Friday, November 12, 2004

Worthy opponents

John Kerry finds a friend on the pages of the neoconservative Weekly Standard:

Was Kerry a bad candidate? No. I have to assume that many of these critics never actually followed the candidate around, because close-up, Kerry was a pretty good candidate. I saw Kerry blow away crowds in New Hampshire. He gave a very good convention speech. He was excellent in the first presidential debate (but for the "global test" line, which haunted him afterwards). His day-to-day performance on the stump was also very fine--I saw him handle tough questions from voters with aplomb; and when he was interacting with a crowd, his rich and haughty caricature disappeared completely. ...

Did Kerry do anything to damage his party structurally? No. In fact, he did quite the opposite. At a time when all of the cultural tension was pulling Democrats towards the lefty fringe, Kerry, for the most part, resisted. A Howard Dean-style campaign--based on isolationism and pacifism--would have been truly disastrous for Democrats and might have realigned American politics for a generation.

Granted, Kerry didn't help the party as much as he could have by jettisoning the Michael Moore wing. Had he done so, he would have done for Democrats what George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole did for Republicans in the '90s by throwing Pat Buchanan overboard.

But that shouldn't overshadow Kerry's very real accomplishment: He stood his ground as anti-Americanism and knee-jerk pacifism roiled the base of the Democratic party. He prevented the main body of his party from giving in to the Moores, Deans, and MoveOns of the world. And in doing so, he has given them the chance to fight again another day.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Damning with faint praise. Quite frankly, I believe Weakly Standard (chortle, chortle) missed the point. The Democratic Party has been structurally weakened. Maybe Kerry didn't appear to publicly "give in" to the forces of his base, but his very selection meant pandering to the base, who say enough of the Deaniac and Clarkiac in his soul to like the guy.

Let's be brutally honest about what a turd of a candidate Kerry was:

(1) He was do-nothing follower for twenty years in the Senate. Name one piece of key legislation Kerry could hang his hat on? Nothing. Not one piece. Zero. Nada. Zilch. For those of us who routinely trudge around the Senate, it's no secret that Kerry is widely disliked by fellow legislators (in both parties) who consider him (surprise!) woody, arrogant, aloof and unoriginal. Had he not won the Democratic nod for president, he would've been rememebered upon his retirement as the long-time very junior senator to Ted Kennedy, one of the greatest New England legislators to ever serve his country.

(2) Kerry tried to present himself as a noted scholar on nuclear proliferation, but that honor truly goes to Dick Lugar, a Republican, and Al Gore, a very respected thinker on all nuclear issues. Kerry was elected to the Senate on a platform (I'm not joking here) promising to enact a unilateral nuclear freeze during the ending years of the Cold War. Noble, but butt stupid. Only an out-of-touch Cambridge nut job would even propose such a thing, much less get elected on it!

(3) Kerry tried to present himself as an expert on foreign relations. But his service on the FRC came at a time when Congress had the least amount of influence on foreign policy, a natural outgrowth of a long process of ceding natural powers to the executive branch (War Powers Act, etc.), and especially the DoD under Bush I, Clinton and Bush II. If you wanted to be a player on foreign policy, you busked for a spot on the Armed Services Committee (see Al Gore, Sam Nunn, John McCain, Bob Dole, etc.). Kerry is best known for helping to re-open Vietnam to U.S. diplomats, a job where McCain did much of the heavy lifting.

(4) Kerry was no friend of the environment. While he had the blessing and the ear of the very respected Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. of NRDC, Kerry pushed such sky-burning proposals as his "Clean Coal" initiative during the campaign, a policy designed to keep the United Mine Workers onboard and seal up key votes in WV, OH and PA (not to mention the UMWA's impressive rural voter outreach). Most people also forget it was Kerry who became Clinton's trusted assassin to strangle the Kyoto Treaty on pollution emissions before it could get started. He neglectly to mention that to prospective voters during his debates with Bush.

(5) Kerry, truly a waffler even in the waffling Senate, dithered when making tough decisions during the campaign. Al From (you might recall him as an architect of the highly successful Democratic Leadership Council) recently pointed out very bad decisions on campaign spending in the last weeks of the fight, when the dollars needed to overcome an extremely weak exurbia outreach were crucial. In the early days, he failed to spend the money and time necessary to build a network in the sticks (any kind of network) to get the vote out, and didn't realize despite polls telling him consistently the contrary that he needed a legion of salespeople out there to detract from the product (himself).

