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Millions of Americans will cast their ballots in the next couple of days, concluding one of the longest and most bitter presidential campaigns in the history of our nation. Based on the Bush-Kerry debates, the extensive analysis by the so-called experts who have examined the pros and cons of the two candidates and the conduct of the two men themselves, it seems clear that the country will be better off if Kerry is elected president.

Bush was admirable in his response to the attacks of Sept. 11. But since then, he's lost his way and led our country along paths that have cost us more than a thousand American lives and left us with more than 7,000 servicemen and women whose war injuries will make them suffer for years to come. My preference for Kerry is predicated on two factors -- support of what he stands for and disdain for many of the things that Bush has done.

Let's look at the record. One of the principal cases the Bush campaign has made against Kerry is one of Kerry's greatest strengths -- his willingness to evaluate his stances and decisions when conditions change. That's the sign of a good executive, and that's something Bush cannot bring himself to do.

In the presidential debates, he was unwilling to admit that he ever made any mistakes other than in some appointments, and he didn't spell those out. Unlike Bush, Kerry stresses that America's role in world affairs is as the leader of a community of nations. The president, given his "go it alone" stance leading up to the U.S. role in Iraq, has alienated the nations with whom we formerly had a long relationship based on mutual respect. He continues to talk about the coalition involved in Iraq. In fact, only Great Britain has played a significant role.

Also troubling is Bush's inability to appreciate the vital concept of separation of church and state. It is fundamental to the American principle, and he has made suggestions that would erode it. Even the very religious Jimmy Carter trod very carefully in this area during his presidency and respected the importance of this treasured concept. Bush wears his religion on his sleeve, and given another term in office, he's almost certain to mix church and state even more than he has done up to now.

In September 2003, the president said that "faith is an integral part of my life." The problem is that he makes decisions based on his strong belief in what he considers to be divine guidance while disregarding the advice of his military commanders and diplomats with long experience. I don't disparage his ardent religiosity, but I do have to question his basing U.S. strategy and policy on what he calls his "divine guidance."

Bush constantly refers to his No Child Left Behind program. But he has significantly underfunded it. And his failure to provide enough troops to properly secure Iraq has resulted in the deaths of many American servicemen and injuries to many thousands.

Another vital consideration is that the next president likely will name as many as three Supreme Court justices. Given Bush court nominations to date, it's obvious that his appointees would likely be very conservative and favor overturning Roe vs. Wade and many other so-called "liberal" decisions.

John Kerry has the intelligence and the capacity to do a better job in the Oval Office than George Bush. There are an enormous number of endeavors, too numerous to recount here, that would be better handled by Kerry. He deserves an opportunity to prove it.

Murray B. Light is the former editor of The Buffalo News.