About half of Americans have lost confidence in President Bush, yet many hang back from embracing the alternative. That's unfortunate, because Senator John F. Kerry is a wise and decent man who has the makings of a fine president.
Still, there's little wonder that voters have doubts. Most of what they think they know about the senator comes from a masterful job of "defining the opposition" carried out by the Bush campaign and its surrogates before most people got a chance to know the real Kerry.
So Americans were introduced to Kerry the flip-flopper. Kerry the softie on defense. Kerry the wild-eyed liberal. Kerry the appeaser who will let terrorists attack America.
It's sad that an incumbent president chose to employ so much of his vast campaign resources to tear down his challenger, and not to cite his own accomplishments or to move the nation ahead. But perhaps that's precisely the difficulty the president faces.
Now it is time to take the next logical step and recognize John Kerry as someone who could do better. It's time to see Kerry as the person he is, not as the caricature created in the president's campaign ads.
Kerry won the presidential debates because the man Americans saw on live television differed from the caricature. Americans saw a thoughtful, experienced, exceptionally well-informed candidate who cares deeply about his country and its people.
They didn't see Mr. Perfect. Kerry tends toward wordiness and overexplanation. His positions on some issues - such as being nearly indistinguishable from Bush on Iraq - are unsatisfactory. His New England reserve comes off as aloofness. It takes time to gain an appreciation of him.
A search for the real John Kerry should focus on his 22 years in elective office - unblemished service as Massachusetts lieutenant governor and U.S. senator. The strongest indication of his success is that the people of Massachusetts - the cradle of American liberty - chose four times to elect him to the Senate.
Yes, Kerry is liberal. But what's to fear from a liberal president? That he would run big deficits? That he would increase federal spending? That he would expand the power of the federal government over individuals' lives? Nothing Kerry could do could top what President Bush has already done in those realms.
But Kerry, we believe, has a better chance of overcoming that anger. It is the nature of the man to listen and to respect others. He does not tend toward vindictiveness or in-your-face triumphalism. There is a dignity about him. We have watched him from early in the Iowa caucus campaign through a grueling general-election campaign in a battleground state. We have seen Kerry grow and develop in presidential qualities to the point we're confident in recommending him as a person of common sense and decency - a leader who has what it takes to bring Americans back together.