(6) Kerry is disloyal, and in the wrong ways. Kerry's campaign was notorious for its terrible communications strategy (which, perhaps, should have concentrated on communicating as little as possible about the candidate himself -- the more people learned about him, the less attractive he became), but this was compounded by his firing of people throughout the election cycle. He alienated paid personnel by firing them, and then later adopting their perspectives when proposed by new people (see former Clinton aides). But he didn't listen to the advice of the Clinton people either, often trusting (and I couldn't make this up) relatives of Teresa Heinz Kerry and, most disastrously, TERESA HEINZ KERRY. What, you think Bill Clinton took political advice from Hillary? Yeah, right. Brilliant talking points included a Wellness Department, Women's Issues (while women were abandoning his campaign for Bush) and 300 tons of explosives missing in 2003 in Iraq. A key strategic bungle came at the advice of one of Teresa's nephews, a mathematician who laid out the final weeks of campaign spending. Newsweek touched on it, but for those who watched it go down on the trail, it was far worse. Listen, marketing Kerry was nearly impossible (which might explain the two messages -- "I was in Vietnam" and "I'm not George W. Bush" -- never really convinced people to switch), but firing top people who are struggling to do it doesn't help matters and led to a great deal of confusion on the trail. CAVEAT: Podesta's team in OH and PA (hired hands, ok) in charge of restructuring a structureless grassroots mobilization deserve many thanks from the Dems. They did wonders.

(7) Bush was smarter than Kerry. Attack me for saying it, but when it comes to politics, the Bush and Rove are geniuses, and Bush (not Rove) deserves a lot of credit for brilliance. W has very good instincts politically, even if his policies are some of the worst ever crapped out by an administration in the history of the union. Bush realized that direct computer-assisted pinpointing of "micro communities" of voters in exurbia would key his victory, and that these people are often undercounted by pollsters (Kerry: "But what about the cell phone kids?" Anonymous Guy: "They don't vote, Botox Brain"). Rove supplied the numbers, visitation sites (notice all those out of the way podunk county seats and mall stops?), grassroots outreach (see MO, OH and IA), church flyers, NRA direct mailings, etc., but it was Bush who had the brains to tailor his stump work to fit the crowds. Sure he had help, but the man is a chameleon when it comes to fitting in. This wasn't just an Evangelical thing (although he does that very well), but a gun thing, and a business thing, and an anti-terrorist thing and a rich guy/middle class guy/ working class guy thing. He can do it all, maybe even better than Clinton in some ways, and Clinton was the best I ever saw.

(8) Kerry was universally hated. In four years, Bush managed to gain votes among women, African-Americans, Latinos, union members, military families, seniors, Jews, Asians and even traditional Democrats in CALIFORNIA! California! He didn't even campaign there! W even held on to the Gay vote! Do I believe it's because Bush is loved by these new constituents? No, I think it's because Kerry was so disliked by people who usually vote Democrat, and who liked Gore more than him. It's tough to hear, if you're Kerry, that Gore/Lieberman was an easier sell than he was, but it's true. Every day, I become more convinced that if Gephardt had won Iowa, and Lieberman NH (OK, tough odds), a Gephardt/Lieberman team would be transitioning now for the White House, even despite the DNC's horrible voter outreach program. I liked a Lieberman/Graham idea, or a Gephardt/Graham ticket (the "Graham Crackers"), to really force the GOP to spend all their cash in FL, but we'll never know now.

(9) The long, horse-faced shadow of Kerry will continue to fall over the Party. He's now being acclaimed as the party's titular leader, and he's vowed to remain (read: BECOME) an active Senate leader. As a policy factory, Kerry will be an unmitigated disaster. Please, rein him in Teddy Kennedy! On the other hand, Dr. Howard "Screech Owl" Dean is pushing to lead the DNC. Now, Terry M is absolutely horrible, but he's not so horrible as Howard "Short, Bald, Stupid and Cruel" Dean. Maybe Weakly Standard is thankful for Kerry's work, but I'm not, and I'm very worried that this party has sold its base to the devil of Michal Moore and his henchmen and might never be relevant again.

11:37 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Newsweak (chortle, chortle) chimes in on the Teresa Heinz Kerry factor, establishing once again that the large weekly magazine has no one close to the actual campaign on speed dial:

"By the end of the campaign, her approval ratings were in the range normally reserved for the defrocked and the deposed. And why is that? Does America really hate women that much?

I think so, yes."
-- Melinda Henneberger,

(Did someone slip a copy of that to Bill Turque?)

Bush picked up a zillion extra votes from women (including urban women, and Nancy Pelosi California-sort-of-women), but Kerry lost because Americans "really hate women that much."

I think so, No.

