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The Democrats: buyer's remorse already?

by Paul C / March 12, 2004 6:18 AM PST

Reading these three pieces, I wonder if there's any enthusiasm for John Kerry.

We begin with Mickey Kaus in Slate: The Trouble With Kerry; Your one-stop center for doubts about JFK2.


As a Democrat, I have two big fears about John Kerry. The first is that he'll lose. The second is that he'll win. Let's take the second possibility first. One reason Kerry might lose, after all, is an inchoate public intuition that he would not be a successful president...

I admit, I'm allergic to Kerry. Something in the vibration of that deep, pompous tone he adopts--the lugubrious, narcissistic fake gravity--grates on me. Others, bizarrely, say they don't have this problem. But few would argue that Kerry has formed a special bond with any large group of voters other than veterans. If he wins it's likely to be because voters see him as an acceptable alternative to an unacceptable incumbent, not because he's inspired them. It doesn't help that Kerry has a tendency to play the voters for fools--letting them think he's Irish (when he's not) or letting them think he's cleaner, in the campaign contribution department, than he really is (e.g., saying he takes no PAC money but accepting unlimited "soft money" contributions to his Citizen Soldier Fund).

Or letting them think he gave up his own medals. ....

All this means is that when President Kerry gets into trouble--when his first big proposals stall in Congress, when malaise or scandal arrives--he won't necessarily have the ability to go to the public and dig himself out. He'll be through, over.

Jimmy Carter took several years to reach that point. But Carter came into office as a highly effective salesman. It's not inconceivable, I think, that Kerry could turn into a Carter after several months. (Imagine his 1992 race initiative played out on a national stage.) In a parliamentary system, where a no-confidence vote can quickly produce a new government, this might not be such a disturbing prospect. But we have fixed presidential terms. Four years is a long time.


Then, let's move on (pun intended) to Marjorie Williams, writing in the Washington Post, who calls to Win One For The Flipper: (PS: What's that SE WaPo login again?)

I've been trying, really I have. As a charter member of the ABB Society -- Anybody But Bush -- I've tried not to fret over the alarmingly tautological nature of John Kerry's victory. He was inevitable because voters picked him to win because he had won over earlier voters and therefore must be a winner. I've tried not to worry over the fact that he has all the social bonhomie of one of Edith Wharton's ambivalent society stiffs. We know that some crucial part of the presidential electorate votes on impressions of likability, but I've assured myself that between now and November Kerry will warm up.

And I've labored to turn my eyes from his career-long opportunism, the knowledge that Bay State political junkies trade their favorite Kerry flip-flops like baseball cards. Bush is already having fun with Kerry's zigzags of the past three years alone: Kerry voted for so many of Bush's major initiatives that in order to disown them now he can only argue that they were wrongly or dishonestly "implemented." This amounts to a confession that his opponent made a chump of him for the past three years. In fact, one might argue that Kerry is a poster boy for all the ways in which congressional Democrats have allowed themselves to be rolled by the Bush administration. But this is something I am trying hard not to notice about him...

I finally lost my grip, though, when I opened my newspaper a few days ago to read of Kerry's latest lunge in the direction of some politically feasible position on gay marriage. In general, Kerry, like most Democrats, has taken shelter in the mantra that (a) it's a matter that should be decided in the states, and (b) civil unions are the acceptable way to go about conferring equal rights on gays; marriage itself is off the table. "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman," Democrats say, as if that took care of the matter. Outside of a religious context, of course, that statement is a prejudice rather than a policy -- a prejudice that, in many cases, the speaker does not actually hold.

But Kerry was managing this footwork just fine until Feb. 4, when the Supreme Court of Massachusetts interpreted the state's constitution to require the option of gay marriage. Kerry responded by endorsing an amendment to the state's constitution that would forbid gay marriage but allow civil union. He was the only member of his congressional delegation to take this stance, for good reason: Endorsing a constitutional amendment at the state level seriously undermines the arguments for fighting an amendment at the federal level. One of the best arguments against forbidding gay marriage in the Constitution is that the spirit of the document is to confer rights, not confiscate them.

