Sure, you've been saying these past months, it's easy to kick Bush around, to spout tens, hundreds, thousands of reasons why we shouldn't vote for him. But, you say, perhaps you should tell us why we should vote for John Kerry.
Okay, this is another long one:
John Kerry appears to be a thoughtful man. That is not to say he's polite, and uses frequent "pleases" and "thank-yous" (though I'm sure that is the case). What I mean to say is that, when presented with a problem, he pursues information about that problem and, based upon available information, he determines a best course of action. When not enough info is available, he delays decision while he (or his aides) investigate further. What's more, after having made a decision, he continues to review incoming relevant information, and is not afraid to re-shape his decision based upon this new information. That is, it is more important for him to be as right as he can be, given all the information, than to have been right in the first place.
What's more, Kerry is capable of complex consideration, of weighing the various shades of gray of an issue and attempting to find the best possible of many sometimes undesirable solutions. Take, for example, Kerry's voting on the $87 billion supplemental budget grant for the war in Iraq. Kerry voted in favor of a version of the bill which granted the $87 billion, but required congress to find a way to pay for it from the current fiscal budget, partially by rolling back much of the top-tier of Bush's vaunted tax cuts. He agreed the funds were necessary for a successful prosecution of the war, and he also believed that, since the congress and administration had committed us to war, it was their responsibility to find a way to finance it. That version of the bill was scrapped. A subsequent version granted the same amount of funds, but, instead of planning to pay for it in the short term, this second version of the bill simply added it to the deficit, leaving it's payment to future generations. That refusal of responsibility, coupled with a realization that there was to be little or no oversight in the spending of the $87 billion, cause Kerry to vote against this second version, despite the fact he believed the money was necessary. It was a vote of futility -- the bill was guaranteed to pass -- but it was a vote of conscience against those who would wage war without consideration for who would pay the inherent costs.
That is the kind of reasoned thinking I was raised to respect. It's the way my Ma and Pa (as much as humans raising four smartass kids can) thought, it's the way my most respected instructors in high school and college thought. I was raised to respect intelligent, thoughtful reasoning, and I do.
Not everyone does. Hence the idea of Kerry the "Flip-Flopper." There are lots of folks who look at Kerry and say, "he doesn't stick to his decisions." They see him vote for giving Bush the power to go to war (a vote with which I disagree, but understand and respect the motive), then against the $87 billion, and think "the guy wanted to go to war, now he doesn't want to pay for it," which is exactly the opposite of the truth. Kerry did not want to go to war, but he wanted the President to be empowered with the ultimate bargaining chip. Kerry wanted the President to use diplomacy to further contain Iraq, and to force Iraq to accept weapons inspectors (which, ultimately, they did, though the inspectors were not given time enough to complete their jobs) to confirm the disposal of the 1980's and 1990's WMD. But in order to do that, Bush had to be able to threaten force -- the vote made such threats credible. And, as a last resort, if our allies supported us and if it seemed clear Sadaam was empowered with destructive weapons, and if there were no other available options, Kerry agreed war would be necessary. Then, having not wanted the war, once we were in it, he did want to pay for it. He wanted the military to have that $87 billion, and was willing to do the hard work to figure out how to pay for it. It was the administration who wanted to go to war (and did), and the administration who wanted the $87 billion, but did not want to pay for it (which is exactly what happened -- instead of creating a plan to pay for the war sooner rather than later, congress and the administration opted to let future generations pay for our war of choice, figuratively and literally).
Ultimately, the only difference between "a thoughtful, intelligent man" and "a flip-flopper" is perception. If you respect reasoned judgement and intellectual flexibility, you must respect Kerry's thoughtfulness. If you respect stubbornness, sticking to a decision even if it turns out to be wrong, and an insistence on painting every issue in black and white simplicity, despite the complexities of that issue, you'll think him a flip-flopper.
Kerry can separate personal belief from the greater public good. That is, Kerry respects an individual's right to determine his or her own values and morality. No issue better characterizes this ability than abortion. Kerry is personally, for religious reasons, against abortion -- he would not consider abortion as an option for himself or his family, because his Catholic faith does not allow it. That said, he understands that his religious belief is not everyone's and, what's more, that every citizen of this country has the right to determine his or her own religious beliefs. This ability to separate his own faith from the greater good of the self-determination of the American people is an exercise of great personal strength. It is a great human who can hold his or her personal spiritual convictions, which can be stark and zealous, and yet recognize the right of others to do the same, even if their beliefs are in direct opposition to his. Our current president does not have this capacity -- his religious convictions, in his mind, should be shared by everyone. Hence, his campaigns against Abortion and Gay Marriage. These things offend his religious sensibilities, so he wants to make them illegal. Not so with Kerry. Kerry is a religious president we can all live with -- one who has deep faith, but does not force his version of good and evil on the rest of us.
Kerry has plans to try to fix some of what I think is broken in this country, and I think his plans are better than Bush's. His plans for healthcare, the economy, the environment and national security make more sense to me than Bush's plans. His healthcare plan is not perfect: I'm for universal, single-payer healthcare and industry regulation. But it's better than Bush's. His environmental plan is not perfect: his pollution reduction plans are not as aggressive as I'd like, I'd like to see a bigger investment in existing clean energy technologies, and he's still too conciliatory to the fossil fuel industry. But it's a start. And it's better than Bush's. His plan for the economy is not perfect: I'm skeptical he can find a way to pay for all he wants to do. But he's pledged to try a number of new tactics to right our economy, and not to enact a proposal unless he can show how to pay for it. That's a helluva lot better than Bush's plan. And his security plans are not perfect: I think any plan for true national security must include a plan to address worldwide poverty and oppression, which goes far beyond the power of one man, even if that man is the President of the United States. But part of Kerry's plan is a renewed effort to work with other nations toward peace (a real peace, not just Bush's proposed "do what we want and we won't bomb you" shake-down peace), which is certainly better than Bush's.
There it stands. As I see it, this election is not "about the economy, stupid," it's about ideology. If you value stubbornness and feel it is foolish to admit error, if you believe that America should be ruled by a literal biblical christian morality, if you feel that you want a return to a 1950s social order, and if you think they rest of the world can fuck themselves if they don't like what we do, 'cause we've got the most powerful military in the world, you'll be for George W. Bush. But, if you value careful thought, if you value respect for individual rights, if you value progressive steps in the well-being of American society and, indeed, world society, with some careful research you'll find you want to vote for Kerry.
I know I do.