it both ways is John Kerry’s political pattern. It is completely in character for him to suggest he can postpone accepting the Democrats’ nomination officially, thereby escaping the federal restrictions on spending money meant to be spent during the primaries. Like Leona Helmsley, Mr. Kerry apparently thinks the laws apply only to the “little people.”

It would be a mistake, however, to think John Kerry has no principles or agenda. He just does not have any that he would dare reveal in an election year.

Both a liberal organization and a nonpartisan organization have rated Mr. Kerry’s voting record in the Senate as more liberal than that of Ted Kennedy.

It is hard to believe there is much room on the political spectrum to the left of Ted Kennedy. But Mr. Kerry has found it. Now he has to hide it before the voters find out.

Mr. Kerry has no choice but to pretend to be something he is not, both personally and politically. An aloof and self-infatuated man who is not liked even by fellow Senate Democrats, Mr. Kerry has to learn to smile and act like a regular guy during the election campaign.

Mr. Kerry has even had to learn to pronounce his wife’s name the way Americans pronounce it, rather than the way it is pronounced in Europe, which is the way he pronounced it all these years, before he became a presidential candidate.

John Kerry should get the Academy Award if he succeeds in this year’s challenging acting performance — but not the presidency.

Above all, Mr. Kerry cannot run as a Massachusetts liberal on the left fringe of American politics. Instead, both he and his media supporters must decry the use of “labels” — even as they call Mr. Bush’s Cabinet members “chicken hawks.”

All attempts to expose what Mr. Kerry has actually said and done in his long political career are denounced as “personal attacks” and “negative advertising” — as if it is worse to tell the truth than let someone lie his way into the White House by projecting a completely false image created by his handlers.

Nothing is phonier than Mr. Kerry’s statement he would welcome being considered the second “black” president — Bill Clinton having been considered the first. Now one of the Democrats’ own black strategists has pointed out publicly that blacks are rare as hen’s teeth in Mr. Kerry’s campaign team.

Despite bad Iraq news and a liberal media going ballistic about it round the clock, Mr. Kerry has made no serious poll gains.

Liberals love to believe they are just not getting their message out to the public, whether in this presidential campaign or on talk radio. In both cases, the problem is their real message won’t sell, and the phony message they try to sell is seen as being as phony as it is.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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