Random Election Thoughts
1. I thought Kerry and co. did a good job when the donkeys convened. Now, hard to say that they did. David Broder seems to have got it right, first. Consider this excerpt from the end of the article, "Punting of First Down," Wapo, Aug 4.
Normally the challenger to an incumbent president has two main tasks to perform during convention week. The first is to present a fuller picture of himself, one that is more comfortable to the voter. The other is to lay down in strong terms the case why the man in office should be replaced.
Kerry and other speakers fixated on one brief shining moment in his pre-political career: his valiant service as a Navy officer in Vietnam. It became the all-purpose metaphor -- "I'm John Kerry, and I'm reporting for duty." But it never really merged with the story of his later life, and the American people are plenty smart enough to remember that throughout the 1990s, Democrats insisted that Bill Clinton's avoidance of military service during Vietnam was no disqualification for his serving as commander in chief.
Left largely unanswered -- or only vaguely outlined -- was the question of what Kerry had done with his life in the decades since he came home from Vietnam, particularly in his 20 years of Senate service. President Bush immediately pounced on the omission, suggesting in his very first speech since Kerry's nomination that the senator has few "results" for which he can claim credit as a legislator. The charge is unfair, but Kerry left himself wide open to it.
As for indicting the incumbent administration, Kerry and other speakers soft-pedaled their criticism -- or couched it in cliched terms. And they left unanswered what might be the single biggest question on the minds of undecided voters: What exactly would Kerry do differently to bring the bloodshed in Iraq to an end and secure a stable democracy there? The answer, apparently, is to ask allies for more help, but that calls for a leap of faith. It is not a political strategy.
Iraq was the almost unmentionable subject in Boston, and voters may well have felt cheated.
What the Democrats did do was to challenge Bush directly on two of his assets -- his reputation as a strong leader and a man with strong values. Kerry said -- and others affirmed -- that he too is strong of character and strong of will. It is unusual, to say the least, to build a challenger's campaign on the incumbent's main strengths, but that is what the Kerry team has done.
It does not appear to have worked this past week, and now the news focus shifts to the Olympics, the Republican convention and the continuing threat of terrorism. It will be weeks before Kerry has another such opportunity.
2. If the Dems think that military service is key to serving, why didn't Bill Clinton just concede to Bob Dole in 1996? Charles Krauthamer ("Muffing the Bounce," Wapo, Aug 6) may have gone a bit over the top on this, but he probably gets it right.
No bounce for Kerry. The Democrats and their pollsters will tell you this is because the electorate has already made up its mind. But if that is the case, why are they campaigning? Why have a convention in the first place? In reality, at least 10 percent of the population is undecided, and John Kerry's convention appears to have gotten none of them.
The other explanation is stylistic. Kerry rushed his speech, stepping on his applause lines. Then there was the sweat on his brow and chin, not quite Nixonian lip sweat, but enough to distract.
Hardly. The explanation that respects the intelligence of the American people is that Kerry had nothing to say. Well, one thing: Vietnam. His entire speech, the entire convention, was a celebration of his military service. The salute. The band of brothers. The Swift boat metaphors. The attribution of everything -- from religious values to foreign policy wisdom -- to Kerry's five-month stint in Vietnam 35 years ago.
The problem is that the association of fitness for the presidency with military experience does not withstand five minutes of reflection. If that were the case, Abraham Lincoln would have failed as commander in chief in the Civil War, and Franklin Roosevelt would have failed in World War II. By that logic, Ulysses S. Grant should have been -- as Douglas MacArthur would have been -- a great president.
And, for that matter, Bob Dole. The most cynical moment of the four days was provided, naturally, by Bill Clinton when he implicitly reproached himself for having sat out the Vietnam War, a smug self-congratulatory way of attacking President Bush and Vice President Cheney for doing the same. It was sheer Clintonian shamelessness. After all, in the 1992 campaign, he adamantly denied that he dodged the draft. And according to what Clinton says now about the centrality of military service, the 1996 election should have logically and honorably gone to Dole, the Max Cleland of his time.
The whole claim is, of course, ex post facto disingenuousness. For all his fawning imitation of John F. Kennedy, Kerry missed the central irony: Who was it that sent Kerry and the others into the disastrous Vietnam War if not Kennedy (Navy and Marine Corps Medal), Lyndon Johnson (Silver Star) and an entire political establishment that had served in World War II and Korea?
Yes, Vietnam service gives Kerry a credential for high office. But beyond that, what is there? His biography, as presented to the world, was this: He was born, went to Vietnam and is now running for president. Just about his entire adult life is a 30-year void. The hagiographic film at the convention omitted his first entry into politics (his failed run for Congress in 1972, an attempt to cash in immediately on his Vietnam/antiwar service). There was no mention of the fact that his first elected office was as Michael Dukakis's lieutenant governor. And practically nothing was said about his 20 years of deeply unmemorable service in the Senate.
Heres the problem, if Kerry really wants to emphasize Vietnam:
Let's get out of Iraq. Fire up the Hueys.