The Kerry Dance

Now that he is the Democratic nominee-presumptive, Senator John Kerry has some explaining to do. Specifically, he is going to have to tell us how he arrived at so many opposing positions on so many issues.

For example: Does he think Israel’s security wall is good or bad? Well, apparently it depends on who is asking. During a recent appearance in front of Jewish leaders, Mr. Kerry said he believed the wall was necessary to ensure Israel’s security. When he was speaking to an audience of Arab-Americans a few months ago, however, he condemned the wall as a “barrier to peace.”

He has tried to have it both ways on same-sex marriages, too, saying at one point that the Massachusetts court was “dead wrong” when it legalized such unions, and then apparently denying, a few days later, that he said any such thing. Earlier on the campaign trail, he denied condemning affirmative action, even though that denial was on the public record.

And, of course, there’s the matter of the war in Iraq, which Mr. Kerry now opposes. But he voted to give President Bush the authority to launch the invasion last spring.

Needless to say, these apparent flip-flops are playing into Mr. Bush’s hands. Republican operatives already are having great fun listing the issues on which Mr. Kerry has had multiple and contradictory positions. This allows the G.O.P. to portray their man as a decisive war President who has the moral clarity and the confidence to do what needs to be done. None of that intellectual hand-wringing in this White House! That’s for Massachusetts liberals! Americans don’t want a thoughtful President; they want a man of action.

Mr. Kerry has had quite a political honeymoon over the last few months. Ever since he emerged out of Howard Dean’s shadow in the Iowa caucuses, there’s been nothing but blue skies for this son of New England.

Now, however, the nomination has been wrapped up, and that means the White House and the press will be examining the Senator’s record, looking for even more flip-flops. And the Senator will not have the luxury accorded Walt Whitman, who wrote in Leaves of Grass : “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself.” Try getting away with that on Meet the Press .

Mr. Kerry is a smart, able candidate who is said to appreciate the nuances of foreign and domestic policy. One person’s nuance, however, is another person’s horse hockey. Mr. Kerry needs to articulate his positions with greater clarity, or risk being seen as indecisive and too cunning for his own good.

We can take comfort in knowing that he is consistent in at least one thing: He marries rich women.

Harvard University Does the Right Thing

In a move one hopes will be followed by the nation’s other top-tier colleges and universities, Harvard University has announced that parents with incomes under $40,000 will no longer have to contribute toward their children’s education. With tuition and expenses at schools like Harvard now approaching $44,000 a year, it is refreshing to see the university use its $20 billion endowment to help lower-income families achieve the dream of an Ivy League education.

Harvard president Laurence Summers has made the change in an effort to redress the stunning fact that, among elite universities, just 10 percent of students come from families with earnings in the lower half of American income distribution. Indeed, almost 75 percent of Harvard undergraduates come from homes with earnings in the top quarter, a figure which clearly reflects not ability as much as social conditioning and proximity to excellent public and private secondary-school education.

Previously at Harvard, parents earning less than $40,000 were asked to pay an average of $2,300. Under the new guidelines, those parents will have to pay nothing. This will also lighten the load on the students, many of whom ended up paying their parents’ contribution by working two or three jobs, rather than showing their parents a bill which the students knew their parents couldn’t pay. Also under the new plan, parents earning between $40,000 and $60,000 will see their contribution lowered from $3,000 to an average of $2,250.

Mr. Summers has been an exemplary leader at Harvard, standing up to the corroding pressures of political correctness and last year speaking out against the rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses. Now again he shows himself to be setting an example that other institutions of higher learning would do well to follow. Of course, the bigger challenge remains: how to reach kids from disadvantaged families at a young age, and give them access to the kind of education that one day will make applying to a school like Harvard seem routine.

The Real Budget

New York City tax revenues are up, and the Independent Budget Office says the city’s finances are looking “markedly better.” So why was the city’s budget director, Mark Page, sounding so gloomy during recent City Council hearings on the upcoming budget? Indeed, while Council members argued that Mayor Michael Bloomberg should give even more back to taxpayers than his planned $400 property-tax rebate to homeowners, Mr. Page cautioned that the city is still faced with “the legacy of what’s gone before, in terms of fixed costs we have no choice but to cover.” If Mr. Page was a downer at an otherwise optimistic gathering, New Yorkers who care about the city’s long-term health should be thankful that he was there to bring a reality check to the table.

As Mr. Page noted, the city will have a hard time keeping up with debt service, pensions and health benefits for city workers, higher Medicaid costs and other obligations which were put in place several years ago. He pointed out that relying on hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid was not a smart bet-just look at how George W. Bush has written off New York, except when it comes to exploiting images from 9/11 for his campaign commercials. And Mr. Page warned that continued borrowing for the city’s capital projects will just pass the problem on to the next generation.

Up until now, New York City under Mayor Bloomberg has adopted an unusual approach: raising taxes and keeping a balanced budget. The risks now are primarily two: the City Council and the Mayor’s desire to give rebates, which could lead to a destructive bidding war in tax giveaways; and the inclination to incur long-term costs by borrowing for unnecessary large-scale capital projects, such as a West Side stadium.

We hope that Mark Page will continue to play the role of realist. Is there anything more dangerous than a roomful of optimists with taxpayer money at their disposal?

The Kerry Dance