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John Kerry: a true ‘ABB’ candidate

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, April 1, 2004

With roughly six months remaining before the presidential election, Democratic challenger John Kerry is attempting to define his personal and political image to a public that all but dismissed his chances before the Howard Dean meltdown. Currently, his campaign consists of slogans and promises that place him squarely in what some call the “Anyone but Bush” (ABB) mold.

The ABB crowd, which dominated the primary elections and nominated the Massachusetts senator, consists of those who would prefer virtually any candidate, whether Democrat, Green, Communist or Whig over the incumbent. I’ve stopped counting the reasons – many informed, many misguided – but the website www.thousandreasons.org has an easily accessible list.

From the field of nine candidates, the ABB crowd sought one who was diametrically opposed to Bush on almost every issue available since they believe he is responsible for every lost job, every corporate wrongdoing, every disdainful Frenchman and every stubbed toe since taking office. Kerry’s campaign gurus took a cue from this disgruntled portion of the populace, and his rhetoric on the trail to the White House has yet to offer a sound alternative path for America aside from idealistic ends coupled with either shaky or nonexistent means.

He paints an elaborate picture of the country’s tragic state, which Bush supporters dismiss as excessively focused on exaggerated doom and gloom. Every candidate must shape the debate in his terms to achieve victory, but marginalizing optimism for America’s current status seems both disingenuous and dangerous.

Taken on rhetoric alone, Kerry would be the greatest president in history. Just think: he will create jobs, balance the deficit, put those greedy corporate-types in their place, provide a health care plan for every American, restore frayed international alliances by making the world like us again and fight terror more effectively than Bush could ever dream. By this point, any true ABB supporter should be wiping a tear, but I thank God for skepticism, or at least rational faculties. The list goes on as Kerry’s campaign soldiers search for every chink in Bush’s armor, allowing him to promise more and more paper moons.

A personal favorite is the Kerry plan to stop outsourcing, that evil phenomenon that sounds a lot worse than it is in reality, which would “end every single tax credit that gives corporations breaks for moving jobs offshore,” as quoted from his campaign website. Merely mentioning the word “corporation” conjures an image in the minds of the economically illiterate of cigar smoking fat-cats meeting to find another way to make another million at the poor worker’s expense. After all, some might ask, aren’t these the lucky few who actually benefit from Bush’s presidency?

Kerry will stick it to the man by severely penalizing the practice and aside from retaining a few extra jobs, the policy would have a twofold effect: first, larger and healthier corporations like General Motors will face drawbacks and reduced profits from outsourcing, hurting the Americans who invest in their stock; second, smaller corporations that outsourced because they were already in a bind from hefty taxes will be forced to submit to the rules, endangering their existence entirely.

What ever happened to the mass of enlightened economists who slammed Bush’s tax cut but have yet to weigh in on this gem of a policy proposal? Could it be that they are part of the ABB horde themselves and will reserve their judgment of this plan that could prove suicidal in the long run, erasing almost two years of positive economic growth?

This case is indicative of how the Kerry campaign wrestles issues away from reality, paints any picture that implicates a Bush failure and provides a utopian alternative that aims to persuade undecided voters that Kerry’s presidency will be more blissful than a Coors Light commercial.

President Bush certainly has a number of domestic and international problems to address if he wins this year, but the level-headed approach to his bid for re-election is much more comforting than one which seems geared towards a crowd more focused on removing one man from office than embracing a pragmatic course for America’s future.

Ultimately, the ABB crowd has created its own paradox: they assume that ousting Bush from the White House can only have a positive effect on the nation and will vote for a candidate who sounds the least Bush-like, but their noble intentions may backfire if they flip the coin entirely beyond the level of effective policy.

John Kerry, praised for his ability to see the shades of gray, sounds less like an enlightened statesman at this point in the campaign and more like a salesman trying to swindle a customer who didn’t realize he needed a Ginshu knife. The ABB crowd will buy it regardless, and if they sweep him into office, then hopefully Kerry’s sensibilities will regroup, allowing him to realize that promising the world was only a figure of speech.

Bill Rinner is a junior economics major studying abroad at the London School of Economics. He strongly recommends the book, In Defense of Globalization, by Jagdish Bhagwati to anyone wishing to explore the topic with an entertaining read. His column appears every other Friday, and he can be reached at wrinner@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.