Wednesday, November 1, 2006

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How Kerry helped the Democrats in 2008

Over at The Guardian's website, James Crabtree makes a great point about how Kerry has helped his party for 2008:

Yesterday was, in fact, a tremendous day for the Democratic Party. John Forbes Kerry, uniquely among his fellow Americans, genuinely appeared to believe that the next President of the United States could be John Forbes Kerry. Much in the same way as Nixon ran against Kennedy, was defeated, and came back, Kerry thought his phoenix could rise again. That is now not going to happen. We can all breathe a sigh of relief. John Kerry 2008. RIP....

[T]here is something uniquely unfortunate about Kerry - his caution, his pratfalls, his pusillanimity - that invite this sort of attack. And somehow, the ways he overcompensates for his weaknesses ("reporting for duty", duck hunting, saying yesterday he had nothing to apologise for) only make it worse.

For Republicans, Kerry comes with an easy-hit red target painted right in the middle of his high-brow Brahmin forehead. Two little-known stories illustrate why. In the first, Kerry attended a campaign event in Missouri, in 2003. He was asked by a reporter if, hypothetically, Saddam actually had WMD and refused to disarm, would Kerry have invaded? He answered resolutely: "You bet I might have."

The second comes from a chapter in Joe Klein's book Politics Lost. Kerry was dithering over his address to the 2004 Democratic convention. His brilliant young advisor Andrei Cherny had drafted a brave, lyrical speech. In particular, the speech had Kerry taking on his opponents and addressing honestly the issues on which he and America disagreed. He was against the death penalty, but for reasons of Catholic faith. He was pro-life, in principle. He believed in a Kennedy-esque call to service and sacrifice.

What happened? Kerry nixed the speech. It was too risky. Frustrated, Cherny told Kerry he would have to take a risk somewhere if he was going to win the presidency. Kerry replied that he knew this. He would take a risk. On early years education policy.

posted by Dan on 11.01.06 at 10:53 AM


Point taken. But the Democratic Party has lots of John Kerrys.

In the age of low-turnout elections, and especially primary elections, the party is dominated by organized interest groups with fairly specific agendas. They want politicians loyal to them, and to their agendas, loyal with enthusiasm and without qualification. They would like such politicians, in addition, to be appealing to people who don't vote in Democratic primaries and able to engage Republicans on issues that don't appear on interest group agendas. In the nature of things, though, the task of demonstrating loyalty to "the groups" takes too much time and energy for politicians to develop such qualities except by accident.

In a time of desperation -- when, for example, potential candidates approved by the groups have all declined to enter a race -- Democrats will turn to a politician whose loyalty is less than completely assured. This is how Bill Clinton got nominated in 1992. Under other circumstances, though, Democrats will always turn to the John Kerrys and Michael Dukakis's. They don't want someone who might give a speech (brave and lyrical or otherwise) that wins praise from the media, from independents or from Republicans if it strays from the requisite full endorsement of the groups' respective agendas.

Because the groups feel very strongly about this, there will always be national Democratic politicians like John Kerry. They may not all be as wooden personally as he is, or have as much money, or be from Massachusetts. But as far as I can tell there is a great deal of John Kerry in every potential Democratic candidate in 2008.

posted by: Zathras on 11.01.06 at 10:53 AM [permalink]

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