An article from back in the Democratic primaries (when having a liberal voting record was a positive thing, politically) examines Kerry’s Senate record. Overall, a very balanced article - as to Kerry’s record, decide for yourselves:
Kerry’s 19 Years in Senate Invite Scrutiny
By Helen Dewar and Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, February 8, 2004; Page A01
Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) never fails to win applause on the campaign trail when he tells audiences, “I know something about aircraft carriers for real.” It is a mocking reference to President Bush’s “mission accomplished” carrier landing last spring and a reminder that Kerry was a decorated naval officer in Vietnam.
But 20 years ago, in his first Senate campaign, Kerry talked a different language about national defense, denouncing President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup and calling for cuts of about $50 billion in the Pentagon budget, including the cancellation of a long list of weapons systems, from the B-1 bomber to the Patriot antimissile system to F-14A, F-14D and F-15 fighter jets.
As Kerry campaigns to lock up the Democratic presidential nomination, the battle to define him for a possible general election campaign against the president already has begun. The Kerry campaign and his opponents are mining his record – from his service in Vietnam, to his antiwar activities when he returned, to his positions as candidate and legislator – for ammunition.
Kerry’s 19-year record in the Senate includes thousands of votes, floor statements and debates, committee hearings and news conferences. That long paper trail shows that, on most issues, Kerry built a solidly liberal record, including support for abortion rights, gun control and environmental protection, and opposition to costly weapons programs, tax cuts for wealthy Americans and a 1996 federal law designed to discourage same-sex marriages.
But there are exceptions to that generally liberal voting record. Kerry voted for the welfare overhaul bill in 1996 that President Bill Clinton signed over the vociferous opposition of the party’s liberal wing; supported free-trade pacts, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement that organized labor opposed; backed deficit-reduction efforts in the mid-1980s, which many other Democrats opposed; and was distinctly cool toward Clinton’s health care proposal, which died after being pilloried as the embodiment of big government.
Kerry advisers see a record that demonstrates expertise with domestic and foreign policy issues, a depth of experience on national security – in and out of the Senate – that equips him to become commander in chief without on-the-job training and an acquaintance with world leaders that would give him instant credibility as president. In short, they see a record that matches up well against the sitting president, who intends to make the war on terrorism a central campaign issue.
His opponents see a record that leaves Kerry far more vulnerable. Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, in a Jan. 29 speech, accused Kerry of being soft on defense, out of the mainstream on social issues and an heir to the liberal tradition of Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy and 1988 Democratic nominee Michael S. Dukakis. Kerry’s record, Gillespie charged, “is one of advocating policies that would weaken our national security.”
Kerry has walked away from some of his 1984 campaign proposals to cancel weapons systems that have become central to the U.S. military arsenal unleashed on Afghanistan and Iraq while defending his overall record as a senator. Kerry told the Boston Globe earlier this year some of the proposed cancellations were “ill-advised” and “stupid,” blaming his inexperience as a candidate and a campaign that drove him to the left politically.
Stephanie Cutter, Kerry’s communications director, said in an e-mail response to questions about Kerry’s record that the senator’s views on weapons programs “evolved” once he was in office and that he used his votes to voice opposition to a defense budget he thought was “explosive and irresponsible” during Reagan’s presidency. She said Kerry has supported “responsible and appropriate” requests for defense spending, including major increases under Bush.
Kerry also proposed cuts in funding for the CIA during the 1990s but now advocates a more robust intelligence operation. A Kerry adviser said his proposed intelligence cuts were part of a broader proposal to reduce the deficit and that his goal was to reduce dependence on technological intelligence gathering and buttress human intelligence resources.
Beyond that, say Bush campaign officials, Kerry is a legislator who has few legislative accomplishments and is open to criticism for hypocrisy, as someone who votes one way and then describes those votes another way, and for political expedience, a politician who changes with the times.
Kerry supported Bush’s education proposal, known as the No Child Left Behind policy, but is now a sharp critic of the act. He, like almost everyone in the Senate, supported the USA Patriot Act after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but now denounces Attorney General John D. Ashcroft for aggressively implementing it. In the late 1980s, Kerry opposed the death penalty for terrorists who killed Americans abroad but now supports capital punishment for terrorist acts.
Although Kerry describes himself as a fiscal conservative and moderate on other issues, he ranked as the ninth most liberal senator in the National Journal’s comparison of voting records for 2002. He ranked even higher – more liberal than Kennedy – on economic issues, although about the same on social issues and more conservative on foreign policy. Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal group, rated Kerry more liberal than Kennedy during the time they served together in the Senate, although by only 1 percentage point.
Kerry has one of the Senate’s most consistent records in support of abortion rights, including voting against a bill passed last year to ban what critics call “partial birth” abortion procedures. He has also voted against several proposals to require parental notification before a minor can get an abortion, although campaign sides said he favors – and has voted for – some “adult” involvement in the decision – by judge, doctor or counselor, if not a parent.
