Tuesday, October 12, 2004

President Bush, as many expected, threw down his trump card in Friday’s presidential debate: John Kerry is a Liberal, with a stress on the capital “L.” Mr. Kerry’s answer — “Labels are so silly in American politics” — was a dodge. The fact is, as National Journal judged it, Mr. Kerry is the most liberal senator serving. Conversely, Mr. Bush campaigns as a conservative — albeit a “compassionate” one. His brand of conservatism may not please everyone, but it’s telling that Mr. Bush isn’t afraid to use the label. In the first of several editorials examining the candidates’ positions, we would like to outline some facts representative of core values:

• Faith-based initiatives. In 2002, Mr. Bush declared, “The measure of true compassion is results.” This underlies the president’s push for results-oriented funding for faith-based institutions — those that rely on spiritual healing as much as physical healing. Early in his term, Mr. Bush introduced the Charity Aid, Recovery and Empowerment (CARE) Act, which provides incentives to boost giving to faith-based charities. Though Mr. Kerry originally voted for the Act, he has remained silent since Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle began blocking a motion to send the bill to conference. Otherwise, Mr. Kerry’s reservations amount to appealing to the establishment clause of the Constitution.

• Abortion. Mr. Kerry is the first presidential candidate to be endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. There’s a reason for this: In 1984, Mr. Kerry said he would vote against “any restriction on age, consent, funding restrictions, or any law to limit access to abortion.” His record since has been consistent with those words. Despite telling the audience on Friday that he is against partial-birth abortion, Mr. Kerry has voted at least six times against banning the gruesome procedure. He has voted at least 25 times in favor of using taxpayer dollars to pay for abortions in the United States, and Mr. Kerry earned a zero percent ranking from the National Right to Life Committee. In January, Mr. Kerry expressed his views on abortion this way: “I am Catholic and have personally always believed life begins at conception, but I have never believed that that is something that should be translated as a matter of faith, an article of faith, into everybody else’s behavior for those who don’t share that faith.” Mr. Bush is adamantly pro-life, in both the public and private sphere.

• Embryonic stem-cell research. An off-shoot of the abortion issue, Mr. Bush holds to a strict right-to-life position on this burgeoning controversy. Mr. Kerry supports immediate federal funding.

• Second Amendment rights. Mr. Bush, who received the National Rifle Association’s endorsement in 2000, is generally pro-gun. In 2001, his administration filed a brief which stated that the current view of the United States is that “the Second Amendment more broadly protects the rights of individuals, including persons who are not members of any militia … to possess and bear their own firearms.” He supported passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which would have protected gun manufacturers from frivolous lawsuits, but the bill died in the Senate. Mr. Kerry, rarely seen in the countryside without a rifle in hand, has been named by the NRA as “the most anti-gun presidential nominee in [American] history.” Still, Mr. Kerry claims he is the “first Democratic candidate to support Second Amendment gun rights and to be an avid hunter.” The Brady Campaign, a gun-control advocacy group, would disagree. They have given the senator a 100 percent rating.

• Same-sex “marriage.” Mr. Bush supports a constitutional amendment that would define marriage in the United States as being solely between a man and a woman. Mr. Kerry voted against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton, calling it “unconstitutional.” In 2002, he signed a letter asking the Massachusetts legislature to reject a constitutional amendment that would outlaw gay “marriage.” Yet in February, Mr. Kerry said that he does not support gay “marriage,” personally believing that marriage is between a man and a woman. At the same time, Mr. Kerry has spoken out against the Federal Marriage Amendment.

Notwithstanding the senator’s recent move to the right, at least rhetorically, voters concerned about values will not be comforted by Mr. Kerry’s liberalism. Mr. Bush’s labeling of his opponent as a liberal is one of the few comments in the campaign that is totally devoid of spin.

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