Jonathan Chait defends Kerry in The New Republic. After dealing with the Cuba embargo, the the war resolution, and other issues where Kerry has been said to have changed his position, Chait writes, “The rest of the Bush campaign’s list of supposed Kerry flip-flops is simply phony. He voted for the No Child Left Behind Act but castigated Bush for failing to deliver the promised funds. He voted to develop missile defenses but opposed deploying them immediately on the grounds that they didn’t work yet. He voted for a bill to spend $87 billion on fighting and rebuilding in Iraq and to pay for it by repealing upper-bracket tax cuts, but he voted against a bill to spend the same money financed by borrowing. (Thus his famous explanation, ‘I actually voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it.’) And so on. Republicans ridicule Kerry for his “reversals,” but, in these examples and others, there was a clear difference between what Kerry supported and what he opposed.”
On education and the $87 billion, it’s Kerry’s explanation that’s phony. The Bush administration has not failed to deliver “promised” funds. The Democrats invented that issue out of almost nothing. Education spending has risen dramatically under Bush. It is true that spending levels have not risen to the “authorized” levels in the No Child Left Behind Act–but nobody expected them to. They never had before: The last time the education programs in that bill were re-authorized, in 1994, a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president likewise “failed” to reach authorized levels of spending. Those levels are a cap, not a promise.
As for the $87 billion: It is true that Kerry wanted to raise taxes to pay for Iraq, and then voted to keep the money from going to Iraq once he didn’t get his way on taxes. But he said beforehand that he wasn’t going to take that course of action. He was asked on Meet the Press whether he would vote for the $87 billion if he failed on taxes. He said it would be “irresponsible” to vote against it under those circumstances. Yet he did exactly that–and that’s a fairly damning flip-flop. (I put that portion of the transcript up last week.) An aide to Kerry told the New Yorker (anonymously) that Kerry voted the way he did because of the threat of Howard Dean in the primaries. Chait is spinning harder than Kerry’s campaign tries to.
But flip-flops aren’t the only issue when it comes to Kerry’s political character. On the Iraq war, it certainly looks as though he wanted to preserve his options either to support the war or to oppose it depending on how it turned out and where his political advantage lay. That’s the perception that’s damaging Kerry, and it’s accurate.