Bill Safire:

On the death penalty, Bush is for and Kerry straddles. On abortion, Bush is against and Kerry straddles. On same-sex marriage, Bush is demonstrably against, while Kerry is rhetorically against but cleverly finds a policy resting place that allows him to straddle.

It happens that I agree with Bush on the death penalty, prefer the Supreme Court compromises on abortion and disagree with him on a same-sex amendment. [I’m with Safire on two outta three — ed.] But in all cases, this president takes a stand and makes clear what it is. Bush is not trying to be, in the biblical phrase, all things to all men.

Contrariwise, these Kerry straddles are troubling in one who aspires to trustworthy leadership. I won’t be watching his acceptance speech tomorrow for war stories, Clintonian crowd appeal or sudden, soaring eloquence. An end to the straddling would help.

I’m not holding my breath.

I’m wishy-washy on the death penalty. I don’t personally support it for practical reasons (kinda hard to commute an unjust execution, after the fact), but it’s also clear that the Constitution does indeed endorse it. Kerry says he’s against the death penalty, but straddles with the “except for terrorists” exception.

So I’m closer to Kerry than to Bush on that issue.

I’m pro-choice, but have no real complaint with a ban on non-medical-necessity late-term abortions. If the fetus is viable outside the womb, then in my mind, the state probably has an interest in protecting it. In any other case, the rights (if any — the Constitution extends rights only to those “born or naturalized” in the United States) of the unborn have to weighed against the rights of the mother. The fetus — baby, whatever, I don’t care — has potential. The mother already has a real life. Mom wins.

Make that two issues where I’m closer to Kerry than to Bush — doubly so when you add in the silly Right to Life arguments against stem cell research. On that one, I’m an absolutist, and Bush & the Republicans could very well have created a wedge issue which will go hard against them.

Same sex marriage? I’m for for for it. Oh, I could reach some kind of “civil union” compromise, and I’d like to see the courts stay out of it. But too many gay marriage supporters are too self-centered not to take it to court, and too many judges (either for or against) are too self-aggrandizing not to meddle. What it boils down to is, someday gays will win their marriage rights. Just not by any method they should take any pride in.

Of the three issues Safire discussed, I’m far closer to Kerry than I am to Bush. But, come November, I’ll almost certainly pull the lever for Bush.

Why? Because I can’t really be sure Kerry is on my side. He straddles. He obfuscates. He speaks in indecipherable Senatorese. If he won’t take a stand during the primaries, when he needs only to appeal to fellow Democrats, how can I count on him to stand up to a Republican Congress?

How can any of us count on him to stand up to al Qaeda? Or China? Or France?

I don’t like George W Bush. But at least half the time, I can be pretty sure where he stands — about double the percentage of your average politician. I know when I’ll have to fight Bush, and where I can let him lead me.

But Kerry gives me the feeling he’d sell out my one vote in a heartbeat, on the off chance of getting 1.01 more votes in the next election. Just like he sold out his Catholic belief that life begins at conception, his principled stand against the death penalty, and his once-firm stance on gay marriage, which. . .

. . .wait, did Kerry ever take a stand on gay marriage?

See what I mean?