Saturday, Jan. 20, 2001: As the rain drizzled down over the capital, the 43rd President of the United States was sworn in, and Bill Clinton, the charismatic leader who had presided over the country for eight prosperous years, bid us a fond farewell. Sitting in front of the television, I watched with great sadness as Clinton stepped into his chauffeured car and into his new role as former president. Like many die-hard Democrats, the prospect of victory in 2004 had easily found its way to the forefront of my thoughts, but the question of who would be the person to challenge Bush was not so easily answered. (One could only hope for the passage of an amendment that would allow Clinton to run for a third term.)

At the beginning of last year, 10 Democrats sought to win the Democratic nomination, and I, like many others, attempted to distinguish one candidate from another. Finally during winter break, with the time to dissect the goals and messages of each candidate, only one emerged as the person most qualified to lead the country and to step out of Bill Clinton’s shadow to lead the Democratic Party: John Kerry.

My support for Kerry is not based simply on his ability to beat Bush in November, or the idea that he looks presidential, or his more human qualities as exhibited when he talks about his experience in Vietnam and displays his skills on the ice playing hockey. Everyone has an issue that is most important to her, and for me, it is education. All people should have an equal opportunity to receive a quality education, one that enables them to become the productive citizens that will make our nation stronger.

John Kerry’s vision for improving education gives me hope that this goal can be reached. His plan for his first 100 days in office includes establishing a National Education Trust Fund to meet the obligations of providing resources to public schools to meet standards, an area where Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act fell short. As someone who recognizes the strength of public schools, having gone to one myself, Kerry’s opposition to vouchers is pleasing. Funding should go to improve public schools, and vouchers should be eliminated since they leave behind those who cannot take advantage of them.

With regard to testing, Kerry believes tests “should be used to diagnose problems so we can fix them. They should not be used to punish our schools, our teachers, and our students.” As someone who had the good fortune of being subjected to the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills tests (TAAS), I stand behind Kerry on the matter and his view that teachers should not be forced to teach only the material necessary to ensure high test scores. Furthermore, Kerry recognizes the need for early education, after school programs, and alleviating the high costs of higher education. As Yale students, we recognize the value of a quality education since we benefit from attending one of the best universities in the world and we most likely received exceptional secondary educations as well. John Kerry shares this value and offers the most extensive plan for improving education.

Still, to have quality ideas is not enough, one needs to possess skills of leadership to see them implemented into policy, and John Kerry possesses these skills. Through his resilience, he returned to front-runner status (a place that had been given to him in the beginning of 2003) after months of a stalled campaign proving he would be able to handle any low points of a presidency. His willingness reach across party lines on issues he feels are important illustrates his ability to compromise. Finally, his capacity to persuade and inspire, as all great leaders have had the ability to do and as he has done with voters in the primary race, can only benefit him in office.

John Kerry has emerged from the smoke as the most capable person to lead the nation and the Democratic Party. He has proven the Democratic Party is not devoid of ideas as a Spanish newspaper declared last month. In a recent Time magazine interview, he characterized himself as an Old and a New Democrat, “an old-fashioned New Deal Democrat … and a New Democrat when it comes to creating jobs and being entrepreneurial.” Finally, we have a candidate who can bridge the gap between everything that Democrats have stood for in the past and all the new ideas Democrats are beginning to develop and embrace. This is why he is our best chance of winning in November and, to me, proves that he is most certainly the “Real Deal.”