12:52 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A poll was taken by what's usually a consumer products marketing firm days before the election (

"Women voters have strikingly different opinions of Laura Bush and Teresa Heinz Kerry -- and for many women, these opinions will play a role in their
choice of a candidate. Simply put, a strong majority of female voters view the First Lady favorably, both nationally (58.2%) and in the three key swing
states (Anonymous Guy note: OH, PA and FL).

Teresa Heinz Kerry, on the other hand, has a favorability rating of only 29.9%. In fact, an unusually high 40.5% of women voters give Heinz Kerry
an unfavorable rating. Among married women, the ratings are even lower for Heinz Kerry. For every married woman that dislikes Laura Bush, there are
seven that dislike Teresa Heinz Kerry.
Perhaps the more important finding is that more than half (51.5%) of the women voters surveyed by comScore, say that their preference for First Lady
will have at least some impact on their vote, and 14.2% say it will have a significant impact.

Not surprisingly, President Bush has a commanding
majority, 69.8%, among women with a favorable opinion of Mrs. Bush and a whopping 86.3% majority among women with an unfavorable opinion of Mrs. Heinz Kerry."

Anonymous Guy: OK, it's not like they're buying cars. If there were a Widget Mobile out there that was hated by seven women for every one who liked it, the people making and selling cars likely would see a very small market share here.

But a presidential election really only pits two choices. Now, I'm not a lady, and as a guy I can't imagine deciding on whom to elect based on their spouse. That said, it's the job of Shrum, et al, to realize a trend, and the trend here was that women base some of their voting choices on the wives of male candidates, and that they really, really disliked Teresa Heinz Kerry enough that for a significant number of women in key battleground states, her presence in the campaign meant they would not vote for Kerry.

Ahem. At what point during the campaign deliberations did someone float the idea that maybe, just maybe, Teresa should quietly retire to her many mansions, or go on a fact-finding trip to anywhere outside of the U.S. mass media market, or do anything BUT CAMPAIGN PUBLICLY CAMPAIGN FOR HER HUSBAND.

Let's assume JF Kerry is unlikeable. Fine, but he kind of has to be out there anyway because, well, he's f-ing running for president (thanks, Iowa!). Who said Teresa had to be out there?

And why didn't someone (see husband) not politely mention to the billionaire wifey that having your own media outreach that's independent of the campaign might, every so often, seem off-message or poorly coordinated? Perhaps the time, patience and money used to do damage control on Teresa's latest bad idea ("You don't need to spend money in Iowa! Pennsylvania and Florida are in reach!") or outburst ("Shove it! Bush's wife never worked! Wellness Department! Handsome John, Smart John. Take the thumb out of your mouth, kid. Four more years of hell! Anyone who doesn't vote for my husband is stupid") really did tip this election.

In which case, I will no longer blame Iowa for selecting John Flubs Kerry. I will instead blame John Flubs Kerry for not having the balls to tell his rich but batty wife to "Shove it!"

1:15 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

There's nothing here among the comments that I can really disagree with. I thought the Weekly Standard piece was interesting, but I do believe overall he was not a great candidate who was beaten by one of the nation's greatest modern politicians.

6:05 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

By the way, J, there's a new Pittsburgh blog that proves my earlier theories: There are lesbians that hate Bush.

6:03 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

You know who else is a lesbian? Mary Cheney.

7:36 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, but she's for Bush. Ahem.

Which is why Edwards, then Kerry, outed her. Or was that because he respected Dick Cheney, or whatever?

9:00 PM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

How do you "out" someone whose previous job was as head of gay and lesbian outreach for a major American beer company, and whose own father publicly referred to her in announcing his split from the administration's policy on the gay marriage amendment?

10:20 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, she was "out." No doubt about it. But my point was about her status, but about the eerie Kerry/Edwards motivation for spilling it so prominently, as if to say, "We know you've got the bigot vote, but we're going to shave some of that off by mentioning your daughter."

Now, I'm not a bigot, and I don't care if the woman is a lesbian or not. What I do care about are the motivations of an increasingly desperate John Flubs Kerry, a man so devoid of morality that he would poke the Bush team over a lesbian member just to strangle some of the bigot vote.

Bush, it should be noted, didn't do that to Kerry's crew, even when I think Kerry's wife was fair game for wielding such influence over the campaign and, most certainly in the future, policy.

10:33 AM

Blogger Jonathan Potts said...

I'm not saying it wasn't cynical. But no more cynical than a Republican Party acting shocked, shocked that Kerry and Edwards would mention Mary Cheney, when the vice president had used her over the summer to try to soften the administration's stance on gay marriage while at the same time establishing the president as the person who actually sets policy for the administration.

2:22 PM


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