He has also been in the forefront of efforts to strengthen laws protecting the environment, most recently including an unsuccessful fight to require tougher fuel efficiency standards and another (successful so far) to keep the ban on drilling for oil and gas in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Kerry has voted against Bush’s tax-cut proposals, usually supporting Democratic alternatives that provide more relief to lower- and middle-income taxpayers and less to the rich, those making more than $200,000. He opposed the Medicare prescription drug bill that Bush signed late last year but missed the vote on final passage of the measure. In 1996, he was one of 14 senators, all Democrats, to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, which said no state would have to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state. But Kerry has said during the campaign that he opposes gay marriage.
In perhaps his biggest break with liberal orthodoxy, Kerry was one of relatively few Democrats to vote for the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings bill in the 1980s to force spending cuts to meet binding budget targets. Later he voted to give presidents “line-item veto” authority over individual items in appropriations bills.
Nowhere has Kerry been challenged more for voting one way and talking another than on Iraq, both for his vote in support of the war in 2002 and his vote opposing the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
In 2002, he voted for the resolution authorizing Bush to go to war unilaterally, but then became one of Bush’s harshest critics for having done so. Kerry, in his floor speech before the vote, warned Bush to build an international coalition through the United Nations, but the resolution did not require the president to gain U.N. approval before going to war. Kerry later said he was voting not for the use of force but for the threat of force.
In January 1991, Kerry opposed the resolution authorizing Bush’s father to go to war to eject Iraq from Kuwait, arguing that the U.N. sanctions then in place should be given more time to work. When former Vermont governor Howard Dean recently challenged Kerry to square those two votes, aides said that the 1991 vote was not one in opposition to the use of force, just as Kerry has said his 2002 vote was not in support of the use of force.
In his 1991 floor speech, Kerry accused President George H.W. Bush of engaging in a “rush to war” – language similar to that he used in criticizing the current president on the eve of the Iraq war a year ago. Kerry argued in 1991 that there was no need to pass the resolution to send a message threatening force against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, although that was his justification for supporting the 2002 resolution.
Before and after last year’s war on Iraq, Kerry criticized the president for failing to assemble the kind of coalition Bush’s father put together in 1991. But in his 1991 floor statement, Kerry was dismissive of the elder Bush’s coalition. That effort, he said, lacked “a true United Nations collective security effort,” and he was critical of the then-president for trading favors for China’s support and cozying up to Syria, despite its human rights record.
“I regret that I do not see a new world order in the United States going to war with shadow battlefield allies who barely carry a burden,” he said then. “It is too much like the many flags policy of the old order in Vietnam, where other countries were used to try to mask the unilateral reality. I see international cooperation; yes, I see acquiescence to our position; I see bizarre new bedfellows and alliances, but I question if it adds up to a new world order.”
The language raises the question of what kind of international coalition meets Kerry’s standards. Cutter said that, in 1991, Kerry was concerned that the United States would bear a disproportionate burden of the casualties, despite the coalition assembled, and preferred to give Hussein “a little more time” to withdraw before launching the war.
From his Senate colleagues, Kerry gets high marks for intellectual skills and hard work but has the same reputation for aloofness – some say arrogance – that dogged his presidential campaign, at least in its early days.
Working his entire Senate career in Kennedy’s shadow, Kerry had to fight for attention and choose issues such as the environment and fiscal discipline that did not get in the way of Kennedy’s signature causes, principally health care and education.
Kerry’s high-profile investigations, such as his probes of the deposed leader of Panama, Gen. Manuel Noriega, and the scandal-ridden Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), have led some colleagues to complain privately that he has been more of a show horse than a workhorse.
Others argue that the investigations bore fruit and point to his POW-MIA hearings on whether Americans were still being held in Vietnam, noting that they led to eventual normalization of relations between the two countries. Also, Kerry supporters say he has been intensely involved in difficult behind-the-scenes work on environmental and other legislation for which he has received little public credit.
As Dean pointed out in a debate in South Carolina, Kerry has few if any laws that bear his name. But neither do many other influential senators, because most bills are folded into other legislation and put in final form by committees, whose senior members are usually identified as sponsors. Kerry is a senior member of the foreign relations, finance and commerce committees but has chaired only the small-business committee – a far less prestigious panel than the others – for a brief period.
“He’s intelligent, he’s serious, a real hard worker . . . but he’s not in the cloakroom telling dirty jokes . . . like some of 'em,” said Sen. Ernest F. Hollings (D-S.C.), who has endorsed Kerry’s presidential bid. Hollings and Kerry disagree on many issues, including trade, but Hollings remembers how Kerry helped him with legislation to protect the textile industry during the 1980s.
According to a Republican senator, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Kerry is viewed by many GOP senators as a political clone of Kennedy. “They don’t know him very well because they haven’t worked with him,” this senator said. “And Kerry doesn’t go out of his way to be loved by everybody.”
But Republicans who have worked with him, especially the closely knit bipartisan brotherhood of Vietnam veterans in the Senate, see a more complicated portrait of Kerry. “He’s bright, very articulate, tough . . . the complete package,” said Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a Vietnam vet who is personally close to Kerry. “He’s the most difficult opponent we can face in November.”
Staff researcher Lucy Shackelford contributed to this report.