Friday, July 30, 2004
Mickey Kaus liked the speech, basically. I can't decide if that's good or bad. So far as I can tell, Kaus's read on the election is: (1) Kerry is horrible, the worst candidate the Democrats could have reasonably come up with; (2) But he's a Democrat, so I want him to win; (3) Since I can't stand him, and I already know I want to vote Democrat, the way to make me more comfortable holding my nose is not to remind me overmuch who the candidate is; (4) Therefore, I think the best strategy is for Kerry to say nothing, do nothing, in fact barely show himself. Let Bush's negatives win the election for us.
Is this the only way Kerry can win? Maybe. But it's premised on two things: that the electorate has already rejected a second Bush term as unacceptable, and that they are comfortable entrusting the Presidency to the Democrats. I'm not convinced either sale is closed yet. And I don't see how Kerry closes the sale by presenting a "small target."
The 2000 election seemed to a lot of people like the 1960 election, with Gore cast as Nixon and Bush as Kennedy. The more I think about this election, the more it seems like a replay of 1976 - with Bush as Ford and Kerry as Carter. (And I'm not just saying that because Bush's cabinet sometimes seems to be composed entirely of Ford Administration veterans.) Bush, like Ford, is in a structurally stronger position but has an albatross around his neck (Nixon's resignation and pardon for Ford; Iraq for Bush.) Carter, like Kerry, was relatively unknown and tried to stay that way, and neither Carter nor Kerry was much liked by his party. (They were also both veterans who used their military experience as a kind of signifier of foreign policy toughness that was belied by many of their actual policy positions.)
Carter won in 1976, of course. But it was a very close thing.
The best way for Kerry to win might well be stealth. It may be that *nothing* he says or does can reassure the country as to what kind of President he'd be, so the best thing he can do is let the country try to fill in the picture with their hopes, and count on anti-Bush sentiment to carry him into the White House. But if that's Kerry's *best* hope then that's just another argument that this election is Bush's to lose - still, and regardless of what the polls say.
Finally: I am surprised Kaus wasn't more disturbed by the paleo-liberal cast of the domestic policy message. Personally, I think Kerry has no plans to be Lyndon Johnson any more than he has plans to be Bill Clinton. He doesn't intend to be a paleo-liberal government-expander or a neo-liberal government-reformer. He intends to do *nothing* about *anything.* He'll defend the status quo in terms of entitlements and so forth, and do nothing to reform them, but he'll also do nothing to expand them. But even this should be a disappointment for Kaus, and Kerry's rhetoric is more paleo-liberal than that even, which should disappoint him more. Why doesn't he comment much on that aspect? Probably because he's now in the mode of convincing himself that Kerry's cause is (a) not lost; (b) worth supporting even if he can win.