Just how bold does John Kerry need to be? There’s certainly a reasonable argument that he doesn’t need to be bold at all. As pollster Mark Penn remarked in some story I read, many successful campaigns have been run on little more than “it’s time for a change”.
Can John Kerry get away with such an approach? Maybe. Certainly, his lack of a bold approach in one area–Iraq–has seemed to work fairly well so far. As discussed in my previous post, Kerry has resisted putting forward an exit strategy for Iraq, choosing instead to focus on improving and internationalizing Bush’s policy by bringing in NATO troops, establishing an international high commissioner for Iraq, more training for Iraq’s own security forces and so on. This may not be a crystal clear alternative to the direction of Bush’s policy but, as Bush’s policy has imploded and dragged him down politically, Kerry’s campaign has been able to benefit from Bush’s woes nonetheless.
For some, this has been exactly the right approach and should be continued indefinitely (see, for example, Noam Scheiber’s comments in his New Republic blog). The theory is that anything as specific as an exit strategy on Kerry’s part would shift the political conversation away from the actually-existing mess in Iraq and toward discussion of Kerry’s strategy and whatever Bush’s counter to that strategy would be. That would be bad since that would interfere with hanging the whole Iraq mess around Bush’s neck and forcing him to “own it”, as the expression goes.
Could be. But doesn’t it come down to how well you think such an approach fits into the generally-accepted two stage process by which a challenger can beat an incumbent president? First, voters have to decide they’re interested in firing the incumbent; then they have to decide that the challenger is a good alternative to the incumbent. Clearly, the cautious approach fits well into the first part of the process–as voters are getting convinced the incumbent needs to go, why confuse them with a lot of “bold” ideas from the challenger? Let the voters think long and hard about how bad the incumbent is, not the detailed plans of the challenger.
So far so good. But it is in the second part of the process–voters deciding they want to hire the challenger–that an approach distinguished mostly by caution can run into trouble. Granted, if voters hate the incumbent enough, the challenger can do and say very little and still appear to be a compelling alternative to voters. But, for all Bush’s problems, I don’t think this is going to be one of those elections. Among swing voters–not Democratic voters, who I believe will cut Kerry a great deal of slack in the agenda department–the distaste for Bush does not run deep enough. They will need a reason to believe in John Kerry.
Which brings us back to Iraq. David Corn has an interesting piece, “How Bold Should Kerry Go“, on The Nation website, which quotes a Democrat close to Kerry’s foreign policy team as saying:
Kerry is playing it very cautiously. It’s a prevent-defense kind of game. He’s counting on Bush to keep making mistakes. I’m skeptical of it. But it could work. My fear is that he’s not setting a strong enough foundation for people not only to reject Bush but to embrace Kerry.
Exactly. Among voters who need to be convinced the most, cautious may not cut it. Here’s a revealing passage from a good article by Tim Grieve on Salon about Kerry’s recent campaiging:
Oddly, it’s the more conservative Democrats — plus swing voters and Republicans thinking of crossing over — who may need to hear more of Kerry’s Iraq alternative. Beverly Weyenberg, a retiree who turned out to see Kerry in Green Bay Thursday night, saw the candidate on TV about six months ago and knew instantly that he’d be her choice. “I felt it so strongly that I wrote it down on my calendar,” she says, adding that she “felt the same way about John F. Kennedy.” Still, she gets a little teary when she starts to thinking about those “kids” dying in Iraq, and she wants to know Kerry’s plan for bringing them home soon.
So, too, does a Republican shuttle-bus driver in Green Bay who voted for Bush in 2000 but is having second thoughts now. He can’t help thinking that the war was really about oil, that Donald Rumsfeld is hiding something. He trusts Bush because he trusts Colin Powell, but with Powell on the outs he’s worried. He’s thinking about Kerry, he said, but he’s worried that Kerry won’t be able to get out of Iraq, either.
