The Scrutiny Begins

Kerry’s 19 Years in Senate Invite Scrutiny (
One of the reasons Senators rarely win the Presidency is that they provide ammunition to the opposition through their voting records. The last Senator to win the Presidency was John F. Kennedy, and I doubt the fact that he and Kerry share the same initials will be enough to put him over the top.

Even so, if Kerry can articulate a good vision for the future — including terrorism, entitlements reform and the like — he can win. I see him as being weak on these issues, but he has nine months to come up with a winning program and explain it to the voters.

Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) never fails to win applause on the campaign trail when he tells audiences, “I know something about aircraft carriers for real.” It is a mocking reference to President Bush’s “mission accomplished” carrier landing last spring and a reminder that Kerry was a decorated naval officer in Vietnam.

But 20 years ago, in his first Senate campaign, Kerry talked a different language about national defense, denouncing President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup and calling for cuts of about $50 billion in the Pentagon budget, including the cancellation of a long list of weapons systems, from the B-1 bomber to the Patriot antimissile system to F-14A, F-14D and F-15 fighter jets.

As Kerry campaigns to lock up the Democratic presidential nomination, the battle to define him for a possible general election campaign against the president already has begun. The Kerry campaign and his opponents are mining his record — from his service in Vietnam, to his antiwar activities when he returned, to his positions as candidate and legislator — for ammunition.

Kerry’s 19-year record in the Senate includes thousands of votes, floor statements and debates, committee hearings and news conferences. That long paper trail shows that, on most issues, Kerry built a solidly liberal record, including support for abortion rights, gun control and environmental protection, and opposition to costly weapons programs, tax cuts for wealthy Americans and a 1996 federal law designed to discourage same-sex marriages.

But there are exceptions to that generally liberal voting record. Kerry voted for the welfare overhaul bill in 1996 that President Bill Clinton signed over the vociferous opposition of the party’s liberal wing; supported free-trade pacts, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement that organized labor opposed; backed deficit-reduction efforts in the mid-1980s, which many other Democrats opposed; and was distinctly cool toward Clinton’s health care proposal, which died after being pilloried as the embodiment of big government.

Opposition to some of the most significant weapons systems in use today can’t be a good omen. Perhaps there’s salvation in that last paragraph of the excerpt, though unfortunately NAFTA isn’t a strong selling point. He really deserves praise for that vote.

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