Sunday, February 01, 2004

John F. Kompromise

How does supporting George W. Bush 75% of the time foster real change in America? Voters rushing to embrace John Kerry's 'electability' must consider if good hair, a few unthrown ribbons, and a mausoleum mannerism can overcome Kerry's consistent support for major aspects of Bush's legislative and foreign policy agendas. Do voters really want a slightly less reckless version of the status quo? Kerry, the largest recipient of special interest contributions in the Senate, whose Presidential campaign is fueled largely by $2000 donations, not to mention his personal 6 million dollar life preserver, is certainly not going to demand significant changes in the role of special interest money and wealth in American politics. He's better intentioned and more honorable than Bush, no doubt about it, but he owes his place, and his fealty, to the same interests. Do we really want an election between the Moderate and Right wings of the Skull and Bones party?

John Kerry, with his establishment credentials, his newly purloined populist message, and his 3 point lead over Bush in early polling, seems to many likely to deliver the White House back into Democratic hands. But recall the drubbing that Dean absorbed over his few short months as the front-runner, and consider how Kerry will stand up to such scrutiny of his voting record, finances, personal life, and character. Kerry's only response to Dean lastest salvo regarding independent reports about Kerry's methods of funding his campaigns was to make an ad hominem attack on Dean, rehashing old charges about his time as Governor of Vermont, and to claim that he viewed all donations as individual donations, incapable of influencing him; such a beligerent response and transparent sophistry are sure signs that Kerry hasn't any real defense. Kerry has only begun to be tested and already the cracks in his craggy facade are hard to ignore.

Johnny F*** Kerry's main appeal is that he is a great compromise. He seems a good way to split the difference and hedge bets to many Democratic voters. He may not be a four star general, but he is a war hero, and as a hedge he's got some political experience. He may not be honey-tongued Southerner, but he is an elegant, if sometimes magniloquent, orator, and as a hedge he's got a number of years in the Senate and a Lieutenant Governorship under his belt. He may not be a flinty, rip-snorting New England reformer with a record of executive success who's out to transform American politics, but he is pretty darn flinty, and he can talk the talk, even if he can't walk the walk, and as a hedge he seems unquestionably stable and unthreatening.

By dint of his 'good enough' combination of attributes, Kerry becomes the guy that most Democrats can agree is 'good enough' to take out Bush. This primary season is shaping up to be much more of a recall election for Bush, than a nomination for a Democratic President. The bandwagon effect and the 'electability' perception are trumping all issues and all substantive qualities of the candidates. Anyone who is 'good enough' to do the job will get it. Just as Arnold's media profile and showmanship were judged by voters to be 'good enough' to overcome Grey Davis' incumbency, regardless of the fact that he had no real agenda, Kerry's split-the-difference attributes are held to be 'good enough' by voters to take down the W.

The problem with acting as if this process were a recall is the time frame involved. In a recall, the time frame is so short that the normal deliberative process is cut off. The audition and the performance are one in the same show. In a recall, the guy who advertises most convincingly to be the right guy for the job, is the best guy. There is no time to kick the tires, do the due diligence, and read the Consumer Reports articles. There is no time for the target of the recall to mount oppo on his challenger, because he hasn't any clear idea who it will be.

In the general election things are different. The W has months and millions to pour into oppo. Voters have months to decide whether they like a candidate and his policies. The media has months to pick apart a candidate and magnify every pimple into a molehill, and thence into a mountain, and finally into a mountain range.

The press has long since decided they don't like Kerry, only they've set aside their earlier judgments in favor of horse race coverage. Voters long since decided that Kerry didn't wear well, only many new voters, as yet unfamiliar with Kerry's less savory traits, are now flooding into the process and making Kerry the front-runner by dint of the very same superficial characteristics that made him front-runner originally. My fear is that during the long slog of the general election, under fire from the GOP's blazing guns, the media and the voters will rediscover all those judgments about Kerry that they've already made. Too late, voters may discover that rather than betting on 'electability' as if this were a recall sprint, they should have chosen the candidate with the most substantive policies, the toughest mind, and the most indomitable spirit, to carry the torch to Marathon

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