Sure, these anecdotes are hardly definitive, but they get at what’s worrying me about the Kerry approach. There’s a point at which stage one (reject the incumbent) must turn into stage two (hire the challenger) and, so far, I’m not convinced Kerry’s got his stage two mojo working.
And I don’t just mean on Iraq and foreign policy. I mean in the domestic arena too. But that’s a subject for another post.
On the Question of Boldness
Just how bold does John Kerry need to be? There’s certainly a reasonable argument that he doesn’t need to be bold at all. As pollster Mark Penn remarked in some story I read, many successful campaigns have been run on little more than “it’s time for a change”.
Gee, talking to voters in Alabama is a bit like talking to mrS. Robinson (they’re committed to bush) With over 60% of the country believing the country is on the wrong track, you’re response is it’s not my boy’s fault (our nation turns it’s lonely eye to you). I think Ruy’s point is to suggest a strategy to help those voters who may have voted R and are sincerely thinking of voting D but need a little encouragement. Fair enough.
As far as sports metaphors go, I think the marathon is more apt in this case. You don’t run a sprint at the 5 mile mark.
Living in the Alabama I talk to lots of so-called swing voters who voted for Bush in 2000, but are now skeptical, while some are sorry they did. A few have flatly decided that they’re going to support Kerry in November. However, most are still not convinced that Kerry offers a real alternative, so he’s going to have to get out of a prevent defense down here. Almost all of the people with whom I speak are concerned with Bush’s economic and health care policies and still harbor a somewhat deflated support for the Iraq War. If one wants to apply the football analogy, watch how a potent and experienced offense can tear that type defense apart. You better have a good offense to go along with it. (The GOP attack machine has phenominal protection, they throw bombs, and their receivers push off when the officials aren’t looking and they get wide open!) As for the Kerry campaign, there isn’t much to be seen in Alabama’s media, so I’m steering folks to EDM, The Nation, and the Kerry websites.
Perhaps you were being sarcastic, but I was by no means calling for a Democrat-controlled Congress. I was merely saying that it is unfair to blame the President for the current budget deficit. He can veto a budget, and he can suggest a budget. But he cannot pass a budget.
I am actually calling for a more fiscally responsible Congress.
An exit strategy would not fix things, whomever exits. General Odom (aka General DOOM) was right: “we have already failed.” No matter what happens after the election, Bush’s various strategies for using Iraq to keep us safe from Islamic terrorism will have failed. Even if we withdraw, Bush now, or Kerry later, we will have failed.
Let’s look at the post-Iraq foreign policy as a way to describe how the Democrats will put this thing back together. By this thing I mean the US leadership of the world. I think this is something Kerry would be good at presenting and would have different ideas from Bush.
If people think “we need the world to help us” and that is the most important way to ensure US security, then Kerry will always be the choice over Bush. Bush can talk all he wants but everybody knows he can’t get the world to agree with him.
If people think “we are in a war with Islam and nobody will protect us” Bush will always beat Kerry. Kerry can be tough tough tough on the Saudis or whomever, but everybody knows he will never be as racist or brutal as Bush would be in a real war with Islam.
The wild card to me is Israel: continuing the policy of Israel Over All will brign the USA into a war with Islam, whoever’s president. If voters see that both Kerry and Bush will get us into a full-fledged war with Islam, they’re going to choose Bush.
I concur with Paul C and whoever else who said that Kerry shouldn’t kibitz on Iraq at this time. Kerry has no influence on the short-term, the mid-term is completely in flux, and the long-term can only be hashed out once the extent of the current fiasco is known (e.g. post July 30th). Meanwhile, let Team Bush continue to shine.
3 trillion dollar deficit – talk to Congress; they create the budget.
Your claim is somewhat disingenuous, but I’ll support your call for a Democratic Congress.
Which ideas would you be referring to?
3 trillion dollar deficit – talk to Congress; they create the budget.
failure to capture bin Laden – Hitler was never captured, even though we knew his whereabouts. Failure to capture bin Laden doesn’t make the entire ‘war on terrorism’ a failure.
