Monday, May 02, 2005

Kerry Back, In Fighting Mood

In The Northwest: Kerry's back and, he tells the P-I, in 'fighting mood'


After the letdown of a losing campaign, presidential candidates of recent vintage have been known to act a little weird and become reclusive as the wounds very slowly heal.

Al Gore grew a beard and disappeared into Europe. Bob Dole became a TV pitchman for Viagra and Pepsi. George McGovern took his wife on a period of self-exile in England. Michael Dukakis left public life and taught at the University of Hawaii.

John Kerry, by contrast, is back in the breach.

He's engaged on multiple fronts, delivering up salty opinions and traveling the country in a self-described "fighting mood."

"I told people I was not in this for the short term. ... We came close. We have nothing to hang our heads about: We received 10 million more votes than Bill Clinton when he won in 1996," Kerry said in an interview last night. "The fight goes on. It is as simple as that."

Kerry is trying to breach the national media's slumbering indifference to the fact that 47 million Americans -- a quarter of them children -- lack any form of health insurance.

The only kids whose health has lately received any TV network airtime are former guests at Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch and little girls slain by sex predators in Florida.

"It's pretty sad," Kerry said. "We're going around the country doing grass-roots organizing. We're going around the national media, which doesn't notice until something happens."

At a town-hall forum this morning, Kerry will advance a plan under which the federal government would take over Medicaid for kids in families up to 100 percent of the poverty level.

The federal poverty threshold in 2004 was $18,850 for a family of four in the 48 contiguous states and Washington, D.C. It is higher in Hawaii and Alaska.

In turn, states would agree to cover children in families up to 300 percent of the poverty threshold. Kerry says that would actually lessen burdens on states, while covering an additional 130,000 children in this state.

How to pay for it? Kerry would cancel the next round of Bush administration tax cuts for people earning more than $300,000 a year.

He has taken the plan to Minneapolis and Seattle, "blue state" Democratic strongholds, but is planning a town hall in Baton Rouge, La.

"We're going into the 'red states' with this," said Kerry, referring to states carried by President Bush in November. "If we don't do the missionary work, the job can't get done. I love going into an area where people have doubts and addressing them."

A lot of people -- including dissatisfied Democrats -- believe Kerry didn't do a very good job of that in last fall's campaign.

The Massachusetts senator was faulted, in particular, for a slow response when front groups aligned with the Bush campaign launched a smear campaign against his Vietnam War record.

Kerry's take on the 2004 returns is simple: Running as a wartime president, Bush won the election by convincing an apprehensive country that he was the better warrior.

"They really scared people," he said last night. "They played to fear. They didn't play to hope."

He cites as a turning point the Osama bin Laden tape that surfaced in the closing week of the campaign. "Our polls changed that day," he recalled. "It froze the election, which had been moving in our direction every single day."

Kerry is anything but stiff and formal on certain subjects.

He describes as "a disgrace" the Bush administration's treatment of veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He contrasts cuts in veterans programs with the generous GI Bill of Rights signed into law by Franklin D. Roosevelt two weeks after D-Day in World War II.

"Bush's response is to charge veterans $250 more to get into VA health, to shut down veterans hospitals and to reduce benefits," Kerry said. He has fought, alongside Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., for such measures as allowing a military widow to live on base for a full year after her spouse's death.

"These are the sorts of things the administration should be doing on its own," he argued. "They talk tough. They talk about sacrifice. They don't back it up."

Kerry is equally scathing on the dig-it, drill-it energy bill passed by the House. The legislation is pending in the Senate.

"The energy bill is an insult to common sense and to our priorities: 95 percent of this bill's tax credits go to the oil and gas industry," he said.

Kerry says Democrats need to take another issue to the country -- the urgent need to develop new energy sources and to wean the American motorist away from gas-guzzling automobiles.

He wants tax credits for the auto industry to retool to make more energy-efficient cars and for industry as a whole to find new energy sources. The United States depends on imports for 58 percent of its oil supply.

"It's about our economy; it's about our health, and it's national security," Kerry said. "Let's do it now!"

Why hasn't the Bush administration acted? "I think these people are extremists, it's very simple," he said.

In fields ranging from energy to ethics to curbing Senate debate, he argued, Republican rulers in the nation's capital are "crossing lines never before crossed in Washington, D.C."

Is Kerry running again? "Not now, too early," he replied.

Democrats are looking elsewhere, particularly to Sen. Hillary Clinton. Organizers of Kerry's 2004 campaign in Washington state -- which outfought Howard Dean in this "Deaniac" hotbed -- are feeling neglected.

It's the Republicans who usually nominate candidates who've been around and around the track before. They've put Bushes on the national ticket in six of the last seven elections.

Kerry is still reporting for duty, however. He exudes the feeling of a man on a mission that is not yet done.

P-I columnist Joel Connelly can be reached at 206-448-8160 or


Post a Comment

<< Home