Why the Old Labels Don't Stick

Sullivan, Andrew
November 2004
Time;11/1/2004, Vol. 164 Issue 18, p51
This commentary discusses how, in the 2004 presidential race between George W. Bush and John Kerry, it is difficult to determine which candidate is the liberal and which is the conservative, based on their policies. You think there's too little federal control over education? Vote Bush. Want to expand health-care coverage primarily through the private sector? Vote Kerry. Confused yet? You're not the only one. For conservatives there's plenty to worry about in Bush's record. By any measure, the government is bigger, more powerful and more intrusive than when he found it. Domestic spending has gone up at a greater rate than under any other President since Lyndon Johnson. The President hasn't found a single spending bill he wanted to veto. And he cannot even blame Congress. His own party controls all of it. In foreign policy, conservatives have long tended to be realists, acting only in response to hard-faced national interest,exercising prudence and caution, only reluctantly intervening in other countries' affairs. In office, however, spurred by 9/11, Bush has become a Kennedy-style Democrat, trying to turn two violence-wracked countries, Iraq and Afghanistan, into democracies by military force. Liberals have a few worries of their own when it comes to Kerry. He vows to continue a war in Iraq that many of them opposed. He's against gay marriage and says he will cut any new spending programs if necessary to balance the budget. In foreign policy Kerry also strikes a traditionalist tone that is not out of place among old-school, Powell-style Republicans. The question we face in this election is therefore a truly befuddling one: In a world in crisis, is there a greater risk in Bush's radicalism or Kerry's conservatism? And what do right and left mean anymore, anyway?


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