I don’t think the President can control rising health care costs. (But I admit the seniors’ Medicare package was a loser. We will be paying for that one for years and years.)
The corruption scandals took place during the last administration; they came to light during the current one.
I haven’t heard of any environmental standards being relaxed (but they may have been, as I confess I do not follow this very closely), but that newer (more stringent) standards were not adopted.
“Turning the rest of the world against America” – the world hated us before. What new enemies have we created that I was not aware of?
I’ve heard nothing from Kerry that would improve any of these scenarios. Here’s your chance; maybe you can enlighten me.
SR> Well, why would they want the most right wing radical president in history? Kerry has ideas, you would notice them if you tried reading some newspapers (I know your idol doesn’t/can’t) or watching a tv-channel other than Faux “News”.
How anybody could support a president like GWB is a complete mystery: is it the 3 trillion dollar deficit, is it the failure to capture Bin laden, is it the 3 million net loss of jobs, is it rising health care costs, is it the corruption scandals (Enron, Halliburton), is it the polluted environment and mercury water or is it his talent in turning the rest of world against America – that does it???
Tell me mr Robinson, and be honest. Don’t lie to me the way you’re lying to yourself.
Kerry is doing well because nobody knows anything about him. He hasn’t put forth any ideas because he doesn’t have any. Do you really think the American voters will elect the most liberal member of the U.S Senate?
As candidates go, the Democrats have nominated their own version of Bob Dole.
This election looks like an electoral victory for Kerry as long as the popular vote is close. However, Iowa or Wisconsin could definitely go to Bush.
I keep looking at the Interactive Electoral Map on John Edwards’ website.
I don’t see the blue states going to Bush.
Kerry needs to pick-up one decent red. Missouri (ugh, Gephardt as VP), for instance, does it.
An impressive Edwards could make it a landslide.
The Bush campaign has gone totally negative because he lacks any record to run on. By being “bold” he gives fodder for Bush to run against. Letting Bush fester is the smart plan as Kerry continues to define his own character. Come September and October and Iraq is still a mess, Kerry can open the cannons leaving Bush no time to respond. Polls move fast. I am unconvinced swing voters decide this early. Bush is totally inept. Making the campaign about him is good. Bush is taking this country off a cliff and the country is learning that. Anybody but Bush will work come November.
I agree that we’re in excellent shape for this early in the campaign. Many analysts have remarked that challengers need to sell themselves, and that process takes time.
I have confidence in Kerry as a candidate because he feels right. He passes the taste test. If we try to suss out the swing voters on a rational basis, I think we’re barking up the wrong tree – they will most likely make a decision based on gut feel. Think about it: did Mondale, Dukakis, orf Gore feel and taste like somebody that you want for president of the united states? Now try the taste comparison between W and Kerry – I think Kerry comes out ahead.
And his last two rounds of commercials show he knows how to campaign.
I think boldness will be necessary, but not right now. Kerry should do nothing to detract from the spectacle of the Bush podiatric firing squad.
With the Iraq situation in flux (neutral term) or rapid decay (accurate or partisan term?), any bold plan that Kerry announces today may be irrelevant tomorrow, much less in October. Better to simply hang back and say he won’t be locked into ideological blunders.
This summer, while gas prices are sky high and bad news keeps pouring in from the Middle East, Kerry should push hard on one of his “bold plans,” a NASA-style concerted effort to wean us entirely off of Middle Eastern oil in ten yeras. It is a long-term solution to the whole problem and will not vary depending on daily events. It plays into the classic American “can-do” psyche. And it can be used by surrogates to continually hit Bush’s ties to those who have made billions on our importation of Middle Eastern oil. If I am sitting in a gas line, waiting to pay $2.30 a gallon, it will hit home with me.
All this hand wringing over Kerry’s strategies seems to me to be very premature.
