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We recommend ... president of the United States: John Kerry.

When the Herald recommended the election of George W. Bush as president of the United States four years ago, we lauded his record in Texas as a consensus builder and expressed confidence in his ability to unite the country after four years of bitter partisanship. We liked his slogan, "A uniter, not a divider," and criticized opponent A1 Gore's role as point man for Democrats' mean-spiritedness.

How poorly we understood George W. Bush in 2000. We could not imagine the possibility that, just four years later, Bush would have done just what we feared of Gore--that the United States would barely be on speaking terms with some of its staunchest allies, and that America would be reviled around the world as a bullying, imperialist superpower.

How far we have fallen from the bright fiscal forecast in 2000, with surpluses that offered the promise of debt paydown now replaced with a staggering $500 billion annual deficit and the national debt projected to exceed $9 trillion by 2010.

As for Bush being a uniter, sadly, the nation is more polarized than it has been since the 1960s. Bush's administration is notable for its lack of transparency, its intolerance of dissent, its refusal to admit mistakes. Under Bush's leadership and Republican control, Congress has become a mean-spirited, partisan body where the vice president is praised for cursing an opposition senator on the Senate floor. The "compassionate conservative" president has people at outdoor rallies arrested for hoisting an opposition sign.

After 9/11: Hope

But all of this is overshadowed by the two most significant issues in this campaign: the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism. In both, Bush has failed as well--to our country's great peril. There were promising signs in the dark days following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that Bush would fulfill his potential. Indeed, though he had already begun to stray from promises to protect the environment and practice fiscal responsibility, all was forgotten in his inspired response to the shock and grief of the 9/11 attacks. He truly acted like a uniter in those months, rallying the nation in a righteous offensive against those responsible and an effort to win world support to defeat international terrorism.

Had he continued on that course, he would be riding to a second term on a wave of national adulation. But sometime in 2002, Bush's obsession with Iraq began to surface, and the country has suffered ever since. Rushing into a war on false pretenses, without wide international backing, without adequate forces and with no plan for securing the peace, Bush has embroiled this country in a quagmire that is every bit as grave as was Vietnam. Even as Iraq moves closer to anarchy, the president is in a state of denial. His rosy assessments of progress are mocked by the rising toll of American casualties, the savage beheading of American citizens and the virtual siege of the country by enemy forces. Bush's defense of this chaos--"Winning the peace is hard work"--is a pathetic defense of such incompetence.

A needed change

And so we come to John Kerry. We believe the Democratic nominee offers America a clear choice for a badly needed change in direction.

Kerry brings to the job of president more than 20 years of Senate leadership, a personal knowledge of war and hope for a new approach to end the Iraqi nightmare and address the nation's domestic problems.

Kerry makes those high priorities. He offers a solid plan for making health care more affordable to more citizens, for dealing with the deficit, for preserving the future of Social Security and Medicare, for raising education standards, for stopping the drain of jobs overseas and for encouraging economic growth. On these fronts Bush also appears to be in denial, painting rosy scenarios to people deeply worried about their jobs.

The Bush campaign has sought to smear Kerry at every turn, engaging in the most despicable campaign tactics to demean his honorable war service and twist his legislative record. It is so easy to lump Kerry's principled votes on key legislation as "flip-flopping"--but without adding the context of those votes is simply dishonest. It is the height of hypocrisy for Bush to attack Kerry as a flip-flopper when Bush has broken so many promises and contradicted himself so many times.

No mixed-signal fears

We acknowledge the concerns that many have at changing leaders in the middle of a war. But we do not agree that it represents a mixed signal to our enemies. Rather, it represents hope for a change in pursuit of the war that might ameliorate the situation. We can expect no silver bullet from Kerry that will bring our forces home in victory by next summer. What Kerry can do is try to gain international support for the effort to train and equip Iraqis to take over. We think Kerry's fresh slate will ease animosity stirred by Bush's demeaning treatment of leaders who disagreed with him. At the same time, Kerry's promise to boost U.S. forces by 40,000 and to put more Special Forces units into the pursuit of terrorists, including bin Laden, should boost our chances at restoring security in Iraq.

Bush has made the war on terror the centerpiece of his campaign, using it to frighten Americans into thinking a change now would weaken the country's resolve to aggressively pursue terrorists. But this premise is built chiefly on twisting Kerry's words. The senator has stated unequivocally he would pursue and capture or kill terrorists wherever they try to hide. Moreover, he has promised to do far more to secure this country against a repeat terrorist attack, including beefed-up border security and more intensive screening of freight at ports and airports--huge gaps that Bush has largely ignored.

Remember, 9/11 occurred on Bush's watch and has been characterized as the biggest intelligence failure in American history. Yet not a single person responsible for that failure has been fired, and Bush cannot think of a single mistake he might have made.

The Herald Editorial Board's recommendation of Kerry was a difficult decision, and it was not unanimous. It comes with the stipulation that Kerry stick to his promises to support our troops, to secure the homeland, to protect the middle class from tax increases while reining in federal spending, to choose open-minded Supreme Court nominees if vacancies occur, and to strengthen the economy and protect the job base. Certainly there is a degree of risk in choosing one who is untried. But then, we face that uncertainty with every first-term president. At least we have the benefit of four years of Bush's administration to help us make the choice. It comes down to this simple question famously asked by Ronald Reagan in 1980: Are you better off today than you were four years ago?

The answer, clearly, is no. Ultimately, that is why we recommend John Kerry as president of the United States in the Nov. 2 election.

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Title Annotation:Bradenton Herald
Publication:The Masthead
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2005
Previous Article:Readers say they just want the facts, but do they?
Next Article:A blue state newspaper endorses George Bush.

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