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Justifications for backing Kerry fall flat


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Justifications for backing Kerry fall flat

October 31, 2004


Reading the media "endorsements" of John Kerry is like having lunch with a woman who wants to tell you about her great new boyfriend. She spends seven-eighths of the time bitching about the old boyfriend -- cocky, hot-headed, insensitive, never wants to listen, never gonna change -- and in the remaining few minutes tries to come up with the new guy's good points:

"Mr. Kerry himself is not a compelling candidate. But this year he offers a --"


"-- a respite, a pause for reappraisal."

That's The Economist, pining for a quiet night in.

"What the Republicans tar as waffling strikes us as --"

Hmm. What is le mot juste?

"-- flexibility."

That's my Sun-Times colleagues, looking for a man they -- or, at any rate, Jacques Chirac and Kofi Annan -- can mold.

"According to the Almanac of American Politics, Kerry is 'more respectful of economic free markets' and more inclined to an expansionist foreign policy than --"

Than Ronald Reagan?

"-- than other liberal Democrats."

Oh, well. That's the Des Moines Register, arguing that he doesn't seem like a wimp and a loser if you put him in a room full of even bigger wimps and losers.

"We have misgivings about Kerry's ability to connect with ordinary people. We were frustrated by his long-winded explanations --"


"His zigs and zags reflect his digestion of new information and his arrival at new insights." Honestly, sighs the Virginian Pilot, he only comes over like a snooty windbag because he's so much smarter than us.

"Mr. Kerry's description of the war as a 'diversion' does not inspire confidence in his determination to see it through. But Mr. Kerry has repeatedly pledged not to cut and run from Iraq --"

You're right, says the Washington Post, he has a commitment problem, but we'll work that out after the wedding.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan in the New Republic sounds like some blousy torch singer sitting atop the piano in a Jazz Age cabaret doing one of those laundry-list songs ruefully adumbrating her lover's faults: "His record is undistinguished, and where it stands out, mainly regrettable. He intuitively believes that if a problem exists, it is the government's job to fix it. He has far too much faith in international institutions, like the corrupt and feckless U.N., in the tasks of global management. He got the Cold War wrong. He got the first Gulf War wrong --"

If he were Jane Monheit on her excellent new CD, he'd conclude:

"I love him because he's --

I don't know --

Because he's just my Bill."

But, in this case, the point seems to be:

"I love him because he's --

I don't know --

Because he's just not Bush."

Sullivan's big idea is that the best way to force the Democrats to get serious about the war is to put them in charge of it. That's a helluva leap of faith -- and, in John Kerry's case, it's at odds with a 30-year track record of not being serious on the Cold War, Grenada, Central America, the first Gulf War, etc. As Dr. Laura would advise, you should never marry a man in hopes of reforming him.

In that respect, the Qaqaagate story is fascinating. What happened and when in Saddam's al-Qaqaa facility is somewhat murky. Had the shameless gang at "60 Minutes" had their way, the missing explosives story would have aired 36 hours before the polls opened, with no time for anybody to put the alternative to the Bush incompetence scenario -- i.e., that the stuff was moved to Syria before the war began. But never mind that. And never mind that the source for this story is a discredited U.N. official, Mohammed el-Baradei, on whose watch the IAEA not only missed entirely Libya's WMD program but has proved remarkably accommodating of Iran's.

Forget all that. The main problem with this story is that it makes no sense in terms of the Democrats' own narrative. For a year and a half, they've told us there were no WMD, Saddam wasn't a threat, and "BUSH LIED!!!!!!!!!" about it all. I happen to disagree with that, but there's no doubt that simply by hammering it home all day and night the Dems had some effect. Now they're saying whoa, let's back up, yes, as it happens, these non-existent weapons that Bush lied about the non-threatening Saddam having he did, in fact, have -- and that fool Bush let the non-existent weapons get away.

My version of this story -- they were smuggled out to Syria pre-invasion -- fits the Bush view of the war. But Kerry's version of this story undermines the Kerry view of the war -- or, at any rate, the most recent Kerry view of the war. That's the best clue as to the resolve he'd show as President: He has no internal conviction of his own, and so his campaign has run on incoherent reflex oppositionism, as, indeed, his Senate career has -- if America had followed the positions advocated by John Kerry, there would have been no Reagan arms build-up, and the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact would have lingered on, and their clients in Grenada would have destabilized the rest of the Caribbean, and Latin America would not have been democratized, and Saddam Hussein would still be in power and still controlling Kuwait. Kerry's lovebirds at the Washington Post et al. are dreaming of a transformation in their unlovely swain that would be at odds not just with his last three decades but with his last three weeks.

It's only a day or so now till the chad-dangling round of Campaign 2004 begins but, when the lawsuits are over and the bloodletting begins, serious Democrats need to confront the intellectual emptiness of their party, which Kerry's campaign embodies all too well. The Dems got a full tank from FDR, a top-up in the Civil Rights era, and they've been running on fumes for 30 years. Their last star, Bill Clinton, has no legacy because, deft as he was, his Democratic Party had no purpose other than as a vehicle for promoting his own indispensability. When he left, the Democrats became a party running on personality with no personalities to run. Hence, the Kerry candidacy. Despite the best efforts of American editorialists, there's no there there.


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