Ballot Box

The Flip-Flops of John Kerry

What he said then. What he says now. What happened.

Slate continues its short features on the 2004 presidential candidates. Previous series covered the candidates’ biographies, buzzwords, agendas, worldviews, best moments, and worst moments. This series assesses the candidates’ purported flip-flops. Here are two switches commonly attributed to John Kerry—and the context his critics leave out.

Flip: In December 2002, Kerry said, “We should encourage the measurement of the real value of companies by ending the double taxation of dividends.”

Flop: Throughout 2003, Kerry opposed President Bush’s tax plan, which, according to Bush, would eliminate the “double taxation on dividends.” In May, Kerry voted against the final plan, which cut but didn’t eliminate the tax on corporate dividends.

Context: Kerry believed the tax cut would do little to stimulate the economy, considering the deficit and the war in Iraq. In regard to the dividend tax and his position switch, he said, “I don’t support [eliminating the dividend tax] now under any circumstances at this moment. I support it in the context of tax reform overall, in which case not doubly taxing income I would think is an important principle.”

Flip: In October 2002, Kerry voted for the Iraq war resolution sought by Bush. Kerry voted against an alternative that would have authorized force only if the U.N. Security Council sanctioned it. The resolution Kerry supported stated, “The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate in order to … defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq.”

Flop: Soon after voting for the resolution, Kerry expressed dismay over the march to war. He said he wouldn’t “support the president to proceed unilaterally” and consistently criticized administration policy leading up to the invasion.

Context: Kerry often said Iraq was a looming threat that had to be dealt with. He believed an invasion, done properly, would be sound policy. He insisted that Bush should “exhaust all possible remedies” to avert unilateral war, but he also said, “American security must never be ceded to any institution or to another institution’s decision.” That was why he voted against the alternative Iraq resolution. In the days leading up to the war, Kerry was unclear as to whether he would support an invasion without a U.N. Security Council resolution.