First of all…Kerry has to walk a fine line on the Iraq thing. He supported going in..and I’d guess he probably doesn’t want to back off of that. I think people getting all twisted up about Kerry not offering a bold alternative to Iraq need to keep that in mind. Also keep in mind that Bush has actually taken some of Kerry’s advice about doing more to internationalize the situation.
Second, Kerry’s organization has done a very good job of getting grassroots movements going. People on the left are pissed off…and they’re pissed off a lot. Kerry’s people have used the Dean method of tapping into that, from what I can see.
As a Dean supporter I think Kerry is doing what he needs to do. I haven’t supported Kerry’s position on Iraq but he can’t back down from what he really thinks. But Kerry can continue to benefit from surrogates like Dean and Gore and Pelosi carrying the water in terms of beating up on Bush. Kerry’s latest ad is a very positive one….and that strategy of staying above the fray and letting others sling the mud is a very good one.
It’s still too early to unveil any bold policies. Did anyone pay attention to Kerry’s health care plan from a couple of weeks ago?
For now, Kerry should continue building up his organization, plot strategy, and keep his options open.
I think Kerry’s public stance on Iraq is actually fairly well calculated. The ugliest thing the Bushies have been saying about Kerry recently is that Al Qaeda somehow wants him to win; it’s likely that demonstrating any appreciable difference from Bush’s policy on the side of “exit strategy” will start getting the “Kerry=Al Qaeda” meme push-polled and pundited almost instantly. Remember the scariness of the opposition here: if they can even maybe get away with dirty attacks, they will, and Kerry is wise to avoid letting them have an opening.
In the words of the poet, “Too soon. Too soon.”
Kerry is doing just fine in stage one, but soon will need to make some strategic decisions about when the best time to notch things up significantly. He’s got three genuine opportunities to do so — none of them an option, as it’s all a question of “when” and not “what.”
1. The Convention and VP unveiling. I suspect these will happen within a few weeks of each other, giving Kerry a two-week or so window of solid coverage (assuming Bush doesn’t invade Cuba as a distraction). I think this is Kerry’s chance to frame himself, his Veep and the Dems in a high-level, cumulus cloud of positive vibes — reaching out to one America sort of thing.
2. The Republican Convention. Kerry can just take August off, since everyone is on vacation, the Olympics will dominate the airwaves and Bush will be mountain biking in Crawford. Also, Iraq will either be breaking apart (two months into transition and 130 degree heat with intermittent electricity). Coming off of the Republican Convention is when Kerry needs to begin taking the gloves off. Why then? Because Bush will have to articulate some clear and public positions for his base then, and those will be some ideal hooks for the Kerry team to position Kerry’s alternatives against. Moving earlier gives Bush a chance to reposition himself and his views.
3. October and the Debates. If Kerry spends the early summer giving off positive vibes, and the late summer demonstrating how Bush has fumbled America and specifically what John Kerry will do better or differently, then the debates will be when he’ll really need to land some punches. And October is when the swing voters are really going to begin to tune into the campaign.
Some unusually blunt criticism of the Bush campaign’s relationship to the truth on page 1, main section, of yesterday’s Washington Post:
“From Bush, Unprecedented Negativity
Scholars Say Campaign Is Making History With Often-Misleading Attacks
By Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei
In response to John’s post above, Kerry himself or his campaign can’t possibly respond to every false charge made against him. As his supporters we need to be aggressive about helping him when we are aware of bad information being circulated about him. We’ve known all along they’re going to lie, lie, and lie some more. Why would they stop now?
Don’t let those guys spook you. Remember that:
1. They lost the popular vote in 2000
2. They are not good at playing defense. They got where they are playiong offense, and it isn’t working as well as it used to.
