John Kerry In Neutral

Aquarian Weekly 9/29/04 REALITY CHECK


Kerry on Permanent VacationIn less than two months John Kerry has gone from a confident frontrunner chasing down a wounded president with crippling domestic and international albatrosses and the lowest approval ratings in decades to a battered and bruised public defendant neutered by his own inexplicable fears to solidify his philosophical record. By any standard of political prognostication, John Kerry is in big trouble – floundering in opaque Hades kind of trouble. And that is no place for a liberal senator from Massachusetts 40 days from paydirt.

Never mind the cute pundit buzzwords like “convention bumps” or “momentum shifts”, and forget national polls, which mean less than nothing in the electoral vote process; this campaign was Kerry’s to lose, and he’s losing it.

George W. Bush was ready to be had by anyone aggressive and smart enough to build a viable alternative argument to massive job losses, a throbbing recession, the most spendthrift administration since FDR, and the worst post-war effort ever bungled by a sovereign nation. This election is supposed to be a referendum on the incumbent’s standing. It was ripe for a legitimate challenger to seize the opportunity to engage a debate on its merits. Instead it is one mired in 30 year-old military records and slap fights over who said what and where anyone was during the first Nixon administration.

The fact is John Kerry is not a legitimate candidate. These shifts in the national debate are his fault. It is brilliant strategy for the Bush people to push the thing as far from the president’s current problems (and there are many) as possible. What Karl Rove and White House frat boys have done is stonewall Kerry by simply forcing him to come clean on his dissenting voice. This was easy since Kerry has no dissenting voice. His camp has no plan, and never did, beyond “not being Bush”, which may be good enough for 46% of the partisan populace, but not enough to maintain the anti-Bush sentiment that was growing strong in this country since things got uglier and uglier in Iraq and the economic numbers looked as anemic as ever.

A month ago Kerry was competitive in three or four southern states, actually leading in Arkansas, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Now that is a pipe dream. New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and California are back in play and Ohio is lost. Florida was a crapshoot from jumpstreet, but appears to show no signs of getting strongly behind this candidate. This is not because George Bush is winning these states back. Kerry is losing them by not distinguishing himself from his opponent and failing to rally his voter base, primarily anti-war. Kerry is not anti-war. Kerry is not anti-anything. He is anti-winning this thing. And he and his friends like Bob Shrum will be anti-employed very soon.

Bush ain’t getting any better. The news from the Middle East ain’t either. Only Kerry can make this a horse race. It is a miracle he is still relevant, which speaks more to this country’s willingness to hold off than rubber stamp a second term to this mess. But can Kerry take it? So far, evidence is piling up to the contrary.

The sacking of half of his staff has given rise to a new John Kerry: The James Carville model – angry, spitfire and brimstone Kerry. This is an entertaining Kerry, but a few weeks too late. The time to fight was during those “swift boat” ads and that joke of a convention, when the Republicans made the Democratic candidate look like a confused wet-noodle that would turn the planet to cinder given half the chance. But Kerry and his peeps chose to do nothing, and have not recovered yet.

Shrum was brain damaged when he told Newsweek’s Jonathan Alter last week he believed the post-9/11 America would not stand for political attacks. This whiz-bang strategy has molded an ambiguous, rambling, castrated candidate that’s managed to turn rightfully putrid poll numbers of Bush’s “handling” of Iraq into positive ones, which is mind-bending to those using any form of logic.

Getting nasty on issues means one has to feel strongly about them in the first place. Say what you want about George Bush, he believes he is doing the right thing in alienating the planet and being grossly steadfast in his Iraqi strategies. He believes God wants him in charge and he’s willing to cheat, steal, kill and maim to retain it. His opponent wants to be “fair” and “sincere” and “deliberate about sensitive solutions”. This is insane and a recipe for defeat. Presidents have to be one-dimensional, willing to breed pithy one-liners, and appear staunchly something. You learn this by becoming governor of a big state like Texas and have a daddy in the White House and being surrounded with Washington lifers who would think nothing of disemboweling their grandmothers for a sniff of a majority vote.

Kerry has been in the senate too long. Compromises and vacillating votes based on minutia won’t cut it in a run for the big prize. Consider for a moment Kerry does have “more complicated” visions of events and has made decisions based on intellectual digestion, it doesn’t help when he is on the same page as his competition in nearly every main category from gay marriage to taxation to war etc.

But Kerry has rallied before. He rallied in Iowa when John Dean looked unstoppable, more unstoppable than our boy president. He used his own funds, jacked a little dead wood, and turned ignominious front-runner defeat into roaring victory. According to a compelling story in Time magazine by Joe Klein three months ago, the Kerry senatorial campaign record speaks volumes about his ability to get off the mat, that he is a lousy frontrunner and needs the pressure of the sinking ship to focus. Well, those rooting for a change at the top and/or a Kerry presidency better hope so.

Now that Bush has the lead or pulled even in these key battleground states, he can use the debates as a holding pattern, as he did in 2000 against Gore. Why do you think the White House is suddenly giddy about three debates? No one thought Captain Shoo-in would survive a Gore assault four years ago, and judging from these incoherent rants on the trail, nothing should change that assessment. However, in 2000, expectations were so low many in the press fully expected to see the old boy dribbling fluids on his power tie halfway through. But Bush showed he’s a good frontrunner, and can manage to not screw things up. Bush was under whelming, but Gore’s pompous snooting and puffing served to bring in the pity vote, and things turned. In other words, it is doubtless Kerry can win by burying Bush in the debates now.

So the final five weeks of this thing should be fun for those of us paid to watch and comment. On Memorial Day we conceded that Bush would need a magic broom to sweep this horror show in Iraq under the spin rug. But we didn’t count on a one-man brigade combated weakly by badly-timed forged military documents slipped under a willing dupe like Dan Rather’s anchor door or unleashing a fossil like Kitty Kelly on the Today Show to convince us a wooden haircut like the first lady was a dope dealer and her husband did more blow than Liza Minnelli from 1972 to 1993.

It’s bush-league tactics (no pun intended) and it needs to be ratcheted it up fast. For Kerry’s almost psychotic penchant for playing this thing close to the vest has damaged the democratic process. Even sane voters rooting for a Bush victory must agree that making an incumbent accountable for his record and at least fake a pledge for improvements and counter-balance ideas is what this thing is all about. Granted Bob Dole did none of that against Clinton, but the Gingrich Revolution in ’94 had already pulled the Clinton’s further right. Reagan, however, did not have to answer for his insane military build-up and his most arrogant minions dumped the old man into Iran-Contra quagmire in the ensuing second term.

Bush ain’t getting any better. The news from the Middle East ain’t either. Only Kerry can make this a horse race. It is a miracle he is still relevant, which speaks more to this country’s willingness to hold off than rubber stamp a second term to this mess. But can Kerry take it? So far, evidence is piling up to the contrary.

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