the choice 2004 [home]
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what's at stake?

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What will John Kerry and President Bush do differently, domestically and internationally, if they are elected president on November 2nd? Here are the views of New Yorker political correspondent Nicholas Lemann, former Secretary of State George Shultz, former Kerry campaign adviser Dan Payne, Senator Edward Kennedy, Hoover Institute fellow Michael Boskin, Bush communications adviser Karen Hughes, Senator Joseph Biden and Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. These excerpts are drawn from their interviews conducted for "The Choice 2004."


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nicholas lemann
Political correspondent to The New Yorker

…When you were talking about how President Bush wants to be transformative, and he's ambitious and wants to do big things, I think the same could be said of John Kerry. Here they are, two members of the same generation,with very different visions, representing very different parts of America. ... Is that what makes this election, underneath it all? Why do people say this election is the most important?

This is an interesting election. I mean, if you were a Martian landing on earth, you might say, "Oh, I get it, they just took the same guy, cut him in half, and he's running against himself." So one thing you could say about this election, or that's striking about this election, is the similarity of the candidates, at least in their backgrounds and life stories.

They went to the same college at the same time. They both come from prominent families in the Northeast -- one in Massachusetts, one in Connecticut. They both have this sort of patrician background. They both are raised in an atmosphere that values public service. They both are shaped by Vietnam. They're both are very early attracted to, almost obsessed by, politics. So in that sense, it's just a question of, which of these two ambitious patricians gets to be in charge of the federal government?

On the other hand, they come out of a really severe split within the little world they grew up in. As a result, they represent very different policies for the United States government. I do think it'll make a really big difference which of the two is elected president.

In foreign policy it looks, at this moment, as if President Bush has kind of pushed preemptive war doctrine as far as he can push it. But as I said, I have underestimated his ambition and drive and chutzpa before. So it may be that he'll invoke that doctrine again, and really try to establish a dominant American presence in the Middle East by changing the regimes in various countries in that region.

Kerry will certainly not do that. Bush will, again in foreign policy, almost certainly continue his kind of pulling back from so-called international community -- from treaties, and from the United Nations, and so on. Kerry, almost certainly, will try to get the United States in closer sync with the international community.

So in foreign policy, the only real question is, "How chastened is President Bush by the aftermath of the Iraq war being as bad as it's been?" If he is very chastened and likely to do less, then there is less difference between the two candidates. But on the other hand, those who thought President Bush would do less so far have always been wrong, including me. So don't be so sure that in the second term, if there is a second term, he won't go right back at it in the Middle East, and try to get regime change in several other countries. ...

Is this really about anything [other] than foreign policy?

Yes, it is. Domestically, what's really important is you're going to get right into the heart of where politics meets policy, and you can say, "Look, why is there, in political terms, a Democratic Party? What does the Democratic Party do for people that makes them loyal to it?" A lot of the Democratic Party is government employees at various levels. If President Bush is reelected, I think he will relentlessly try to shrink the size of government by cutting taxes primarily, or in part, so that there just will be fewer people who work for government. Because as soon as somebody leaves the government payroll, they're more likely to be a Republican.

There'll be a big push to replace the current Social Security and Medicare systems -- the two biggest and most important federal programs people don't think about that much, they take [them] for granted -- but programs that function much more like individual accounts.

The government will give you an individual medical account that you invest in the stock market, or an Individual Retirement Account that you invest in the stock market. That means, in the Republican calculation, you won't look to the federal government as the guarantor of your health care and retirement. That will tremendously weaken the Democratic Party.

Then you look at the major funding sources of the Democratic Party, particularly trial lawyers and labor unions. President Bush will try to do things that will weaken the whole of those entities, put less money in the hands of trial lawyers through tort reform, decrease the membership and political power of labor unions.

As president, John Kerry will do the opposite. Really, ever since 1948, Democrats have seen that health care for them is the next Social Security, and they've never quite gotten there. It's a big, unmet need in the country, because the health care system is so screwed up and there are so many people who don't have health insurance or access to good care. So it's a thing you can do for people, but it's also a tremendous way to build the Democratic Party. If you say to millions of people, "The Democratic Party brought you health care when you didn't have it before," that's the most fundamental thing -- it's life itself. That's what Clinton tried to do and failed.