3. They really are callow and reckless. The world is not cooperating with their fantasies.
4. Swing voters are inherently non-ideological. They care about results.
John Kerry does not lack charisma. He does not have the loose manliness that is Bush’s style, but he has a grave thoughtful formal style that is more old-fashioned but not that bad. He is dignified. In terms of narrative, Bush can be cast as the charming wastrel who gets us into trouble, and Kerry as the serious guy who isn’t fun, but can clean up the mess.
If Rove is such a genius, how come he couldn’t get moe votes that Gore, who ran a terrible campaign, and who was vice-president to a President who disgusted a lot of people (not just ‘wingers).
Fundamentally, Bush captued the nation’s heart in the aftermath of 9/11 with some excellent speeches, and he betrayed that trust by diverting oue rage at the 9/11 terrorists into an unrelated war of choice that is going badly. The story of the campaign is the story of the public’s realization of that betrayal.
No. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Kerry is not only NOT being “too cautious,” he’s not even being particularly cautious. Ruy, I expected better from you than to be hoodwinked by unnamed ‘Democrats close to Kerry.’ As you know very well, the single most popular activity of political nerds and wannabes (Democratic subspecies) in Washington is to complain about how prominent Democratic candidates are conducting their campaigns. In reality, it is code for either (a) (if the speaker is a Rep or higher) “I could do a better job and should be President”; or (b) (if the speaker is a hack) “The candidate didn’t hire me and doesn’t take my advice, and I know exactly what to do.” Just get over it, everyone. Maybe move out of Washington for a while. It’s nice out here.
Fact is, when people say that Kerry is “too cautious” on Iraq, what exactly do they mean? Think about it. This is what bothers regular voters about Washington. It’s as if substance is for losers, and therefore all that matters is strategy. The candidates’ thoughts on what to do not floating your boat? No problem! Change ’em! Well, what if what Kerry is saying is actually what he BELIEVES? Amazing, but it could actually be true! He might actually think that we are NOT better off running away and leaving Iraq to its own devices. And you know what, that’s precisely what the vast majority of the electorate thinks.
What’s so striking about these criticisms of Kerry on Iraq is that the (always unnamed) sources never say where exactly they want Kerry to shift. In fact, what “bold” alternatives are there other than “set a date and pull out the troops,” which would, IMO, be a disaster, both politically AND substantively, a sentiment Kerry evidently agrees with?
Liberals need to STOP, at long, long last, pretending that all Democrats are closet peaceniks, highly progressive social radicals, and class warriors, prevented from declaring their true beliefs only because they are afraid of being true to themselves. Just flat out false. John Kerry is actually a bit of a hawk on defense, very comfortable employing the military, a serious Catholic not much interested in gay rights, and solidly based in the wealthy class.
And besides all that, he’s doing better in the polls than any challenger at this point in recent history, perhaps ever. And that’s even given the fact that swing voters aren’t as negative on Bush as we all hope they are.
There’s your answer. Calm down and focus on something else for a while. Enjoy your Summer.
Kerry would not be able to implement an exit strategy until 7 months from know. The situation will be very different then in ways that cannot be anticipated now. Kerry does not have access to the intelligence and war gaming exercises hat are necessayr to make detaild plans for how to handle the situation.
Bush has adopted many of the proposals that Kerry made 12 months ago but he made the moves too late and has so alienated the rest of the world he is not able to make them succeed. Kerry should stress Bush’s incompetence and keep his options open.
Kerry is playing it right. Bush is in the headlines now, and all the news is bad. Why mess with that? Kerry has laid out some broad themes: “time for change”, that will wear well no matter how the handover in Iraq goes. I believe the administration is literally desparate for Kerry to step into the Iraq pile, so that they can shout “see, he doesn’t understand how things are!” Anything, anything to change the subject from how badly they’ve screwed up to how badly they think Kerry would screw up. Kerry is playing this right. Was it Lee Atwater that said, “never interfere when your opponent is hanging himself”? There’s plenty of time for Kerry to shout louder, but right now is not it.
I agree with the previous comment about “prevent” defenses. Almost all coaches use them to this day… and that’s because they work. Most of the time.
