Sunday, May 09, 2004

Kerry's Campaign Strategy

From a recent conversation with a friend at Historians for Peace. I thought that the exchange was a seminal one for many who are considering Kerry for President, and might be of general interest:

Friend: "If [Kerry] does [believe we should withdraw from Iraq], how much [more] horrific that he opts to give lip service in 2004 to the agenda of the present, delusional leadership in DC! Until he declares against the war, he's not only useless to the movement, but any energy spent electing him will just be pointless, for, even if he wins, he will have a mandate to be nothing different than the current administration."

Me: "I feel the same frustration with the Kerry camp. I really do not hold out hope that Kerry will change his position, however, even if he does privately feel that withdrawl is the wisest course at the moment - at least not before the election. Kerry is triangulating for the center and betting the Bush Administration will implode before the election. Thus he is running with, instead of against, key Bush positions on national security, most particularly Iraq, and hoping people will trust him to execute policy more skillfuly; not a vain hope given Bush's record compared to Kerry's c.v..

"Kerry also knows that those of us to the 'left' on national security find him more credible than Bush, and that many will vote for him hoping he will adopt more liberal policies upon being elected. I myself share that hope. The resentment of Bush among Democrats is such that, even though Kerry is not the first choice of many, and most are not terribly excited by him (I'm guilty of both), we will turn out heavily nonetheless to get rid of Bush; again, not a vain hope. Kerry also expects to find many disgruntled cross-over voters and greater acceptance among independents than Bush; both expectations are confirmed by polling. To ensure these voters are turning out for him, he thinks he needs to stand an inch to the left of Bush on Iraq, because support for the war is highest among these voters of any who could reasonably be expected to vote for him. What Clinton did on domestic issues in '92, and even more so in '96, Kerry expects to do on national security in '04. It is an effective strategy, but whether it is in the long term interest of maintaining a healthy and vibrant Democratic party is a troubling question. It isn't the sort of question that many Democrats will be asking themselves, however; they just want to be shut of the Shrub.

"If I am right about all of this, then it is almost inevitable that Kerry will designate Wes Clark as his running mate. Wes inspires excitement and devotion among conservative Democrats, independents, and moderate Republicans like no other Democrat. He brings a considerable number of votes to the ticket. He has his own donor base, which likely is not completely co-extensive with Kerry's. He is from the south and may be able to deliver AK, and possibly other electoral prizes. He is a retired General and has unique credibility on the subject of Iraq and matters of war, having personally run one as theatre commander in Bosnia. There is no better pick for a Democratic ticket running in what viewed as essentially a national security referendum on the President's performance.

"Kerry's camp thinks that he can't win as an 'anti-war' candidate because their view of this election as a national security referrendum. They may be right, they may be wrong; I'm not sure. Certainly, they think they would have to undo 3 years of skillful and frighteningly effective Bush propaganda in the span of just 6 months to ensure victory. They know the campaign is not up to such a challenge; the campaign hasn't the resources to mount such an extensive deprogramming of a frightened America without the bully pulpit of the Presidency. So, perhaps his position is venal, perhaps it is just political realism of a man very determined to be elected President, no matter what. I don't think he wants LBJ's fate, which he surely knows lurks behind an extended occupation of Iraq. I still hold out hope that all is not as it seems in the Kerry camp, and that the Senator is playing his cards very close to his chest and bluffing for all he's worth.

"One thing I am certain of, the peace movement needs to build a more visible elite constituency in the center and right of the political spectrum to speak for and press for withdrawl as a superior policy choice once Kerry takes office. Those people are out there; I've spoken with Preble of the Cato Institute's Coalition for a Rational Foreign Policy and he thinks that support for withdrawl is definitely on the upswing on the moderate right. Kerry will have to deal intimately with a Republican Congress and will need support from at least moderate Republicans if withdrawl is to be viable politically without fatal backlash. Nor can we wait for Kerry to come around if withdrawl is not already on his mind, there should be a recognizable umbrella organization to press the issue from day 1. I think an open letter is a good place to start organizing the broad support for a withdrawl policy that already exists and to make withdrawl part of 'the debate', but it needs to attract major media attention to fully disseminate the message and rally supporters."

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