Thursday, November 11, 2004
The New Republic(ans).
Still, in the end, the nomination fell to Kerry, who, as I expected all along, duly lost the election to George W. Bush. Kerry (assisted by genius advisers like Bob Shrum and John Sasso) underperformed--in comparison with both Gore and with his own expectations--with virtually every demographic group he had targeted: youth, women, Latinos, African Americans, Catholics, Jews. The big money behind the Democratic campaign--roughly $100 million ploughed into 527 committees by three of the wealthiest men in America--was not enough. The convention had been an exercise in false enthusiasm, and the campaign was an exercise in failed enthusiasm.
I actually believe that, had Lieberman won the nomination, he would have won the election. I think Gore would have as well. Notwithstanding his Iraq position, with which I disagree, Gore is not a foreign policy patsy, as he showed during the Clinton administration. Like Lieberman, people know where he stands--in the solid center.
Tuesday's Boston Globe brings two pieces of chilling news. Apparently, Howard Dean is contemplating a bid for chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
It almost makes you want Terry McAuliffe to stay. The second item was a run-on interview with Kerry's brother, Cameron, who revealed that John just might run for president again and that, in any case, "he's going to ... be a voice for the 55 million people who voted for him." Another aide confided that Kerry "has been working the phones like crazy." But Kerry is not the voice of 55 million people, or even the 55.9 million people who voted for him. It was these people's slightly hysterical antagonism to Bush that brought them (reluctantly) to Kerry rather than anything intrinsic to Kerry himself. In any event, Bush won't be around in 2008, so disdain and hate will no longer produce Democratic votes.
Even then, no one seemed to like Kerry. (The only person I've known who really does is David Thorne, the brother of his first wife and his classmate at Yale.) Kerry's initial defeats (he also lost a race for Massachusetts' fifth congressional district in 1972) did not deflect him from his ambitions, but he deferred them to attend BC Law School and then work as a prosecutor. He got back into politics in 1982, with his election as Michael Dukakis's lieutenant governor, where his own unpleasantness was somewhat shielded by that of his boss.
He was first elected to the Senate in 1984, the same year as Al Gore. Something demonic in Kerry persuaded him to belittle Gore whenever we met. As their first term started, Kerry boasted to me that he had beaten out Gore for a coveted seat on the Foreign Relations Committee, while Gore had to content himself with Armed Services. But it was the latter committee that went on to do much of the heavy lifting of the next two decades, while J. William Fulbright's old Foreign Relations Committee went into a steep decline. Kerry also became a member of the Intelligence Committee, whose public meetings he attended sparingly and--if one judges from his book The New War--from which he learned little about the terrorist threat that he described so murkily in the last campaign. By contrast, Gore created a real record for himself: on the environment; the Internet; arms control; and nuclear strategy, where he introduced the revolutionary idea of the single-warhead missile.
Today, Democrats are overcome with despair. And I do not doubt that Bush's second term will have its abuses and its nastiness. But they should not delude themselves: John Kerry would not have been a good president; he might even have been a dangerously bad one. Next time, Democrats need to nominate not merely a candidate who they imagine can win but a candidate who deserves to.