This more-than-theoretical move against gay marriage was at odds with Kerry's brave 1996 vote against the reprehensible Defense of Marriage Act, which is easily one of the most principled votes he ever cast. He was one of only 14 senators to oppose it, while Bill Clinton, ever triangulating, cynically signed it into law.

But never mind. On Feb. 27, Kerry quietly told a group of unhappy gay donors that he would work to confer full federal benefits, including Social Security survivor benefits, the right to file taxes jointly, and more than a thousand others, on gay couples joined by any state-sanctioned union -- which would of course include marriage. So while wishing to forbid gay marriage in his own state, he is promising to reward it in others.

To watch Kerry floundering in the impossible contradictions of this issue is to see starkly how little he is guided by core principle -- or even by a consistently wise sense of where his political interests lie. To respond to every unpleasant political stimulus that presents itself is to throw away the chance to make even an expedient long-term commitment to something.


Then, from across the pond, comes the words of that all-purpose curmudgeon of the left, Christopher Hitchens:

TO start with only a small observation that might gradually turn into a big one...

I have never met anybody, nor seen anybody interviewed, nor received an email from anybody, nor read a letter to a newspaper from anybody who really woke up in the morning and thought: If John Kerry doesn't win, I just don't know what I shall do.

Actually, one could phrase that last bit less passionately.

If Kerry had not run, nobody would have begged or even asked him to do so.

In the short run, this doesn't matter very much. People for whom he was the second or third choice, or no choice at all, will now get behind him as the designated candidate or nominee.

The trouble is, most of these people will be Democrats.

And the Democratic logo, on its own, is unlikely to elect anybody as the next President of the United States...

Kerry's big disadvantages are these. He gives the impression that it's his turn and that he's entitled to be the nominee, if not indeed the incumbent.

He is thus the Establishment candidate even in liberal terms. He has been in the Senate long enough to be a fixture, and also long enough to have made many compromises and deals that may come back to haunt him.

Yet he has to present himself as a spokesman for "change". This double-act will not be an easy one.

Select just one recent example: Kerry has made a huge point of denouncing American corporations that shelter their profits by basing themselves offshore. He has even given such scoundrels a memorable name, calling them "Benedict Arnolds" and thus tarring and feathering them with the name of a famous traitor to the American revolution - one of the few names that every schoolchild still knows.

Yet a simple investigation of his finances shows that he accepts vast campaign contributions from just these Quislings.

And the Republicans have months in which to make this little-known fact as well known as the name of Benedict Arnold. George W Bush is very vulnerable as a candidate, in my opinion, because so many Americans can't stand the sight or sound of him and because he can be presented as a dull child of dynastic privilege, as well as a man who can't make an honest case for a war.

However, Kerry is richer than Bush and has a wife who is even richer than that.

And he can't make up his mind about the Vietnam war, let alone the Iraq one. Voters may not want a simplistic Commander-in-Chief, but even less do they want an indecisive and dithering one.


And these are the movers and shapers of public opinion speaking here. If they're second-guessing this, then what's the average Joe or Jane Democrat thinking?

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Pretty much sums it up.
by Pat S / March 12, 2004 6:40 AM PST

If ever there was an opportunity for a viable 3rd party candidate this election is it. I haven't figured Kerry out yet since he seems to say whatever will appease the current audience and while not ABB I can't stand that constant smirk on Bush's face. He always looks like he is hiding something and thinks we are all stupid. BTW - I was pretty much a life-long democrat but I switched to Independant due to the caliber of candidates presented by the two major parties in the last several elections.

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Well, I finally know what ABB means. It's not the kind of thing that
by Kiddpeat / March 12, 2004 10:01 AM PST

you would note in your diary. Kind of worthless actually. As for Kerry, he's ugly and he's aloof. He's also probably not all that bright. Sounds like a great combination for president.

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