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Kerry's campaign theme: Bash Bush all the time

WITH EACH passing week John Kerry comes more clearly into focus. From his standpoint, however, that's not a particu-
larly good thing. Kerry reaped a tremendous benefit from the decision by Democratic Party bosses to shorten the nominating process this year. Kerry bought quick victories in Iowa and New Hampshire (a gift from all of us who walked out of the market with a bottle of ketchup for our freedom fries) and by the time the momentum wore off, the race was virtually over. Now that Kerry is finally doing better in the polls (that is, now that President Bush is finally paying a price for putting Mr. Arrogance in charge of the war), the senator can only wish the campaign would hurry up and get over with.

But on it goes. And so in the past week Kerry has found himself blaming the president for high gasoline prices (the president was at fault, Kerry said, because he refuses to tap into the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve). So the senator is for lower prices at the pump, even if it means draining reserves that were specifically set aside to protect against national emergencies?

Well, not exactly. As the White House quickly pointed out, Kerry voted to increase gasoline taxes which, of course, would increase, not decrease, the price at the pump. In other words, it's OK to pay higher prices for gasoline so long as the money is going for higher taxes, not national security. Uh-huh. The campaign can't end too soon, can it?

Leaving children behind
Both Kerry and the president were in Topeka last week to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision declaring school segregation unconstitutional. In all of American history, few court decisions equal that one in terms of bringing the practice of daily life into compliance with the spirit and promise of the Constitution. The president, in keeping with the importance of the moment being commemorated, took a break from politics: he spoke for all Americans in decrying the nation's long history of slavery and segregation. Kerry, of course, also decried those dark moments of our national past, but Kerry is not one to let a political moment slip by. So while the president stuck to attacking racism, Kerry attacked the president.

What Kerry did was to accuse the president, as he so often does, of not providing a sufficient amount of money to fund Bush's "No Child Left Behind" initiative. One would think that after so many years in the Congress, the senator would understand that presidents don't actually have the constitutional authority to appropriate any money; only the Congress can do that.

Know of any member of Congress who might be willing to take up the cause? Well, it turns out that Kerry hasn't introduced any legislation, nor any amendments to appropriations bills, to increase the funding for the program. In fact, when Kerry's fellow Democrats were in charge of the Appropriations Committee during calendar year 2002, and appropriated less than had actually been authorized, Kerry didn't make a peep. Since then, Senate Democrats have tried four separate times (three times in 2003; once this year) to increase the amount of funding for "No Child Left Behind"; Kerry was absent for all four votes.

According to the Congressional Quarterly (CQ Weekly, April 24, 2003) "(O)n education . . . Kerry has a thin record." Thin, indeed. Open mouth, John; insert foot.

Word is that Kerry has settled on at least two Cabinet members: Kofi Annan at State; Dominique de Villepin at Defense. So far, however, it's all hush-hush.

There is no mention of polls in this week's column. Polls, we all know, are notoriously unreliable. Nonetheless, fellow Republicans are blaming me for what happened after I wrote last week's column. No sooner had I sent off my copy, noting the widespread consternation in Democratic circles over Kerry's failure to make any headway in the polls, then new polls came out.

I had written about the fact that even as Bush slipped, Kerry slipped even more. By the time you actually read those words, Kerry had stopped slipping and had pulled ahead in some of those so-called "battleground states." Perhaps if I hadn't said anything . . .

Mickey Edwards, a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, teaches at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International affairs. His column appears regularly in the Globe. 

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