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Who is John Kerry? The Issues

Justin Williams



The United States has used its powerful position to combat the problem of terrorism by declaring war on terrorist groups and nations suspected of aiding these groups and threatening the US. At home, Americans will be voting in a Presidential election in November. It’s no surprise then that issues of global and domestic security are currently forefront in the minds of potential voters. Despite this, the election will not only be decided on these issues. This second article will look at Democratic candidate John Kerry’s policy positions (including Senate voting) on a range of key issues imperative to the early campaign.
In the US media, Kerry’s war record has received a massive amount of attention. As mentioned last time, he gave great service to his country in the Vietnam War. On returning he became a major anti-war activist. This fact has taken some of the gloss off that record but hasn’t adversely affected his poll results. Over 20 years of public service has moderated him somewhat on the subject of war. His current stance is one of support for American initiated wars. Although he didn’t support the first Gulf War, he did the second. Any attitude changes towards the war on Iraq are criticisms of US intelligence and their consequences rather the logic of intervening. A theme running through Kerry’s policies is vagueness and you have to ask yourself if he is the best man to challenge George Bush. This pattern of vagueness could be attributed to many modern Presidential candidates because in the initial stages at least they don’t have to be comprehensible. Many Americans will not bother to vote come November, let alone take an avid interest in policies.
Let’s start with some pertinent social issues. Kerry opposes the death penalty in all but terrorist cases. The loosening of that policy for terrorism does create a grey area, but it’s a sensible political tactic. On the subject of civil unions, Kerry is ambiguous as he once voted in the Senate in support for civil union yet is opposed to gay marriage. Recently, he said a Kerry administration might press on with a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. So far, two big social issues, health and education, have been left behind in the early campaign. Kerry was supportive and voted for the “No Child Left Behind Act” to boost education resources and funding. The Bush government controversially vetoed this in order to fund military spending. Finally, Kerry has showed a desire to increase social spending overall with particular emphasis on job creation, healthcare and education. A recent poll showed Kerry’s push to create jobs was having a positive effect on potential voters.
When Bill Clinton won the 1992 Presidential Election he did so with the economy as his major campaign pitch. As back then, the US economy is struggling in heavy debt and Kerry must make this a major issue to increase his chances of victory. In order to pay for social spending, he must get the economy moving. He proposes a return to Clinton’s plan to have the deficit halved in four years and he voted against a measure to prioritise tax cuts over debt reduction. Although he proposes debt reduction he will retain tax cuts for middle/lower income earners. In fact, the idea of raising tax for the highest earners hasn’t been discussed suggesting a potential conflict between expenditure and revenue gathered. Kerry’s sentiment on this was well summed up last year when he said, “We want to create jobs now by giving a middle-class tax cut, by restoring confidence in our economy with fiscal responsibility and putting Americans back to work now”. He also wants to set minimum wage increases in line with inflation if he gets in office.
Under the Bush government, the US has either reneged on many international commitments or completely ignored them. On the question of the Kyoto Protocol, Kerry has been generally silent, though he has favoured US ratification before. He believes in a policy of democratic internationalism, meaning a greater role for the UN and NATO in international affairs, and a renewed commitment to recognising these institutions close behind national interests. From his voting record, Kerry is big on free trade showing support for a global free trade system and trade relations with China. This is tempered slightly by his support for tougher labour and environmental standards around the world.
Security and foreign policy last: his policy on war is based on gaining the important “disillusioned with war’’ vote that is crossing political affiliation while maintaining the war against terrorism. He supports a greater involvement from the UN in the Iraq reconstruction while stating that the US has the right to launch a pre-emptive strike when in direct danger. Kerry also supports a greater US involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict although it’s unclear whether he would vote for a Palestinian state. On the issue of destructive weapons, Kerry has been an ambivalent supporter of removing weapons. He supports a complete halt to building new nuclear weapons yet opposes destroying current stocks. On terrorism, Kerry has expressed support for the death penalty for Osama Bin Laden if he’s captured and has suggested an increase in military personnel in the Middle East. Whether Kerry will review the nation’s intelligence network is a debatable point.
This was a look at the politics of John Kerry with particular emphasis on issues that have a greater interest for New Zealanders and what matters in the US Presidential election from our perspective. At this stage, John Kerry’s chances of victory hinge on his appreciation of the security needs of the population and convincing people he is the man to sort out the nation’s economy.