Nevertheless no one that I know uses a prevent defense to sit on a one point lead in the first quarter.
It is too early to go bold on Iraq. The reality is no one actually knows what the right answer is (I can tell you from sitting in Europe, that the Europeans are *not* going to have their boys dying alongside Americans in Iraq.. this will be the US’s problem to get out on its own, just like Vietnam).
And we are captive to events. Things might go better for Bush in the next few months in Iraq (I don’t believe so, but anything is possible). And it is very easy to get labelled the political opportunist.
The problem is very much that mister no-charisma John Kerry is not yet someone the voters believe in or trust. His speaking style is wooden at best, and the Republicans have already seeded doubts in the voters’ minds (about flip flopping, about voting against defence): this attack advertising will take a long time to come to fruition, but my bet is it will prove to be a (nearly) lethal slow acting poison.
For Kerry? He must keep on the attack and keep digging out the CV, and most of all he must make sure no charge goes unanswered on the net or in the media.
If he does win, it will because enough American voters remember him as the guy a Republican Vietnam vet named Jim Rasmussen embraced on screen, a guy who pulled a Green Beret out of a river in Vietnam (you can watch the video in Iowa of their meeting on the Kerry website).
The challenge for John Kerry will be to be, again, that guy, that man of courage, and to be remembered by Americans for it.
I still think this is an incredible long shot. Kerry has not enough charisma and too much history to take the White House. And the Chief of Staff on the other side is one Karl Rove, one of the greatest political minds of his generation.
But then, 3 months ago I thought the Democrats had no chance. And now, they might have 10% chance (more if Nader doesn’t run).
There is time – independents aren’t going to suddenly say in July, “Gosh .. I’m voting for Bush again because I just haven’t heard from that Kerry fellow yet.” They do not like Bush now, they will like Bush less in July, and when they hear from Kerry at the convention, they will give him the chance to lead.
Yes, Bush and Kerry have a similar Iraq strategy at the moment, but the idea that a Bush administration has the ability to internationalize Iraq, given the fact that they’ve spent much of the last three years maligning the international community, is laughable. It should be very simple for Kerry to make the case that if it can be done, he is the only candidate that can do it (indeed, Bush has already proven that he can not do it).
Kerry will get a nice bump after he introduces himself and his policies to the nation at the convention. He will likely come across as the wonky, serious, fair-minded person he is which will contrast sharply with the fantasy Bush has constructed of Kerry (and given the fact that the media is paying attention to Bush’s campaign lies this time, the lies won’t stick like they did to Gore).
And right now, independents aren’t looking for a President they can have a beer and chop wood with. They want a serious, thoughtful person to get them the hell out of this mess.
My big worry is how candidate and substance will interact with each other. Yes, this election might be winnable with a cautious strategy. But it seems like caution would play into Kerry’s worst tendencies. It would make him less declarative and more circumlocatious, less like an inspiring leader and more like a passionless fuddy duddy. Voters might prefer the cautious policy, but they’ll balk at voting for a cautious, diffident man.
Your analysis is fundamentally correct, but it is a question of timing. It is too soon to go bold on Iraq (but not on a general vision for the country). Events are too fluid. The time is certainly after June 30, most probably around the time of the convention, or even August, when it may be harder to get coverage. What Kerry needs to do now is to be sure that he doesn’t take positions that will make his eventual exit strategy look like a flip flop. He needs to study the views of people like George Kennan and others on the Vietnam War and the virtues of cutting ones losses. My only worry is that Bush beats him to the punch.
Agreed with frankly0. Time is on Kerry’s side and a bold Iraq plan at this point would show incompetence. ( My original advice was to have a major speech denouncing Chalabi, back when he was still receiving US funds[narrow, seems specific, obvious, and points out several of Bush’s glaring incompetencies], but alas, it is too late now).
