October 11, 2004

Kerry's scarlet letter

Robert Novak on the second Bush/Kerry debate:

George W. Bush pulled himself together sufficiently in St. Louis Friday night to avoid losing the presidency to John Kerry on debater's points, and got down to his foremost task. The Republican president concentrated on imprinting the scarlet letter "L" (for liberal) on his Democratic challenger's chest. Whether or not he succeeds may determine who is elected.

It seems like a lifetime since July 1991 when Sen. Kerry declared: "I'm a liberal, and proud of it." Thirteen years later, the L-word is forbidden language for Kerry. He is attempting what only Bill Clinton among recent Democratic candidates has accomplished: covering left-of-center policies with a facade of moderation. Kerry, less skilled than Clinton as a political dancer, is burdened with a 30-year record of nearly unbroken liberal votes.

What bothered Republican leaders nationwide about President Bush's performance in the first debate at Coral Gables, Fla., was not so much his bizarre body language as his failure to press the liberal label on Kerry. Bush was ready in St. Louis, with the line used 60 years ago by heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis about challengers retreating from his lethal fists: "He can run, but he can't hide" -- referring to Kerry's desire to escape his voting record.