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Sam Smith: Morning Line

Morning Line

By Editor Sam Smith

JOHN KERRY IS THE MOST lackluster presidential candidate the Democrats have had since Michael Dukakis. That he is their candidate is due in no small part to Terry McAwful’s successful efforts at frontloading the Democratic primaries. If we were still happily engrossed in such exercises in real democracy, where candidates have to go out and actually meet voters rather than just spend tens of millions on TV ads, Kerry would probably be fading now against a resurgent John Edwards or even a dark horse candidate.

Further, the Democrats would be getting considerably more free airtime because two or more Democrats trying to beat the shit out of each other is inherently more interesting than George Bush talking about God or terrorism.

Kerry’s problems have been submerged by a combination of factors including Bush’s own troubles in Iraq and before the 9/11 commission, and the media’s initial reverence towards anyone who has just won anything. But already, as Meet the Press showed, this is wearing thin and the brutal fact that Kerry has a lot of explaining to do – not just about his positions but about his repeatedly touted heroism – has become apparent. Just this morning, even the ever so cautious CSPAN joined the questioning with a disgruntled fellow Vietnam veteran berating Kerry.

Worse, there’s been a strange silence about Kerry’s virtues even from his most stolid supporters. Governor Bill Richardson on Don Imus tried to make the best of Kerry’s MTP appearance but just ended up sounding as unconvincing as the candidate. And the Boston Globe’s Derrick Z. Jackson writes about a Kerry fundraising letter:

“What was striking about the letter was that the entire first page was about how Bush misleads, but not a single sentence about how Kerry would lead. Even as Bush flounders in self-righteousness, you have to wonder if the ABB (Anybody But Bush) crowd is lulling themselves into a reverse trap. . .

“The reality is there is a core on folks on the right who believe Bush is an appointed guardian of unilateral American might. There is a core of people on the left who believe Bush is still not their president. But if it was so obvious to Americans outside the elite east and the Bay Area that Bush was a scoundrel, then the polls should not be merely even - Kerry should be ahead by a landslide.”

And that’s the problem. If there’s any time that Kerry should be showing strength it’s right now. Bush is on the ropes and still ahead on points. Meanwhile, Kerry appears to be intensifying his search for the extremist middle, witness this description by Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post:

“As he prepares for the most ambitious and defining phase of his presidential candidacy, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) is relying on image-makers schooled in traditional Kennedy liberalism to sell himself anew to voters as a 21st-century centrist Democrat, a muscular hawk on national defense and deficits. . .

“It is Shrum's word and Kiley's polling data and Donilon's ads shaping a soon-to-be-released media campaign introducing Kerry to voters in battleground states. But it is Mary Beth Cahill, campaign manager and another longtime adviser to Kennedy, calling the final shots and overseeing the fast-growing operation.

“Their lofty mission: to set aside a long-running feud within the Democratic Party over its direction to position Kerry as the presidential candidate who is pro-national defense, pro-middle-class tax cuts, pro-balanced budgets -- with the rhetorical dash and inspiration of John F. Kennedy, a hero to Kerry and many of his top aides.

“For instance, Kerry and his advisers seek to blend a traditional populist rant against big corporations with policies designed, in part, to placate business -- such as his across-the-board tax break for corporations.

“Although most of Kerry's top aides were trained to fight for a bigger, more activist government, they are evolving with the candidate and the party. ‘The best people, the best thinkers, generally adapt with a change in circumstance,’ Cahill said.”

Note that, according to the Washington Post paradigm, one ‘evolves’ away from more activist government towards the miasma of the mushy middle. As for the “the rhetorical dash and inspiration of John F. Kennedy,” VandeHei and the aforementioned staffers are probably the only people in the county who would expect that of Kerry.

So what’s to be done? The rules of the game pretty well handcuff the Democrats to Kerry even if he continues to muddle along. The only possible out would be if those running the party were to take him aside and promise him the first seat (or chief justicehood) on the Supreme Court should the party win. His ego would be far less challenged and much more comfortable there anyway.

Otherwise, it seems it’s pretty much up to George Bush, the Israelis, Iraqis, bin Laden and the stock market to decide this election.


APR 21, 2004
SINCE 1964, Washington's most unofficial source
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