NEW YORK—If the election were held now, Newsweek tells us, John Kerry would defeat George W. Bush by a seven-point margin. True, a lot can and will happen between now and November. But time is running out for the Republicans. It's virtually impossible to imagine the bloodshed in Iraq easing enough to save Bush's steal-the-world wackos from joining the growing legions of the unemployed. Even if Islamist terrorists attack us again—Al Qaeda wants Bush to win because his wars are their recruitment tool—a Kerry victory has become a genuine possibility. Which begs the question: what would he do differently?
Probably not much.
Kerry, who voted for Bush's wars even though he later declined to fund them, will likely get stuck in the Iraqi quagmire. Sure, Kerry criticizes Bush for refusing to withdraw until democratic elections can be held. Democracy "shouldn't be the measurement of when you leave," he says. "With respect to getting our troops out, the measurement is the stability of Iraq." But with Sunnis and Shiites united in a ferocious war of resistance against U.S. occupation forces (until their current marriage of convenience dissolves in favor of civil war, anyway), a stable Iraq remains exactly as elusive as one conducive to fair elections.
Kerry's probable foreign policy team, led by Republicans in the vein of John McCain and Chuck Hagel, will undoubtedly counsel the new president to stay the course. We must, they'll argue, avoid the humiliation of watching Osama gloat at us on Al Jazeera. Aside from the usual worry about appearing weak, Kerry will overcompensate for traditional voter mistrust of Democrats on defense and the military by trying to out-Republican the Republicans. He may even send more troops to Iraq. He'll certainly beef up our presence in Afghanistan.
Kerry's unrealistic measuring stick for a pullout, coupled with the probability of more gruesome Fallujah-style outrages that demand retaliation, mean that we'll keep shooting and bombing Muslims for years to come.
There are few indications that President Kerry would roll back much if any of Bush's assault on personal liberties. "It is time to end the era of John Ashcroft," says the senator Republicans like to call a Massachusetts liberal, but his platform doesn't match his rhetoric. He'll tinker with, rather than repeal, the privacy-busting USA Patriot Act (which he voted for, by the way). "Much of what is in the Patriot Act are good ideas," he argues. Liberals who imagine a Bastille-style storming of Ashcroft's concentration camps at Guantánamo Bay and elsewhere had better re-program their fantasies. While Kerry promises to put some of our randomly arrested Muslims on trial, the post-9/11 internment camps will remain in operation.
Anyone who files a Form 1040 knows that Bush's tax cuts are a farce. For most people, increases in state and local taxes have erased the small reductions in the federal rate. A tiny fraction of Americans, the top two percent, received a net tax cut—as we ran up a $6 trillion tab for a party 98 percent never got to attend. But Kerry won't ask the rich to pay back windfall tax reductions they've already received. Moreover, he'll leave Bush's remaining rates in place for individuals earning less than $200,000 a year. He'll restore only part of the Bush-repealed estate tax.
Since this drain on the treasury will continue, Kerry can't possibly keep his promise to balance the budget. But he'll still get suckered into cleaning up some of the GOP's mess. "We will have to make real choices—and that includes priorities of my own," concedes Kerry. "When I say a cap on spending, I mean it." That means budget cuts and no new spending on education or healthcare, causes dear to Democrats. The 9/11-inspired Homeland Security bureaucracy, on the other hand, would continue to issue its silly color codes at its present bloated size.
NAFTA, the WTO, welfare reform—on a host of important issues, John Kerry promises to be just as conservative as George W. Bush. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences between the two candidates. A Kerry presidency means the end of office betting pools about which country we're next planning to invade. Kerry may retain stupid Bush-era innovations like HomeSec and the Patriot Act but he won't propose many new ones. Things won't get any better but they won't get much worse. And we'll finally have a leader who doesn't refuse to hold press conferences because they expose him as a lunatic and a dolt.
Sounds good to me.
Ted Rall is the author of Wake Up, You're Liberal: How We Can Take America Back From the Right, to be released later this month.
Copyright 2004 Ted Rall
Distributed by Universal Press Syndicate/Ted Rall
Ted Rall online: www.rall.com