Kerry needs to speak boldly about Iraq, about the great struggles we have conquered with the American spirit, and point out how Bush is failing on those lines, but offer nothing specific until at least two weeks after the june 30 hand-off– probably two weeks after that, and his message should depend on his VP (if it were Clark, he would be nominating him because “we need an administration that is serious about solving the problems in Iraq and getting our troops home to their families.” If it is Edwards, let Edwards do the PR about how this is the campaign aligned with the troops, and the (R)s are the party aligned with those that have made the mistakes in planning (Chalabi, Cheney, Wolfiwitz, Haliburton, “Big corporations”).
Kerry should have an Iraq plan, he has taken positions on Iraq, he’s given the impression of having a plan (remember the TV spot that began “Let me tell you exactly what I would do”?) and he will have a complete Iraq plan– but NOT YET. Stage two hasn’t started, and Bush is still making own-goals (to switch the sport analogy); what Kerry needs now (to switch the analogy again) is to run the clock a bit and avoid turnovers.
Several precepts apply, and they have to be reconciled:
1. Don’t attack an opponent that is committing suicide.
2. Nobody is going to trust a party to defend the nation when it won’t defend itself. I think this applies equally to candidates.
3. The Republican “Mighty Wurlitzer” is still alive and powerful. Any mis-step — or even apparent misstep — or even MANUFACTURED misstep is going to be echoed over and over again until it becomes truth. The current focus of this is to conflate National security with House of Bush security.
4. Because Kerry has to accept the nomination at the convention, there is a window in time where Bush can raise/spend money and he can’t. That window must be carefully managed.
Even though Kerry seems to be pulling ahead and Bush’s web of lies is catching up to him, this situation is going to take a master strategist and nerves of steel. If he does it, it will be the single biggest indicator that he is fit for the job.
I don’t think Kerry can afford to go bold on Iraq until after June 30, in any case. The situation is still in flux and will be until the election, and anything you say now could be completely irrelevant and completely wrong by the time we hand over “power” at the end of the month.
We’ve just seen the IGC not only pick their own man to take over, but they’ve also disbanded themselves spontaneously. Kerry could have made any number of statements about the future government of Iraq last week that this morning would make him look completely out of touch (much like the Bush administration does on a daily basis).
If I were Kerry I wouldn’t go bold on Iraq until September and October, when there’s less time for things to change in Iraq before the election.
One interesting thing about the way that this election is shaping up is that it is much more following the rhythms of previous Presidential elections than one might have expected early this year.
When the Dem primaries were proceeding in earnest, it seemed that there would be a vigorous back and forth between Bush and Kerry that would start, unnaturally, in March and continue mostly unabated until the election. Instead, Kerry has mostly receded to the background while the overwhelming bad news for Bush has dominated the scene — not terribly different from the final year of the Bush I and Carter Presidencies. For Kerry, I think this has got to be a good thing, not least because it allows him the time as the challenger, which was standard in previous elections, to think through his message and organize his now, quite suddenly massive, campaign.
My sense of Kerry is not that he expects or plans to play it safe, and is in anything like a “prevent defense” mode, but rather that he is planning to play the game as the situation demands. There is little point in exposing NOW what his moves will be, or even in settling on a definitive approach that will be used come what may. What is infinitely more sensible is to put together a RANGE of options, which may be used depending on how real events and the election itself plays out.
The crucial thing for Kerry is to settle on, and work the bugs out of various kinds of “bold” moves that can readily be deployed if the situation in Iraq, or in the election, seems to demand them. It would indeed be rather foolish of Kerry to come out with a bold plan now that might in the light of certain kinds of events, be rendered obsolete or wrongheaded. The final commitment to a plan, bold or not, should wait until the latest possible date at which promoting it will work politically.