I feel almost certain that, as president, Kerry's biggest initiative would be in the area of really trying to expand government-provided health care, partly to expand health care, and partly to expand government and solidify the bond of the Democratic Party with its voters.

So this growing and shrinking government stuff sounds very abstract to people, but it's really important, and it's the lifeblood of politics, because the bigger government is, the better it is for the Democratic Party; the smaller it is, the better it is for the Republican Party.

The ways in which government shrinks and grows alternatively matter to you. They're not just abstract irrelevant things that start happening to other people, especially since a lot of the small parts of government have been cut and we're really down to the fundamental, big things that really matter to people. They're in play, and they're going to change a lot under either presidency. …


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dan payne
Adviser on several past Kerry campaigns.

...I think it's a choice between two directions for the country. Bush's direction is almost traditionalist. It's kind of a Norman Rockwell view of our country. He likes to talk about small town America and simpler times. I mean, some of it is very Reaganesque. It has the feel almost of an old movie. A black and white movie.

And Kerry is much more on the other end of the time continuum. He's somebody who wants to look at what are the possibilities. What do we have to do here to be better, to be greater. To be more capable of dealing with the world as we find it. And not retreat, but really just keep pushing out. I think the problem for both of them right now -- in enforcing their view of what America is or should be -- is that they have this overarching problem called Iraq. Which could just break apart their candidacies and could really play havoc with the election. I don't think, frankly, it can break Bush's way. What Bush can hope for is that the damage to him is minimal. …

George Shultz
Secretary of state in the Reagan administration and elder statesman of the Republican Party.

...In the choice that we face in this election year, what's at stake here as you see it?

Well, I have to see where Senator Kerry comes out. Right now, it's hard to know just where he stands on the subject of the war on terrorism. I think it's a defining issue for this generation because it is a very serious threat, and I think it has to be taken on squarely. And there's no doubt about the fact that the United States has to be ready to take forceful action under some circumstances. And he varies back and forth. It's hard for me to read where he comes out. But if he is soft on the subject, then that's a big issue. If he becomes tough on the subject, then there isn't that issue. On the other hand, I don't know how he's going to separate himself from the president.

On the economic side, he's shifting. He doesn't want to be seen as the person who wants to raise your taxes. At the same time, somehow he's critical of the president's deficits. It's the tax cuts, in my judgment, and the work of the Federal Reserve that have stopped what might call a Clinton recession from going too deep and getting us now on a path of a very strong recovery, one with very strong productivity gains. And so I think Senator Kerry is dancing around that.

But, I believe that President Bush is on the right side of those two big issues. And we'll just see where Senator Kerry is. But I think those are the two big issues in the campaign. ...

Michael Boskin
Senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.

…I believe that if George W. Bush is elected, we have a better chance of maintaining a flexible, dynamic economy that will maximize our ability to grow the economy. To create better jobs. More jobs. And maintain the strong advantage Americans have in their standard of living over-- other societies and other economies.

I'm concerned that more spending, higher taxes, more regulation, much restricted trade, which are all things that might happen -- you can argue what parts of Senator Kerry's program or his pronouncements would actually wind up becoming policy and law when he became president. But there certainly should be a concern that those are the types of things that would lead us more toward the types of economy they have in Europe.

And I think preventing us from doing that, which started with President Reagan, is a very large part of the reason we have been so much more successful in the last quarter century than the Europeans and the Japanese. We have a more modest role of government. We have a more modest tax burden. We have regulation but it's not as overbearing. We don't have government bureaucrats trying to micro-manage all of our businesses. We understand that it's private workers, private firms, private managers, private business people, private entrepreneurs, that take chances and create new products. Create new industries. Expand the economic pie.

And we all have a tremendous societal interest in having that basic underpinning that is so necessary for the private sector of the economy to grow and to prosper and to continue. And that's what concerns me. You know, only time will tell -- when either one of these persons gets elected and tries to enact a series of policies in 2005 and beyond -- what will happen. But I think that the types of things that President Bush has proposed, has enacted and stands for, is much closer to the mainstream of what makes a healthy market economy thrive. …

Senator Joseph Biden
(D., Delaware)

…This is the single most important presidential election in my lifetime. What we're going to determine here is whether or not we go it alone in the world, essentially for the next couple decades. Whether or not we continue on a road towards the tax policy and deficits the way we have. Every major debate about the role of government and America's role in the world is up for grabs here. And whomever gets elected president, and what actions they put into play over the next four years are going to set the predicate for what the next two or three presidents have to deal with. They will not be able to be turned around.