Of course there is still time. This is where the timing of the convention works out in Kerry’s favor. With eyes turned to the convention, THEN is the time for the bold ideas on Iraq or the struggle against terrorists. By that time, most will have had time to decide to fire Bush and Kerry will have a perfect stage to reach a huge portion of the electorate. For many, I think this will be the first real look at Kerry (since they’ve been paying attention to Bush and his faults) for all this time and it will be Kerry’s chance to WOW them with his ideas. This will give Kerry a base to start with and pound on the idea for a month to help counter any Bush-bounce from HIS convention…. if he’s even on the ballot.
This is somewhat off-topic, but I think Kerry will “fill in the blanks” a bit once he announces his running mate. It is clearly a big, risky decision that will determine what sort of candidate he is and what platform he will be running on.
For your interest, WaPo has a nice “Veep-O-Matic 2004” webpage listing 29 candidates [ http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/elections/2004/veepomatic.htm ] as well as their pros and cons in the following areas:
From a Battleground State
Live or Work Outside the Beltway
National Campaign Experience
Foreign and National Security Expertise
So who is the most accomplished vice prez candidate? Wesley Clark (9 points, out of a possible 14), followed by Bob Kerrey (8 points); Dick Gephardt, Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla) , Carol Moseley Braun(!) (all 7 points); Howard Dean, John Edwards and Gov. Bill Richardson (all six points).
Of course, not all factors are equally important — I think “congressional experience” won’t be a problem if Kerry is elected! I reckon Gen. Clark is still tops if the factors are weighted a bit, though.
The Kerry VP selection committee must make some difficult strategic choices here. If it was up to me, I would shortlist Clark, Edwards, Gephardt — with Dean and Graham as long shots. Kerrey’s problem is he comes from Nebraska which is going to vote “Shrub” no matter what. The problem with Dean is his strong anti-war position (although not exactly as “out of touch” with mainstream Americans as it was half a year ago) simply isn’t compatible with Kerry’s position. Gephardt is the safest choice if the strategy is to focus on getting out the labor vote in the Midwest, but he isn’t exactly a flashy running mate. Clark would be perfect if this election ends up being about Iraq, except he too has a reputation for flip-flopping and he in not an experienced politician. Graham would not be a sufficiently inspiring campaigner. The great tragedy is Edwards, who probably would add some much-needed flash to the Kerry campaign. I would love to have him on the ticket, but his strengths and weaknesses (lack of experience) probably would highlight Kerry’s flaws rather than help conceal them.
Bottom line? I think it’s Clark vs. Gephardt. I would wait until the party convention in Boston before making the selection.
my belief like yours from beginning that Kerry must win this election. Yes, Bush will continue to face problems in Iraq but at some moment, the violence will die down or Bush will try and/or trying as we speak to negotiate deals with Shias, Sunnis, etc..in order to stop the violence in time for the election.
For example, by supporting Isreal like Bush , Kerry could lose Arabs votes in MI, OH. Kerry could also lose hispanic votes in NM, FL, AZ if he is too careful.
Bush’s negative ads have hurt Kerry but Kerry does not want to respond. I do not trust Kerry’s advisers. but ultimately, the candidate has to close the deal so it is up to Kerry. I am hoping to see the antiwar-kerry who speak with convictions and from the heart.
I’ve watched enough football to realize that prevent-defenses always look scary, they always look like you’re allowing the losing side to catch up, they always look like you’re holding back. Sometimes, sometimes, they don’t pay off. And even when they do, it’s never as satisfying as a good old whomping of the other side, a pumping-your-fist-in-the-air victory.
However, usually they work, and they are smart, if not so satisfying. Essentially, why even out the odds with the opposition, give them a shot to get back in the game, when the momentum and time are on your side, when it is the other guy who has to take big low-odds risks to even things up.
When Bush has this much ‘splainin’ to do–e.g., 81 KIA in May–why give him a chance to change the subject?
Besides Kerry is saying something. He’s saying that he has calm, non-hysterical, steady wisdom, that we can trust him to keep us safe while he steers us out of the whirlwind we’ve been in for the last 4 years.