Let me give you a case in point. Assume we continue on this failed approach on Iraq. What is going to happen if we end up with an unstable government in Iraq two years from now, where Iraq is another Lebanon? We can't say, "You know, I'm going to take back those policy mistakes we made before. And by the way, NATO, and Russia, and China, we want to redefine this relationship now. We want you in here more, doing more." What do you think the chances of that happening are? What do you think the chances are of any moderates in the Arab world, anywhere, raising their head in the next ten years.

But how is John Kerry going to get us out of that?

John Kerry will get us out of this mess. It's going to be very difficult. President Bush's judgmental mistakes about how to proceed in Iraq have raised the bar for success about two feet. … When John Kerry gets elected president, he's going to have to do two things. But I think the American public and the world -- we're prepared to handle it. He's going to have to ask much more of the American people, and much more of the world. …

Karen Hughes
Communications adviser to President Bush.

…I believe that there has never been a presidential election in my lifetime where the stakes were higher or the choice clearer. There's a very fundamental difference in philosophy and approach. You have in Senator Kerry and Senator Edwards two of the most liberal members of the United States Senate, with the most liberal voting records. The two of them have an even more liberal voting record than does the icon of liberalism in America, Senator Ted Kennedy.

And you just have a very different view of an approach to governing. On the one hand, whether government should tax you more -- take more of your money and make more of your choices for you and put together a government health care plan or a big government system as opposed to a philosophy that seeks to empower individuals -- to help those who cannot help themselves, but to give individuals more power to make choices, more access to choose-- for a mom to choose the place she wants to send her child for childcare, for a mom to be able to choose the kind of health care plan she wants for herself that meets her family's needs. So, you have a clear difference in philosophy about governing.

And you also have a clear difference in the philosophy about winning the war on terror and waging the war on terror. I believe fundamentally, as a working mom myself [that] when moms go to vote at the polls this November, they're going to vote based fundamentally on the candidate they believe will keep their family safer.

Because we live in a time of threat unlike anything we've felt. People ask me, "What's at stake in this election?" I think freedom's at stake in this election. I think the world is relying on the leadership of the United States of America to stand up and make hard choices and to take on this threat to all of our countries and to all of civilization that exists in this global terror network.


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grover norquist
President of Americans for Tax Reform.

If Bush wins, it will speed up all of the trends that are problematic for the Democrats: the de-funding of the trial lawyers through tort reform; the de-funding of labor unions through just allowing them to continue to reduce in size, power and scope. Bush's winning doesn't have anything to do with this. But over time, the older Democrats continue to move on. Also, younger Republicans, the 21-year-olds coming up, will look up and a successful Bush administration [will] create young Republicans that'll start voting in five, 10, and 15 years on a regular basis.

Should Kerry win, he could come in and stop any tort reforms, so the trial lawyers can continue to make money. He will try and change the rules by executive order to force people into unionization, paying $500 per person for the right to work, with card check as a way to avoid actual elections in various labor drives.

So there are a number of problems that Kerry can arrest their deterioration. Although when you think about it, Clinton did not arrest the deterioration of the Democratic Party except by his aggressive outreach to some immigrant groups. That was important in helping the Democratic Party.

Senator Edward Kennedy
(D., Massachusetts)

In my life, and I say this going back for 42 years, nothing [in] any election's been more important. It's the absolute catastrophic, disastrous foreign policy that we have had. The complete fall from grace of the United States internationally. And wallowing in a quagmire in Iraq.

And here at home, we have seen the mismanagement of the economy, in a way that has brought such enormous kinds of pressure, tension, anxiety, and real loss of hope among struggling middle class Americans. Who are playing by the rules, working hard, want to educate their children, want some decent healthcare, want to look at future with hope, and want to believe that America economy can work for them rather than the special interest.

This is an administration of special interests. All the way through. And the American people are tired of it. Want change. John Kerry's the man to give it to 'em.

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posted oct. 12, 2004

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