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Jewish World Review May 4, 2004 / 13 Iyar, 5764

John H. Fund

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Buyer's Remorse: Dems start to worry that Kerry can't win | It's six months until the election, and Democrats are already having buyer's remorse. The Bush campaign "is kicking Kerry's ass every damn day," one prominent Democratic operative told the Washington Post last week. "Kerry hasn't owned one day in the news yet. Not one day!"

Some liberals are so frantic that they want to pull the plug. Village Voice columnist James Ridgeway says prominent Democrats should "sit down with the rich and arrogant presumptive nominee and try to persuade him to take a hike" and withdraw. Call that the Torricelli option, after the former New Jersey senator who was muscled out of the race by party elders.

That's not going to happen. First, John Forbes Kerry has wanted to be president ever since he hung around the Kennedy family compound as a teenager. He's not going to let any of the same pooh-bahs who only last December wrote him off as a primary contender drive him from the race now. Second, Mr. Kerry's convention delegates are loyal to him and not easily transferable. There was similar grumbling about dumping Bill Clinton in the summer of 1992 when he was running third in polls behind both George Bush and Ross Perot. Nothing came of it.

But that doesn't mean that the worries about John Kerry's electability are going away. Time magazine columnist Joe Klein says Mr. Kerry is "engulfed by the sort of people Howard Dean railed against: timid congressional Democratic staff members and some of the old Clinton crowd. . . . Kerry's may be the most sclerotic presidential campaign since Bob Dole's." Ouch.

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Complaints about Mr. Kerry extend beyond his staff. John Weaver, who was strategist for John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign before he became a Democrat, calls Mr. Kerry's TV skills "abysmal. . . . I don't know if it's a stream of consciousness or stream of unconsciousness." MSNBC's Chris Matthews, who has lavished airtime on Mr. Kerry, is nonetheless frustrated with his elliptical speech patterns. "There's no such thing as a trick question with Kerry, because he won't answer it," he sighs. "We'll be having conversations afterward, and it's hard to get to him even then."

The few times that Mr. Kerry decides to abandon his nuanced reserve and programmed responses he can become argumentative and hectoring. ABC's Charlie Gibson asked him last Monday on "Good Morning America" to reconcile his inconsistent stories about whether he had flung his medals or merely his combat ribbons over the White House fence during a 1971 antiwar protest . After Mr. Gibson pointed out that he had covered the demonstration and had personally seen Mr. Kerry throwing medals away, the candidate replied: "Charlie, Charlie, you're wrong! That is not what happened. I threw my ribbons across. And all you have to do is go back and find the file footage." He then lapsed into incoherence.

Vaughn Ververs, the editor of the political newsletter Hotline, says Mr. Kerry's weak performances have led to "a good deal of hand-wringing among Democrats over the perception that one of Kerry's biggest strengths--his military service--seems to have become a liability."

One reason is that he began his presidential race talking far too much about Vietnam. My colleague James Taranto points out that in a December 2002 interview with NBC's Tim Russert, Mr. Kerry managed to work Vietnam into an answer about the death penalty. Robert Sam Anson, a Kerry friend who first met him during that same antiwar protest at which Mr. Kerry burst onto the national scene in 1971, concludes that Mr. Kerry is suffering from a desire to "explain away, deny, revise, trim or flat-out lie about all past events, beliefs and statements that got you the Democratic nomination in the first place. It happened to another friend of mine in 1972. His name was George McGovern. . . . See what happens when you ignore what Mother said about fibbing? No one's saying that Mr. Kerry's cooked. But McGovern parallels give him a toasted look he didn't get skiing in Sun Valley."

Liberals know they are stuck with Mr. Kerry, but that's not preventing them from worrying about his tendency to appear to take both sides of an issue. The irony is that Mr. Kerry has wanted the White House so badly, and for so long, that he has become almost a caricature of an opportunistic, programmed candidate. The resulting image turns off many voters who sense that not much is motivating him beyond blind ambition. For example, many voters may not feel comfortable with Mr. Bush's religious impulses and motivations, but they highlight the image he conveys of a sincere, committed leader.

It is traditional for party activists to grumble about their prospective nominee between the time he wraps up the primaries and when he is actually nominated. But the doubts about Mr. Kerry go beyond campaign kvetching. At times, they seem to verge on quiet panic.

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04/27/04: Arlen Specter's personality helps make him vulnerable in today's primary
04/20/04: Arnold Schwarzenegger thinks making laws should be a part-time job. He's right
03/23/04: Bragging of foreign support doesn't win many votes in America
03/16/04: The Vanishing Center: In both political parties, the defense of moderation is no virtue
03/09/04: A JFK-NBC Ticket? If Kerry wants to make things interesting, he'll consider Tom Brokaw for veep
03/02/04: As Virginia mulls a tax hike, all Americans should guard their wallets
02/24/04: Marriage of Inconvenience: Why same-sex nuptials make Democrats nervous
02/10/04: Republican Rot: Is Congress's GOP majority becoming as corrupt as the Democrats were?
02/03/04: Moore Trouble: Alabama's former chief justice may challenge Bush for the Religious Right vote
01/13/04: Rage of a Relic: Paul O'Neill is angry that the world has passed him by
01/06/04: Unintended Consequence: How Terry McAuliffe and James Carville created Howard Dean
09/03/03: The Anti-Dean: Why Hillary opposes the Democratic front-runner
06/27/03: The California jurist who may replace Justice O'Connor
06/02/03: Clinton the Hoover: Bill, Hillary and the Dems' political vacuum
05/27/03: Nerd Nirvana: Students are to the right of the faculty even at the U of Chicago
05/16/03: GOPers gain in the land of Humphrey and Mondale
04/28/03: With the war won, it's time for Bush to master the Senate
04/04/03: Is "diversity" on campus even a goal worth pursuing?
03/05/03: Sunday morning with the BBC
02/28/03: Shut Up, They Explained: If you can censor this, thank a teacher
02/21/03: Unmitigated Gaul: Saddam isn't the only dictator with whom Jacques Chirac is cozy
02/18/03: Growing number of black officials breaking ranks by calling for a more honest approach to race relations
01/31/03: Half and Half: Republicans have achieved parity among American voters
11/11/02: Sobering Thoughts: The GOP's cup runneth over? No, it's half empty
10/31/02: Blue Gray: California's governor answers a Nobel Prize winner with obscenities
10/14/02: Bad Hair Day: Did Montana Dems exploit antigay prejudice?
10/11/02: The kill-everything senate
09/30/02: Schroeder did what it took to win--but at what cost to Germany?
08/22/02: Buh-Bye Bob, So Long Cynthia : No amount of shouting could've saved Barr or McKinney
07/29/02: GOP: Get Over Panic --- Dems are vulnerable on corporate scandals, too
07/17/02: Not Just an Average Joe: A black GOPer may give Rep. Eliot Engel a run for his money
07/15/02: The McCain Mutiny-II
07/01/02: Opening the Schoolhouse Door: The politicians can't stop school choice now
06/20/02: The Body' Bows Out --- American politics will be duller without Jesse Ventura
06/06/02: It's time for President Bush to stand up to California's senators
05/16/02: A Court Intrigue: Procedural funny business in a racial-preference case
05/14/02: Thin moral ice: New revelations from a skater's Stasi files recall an oppressive era
05/09/02: Newark, Zimbabwe!?
05/02/02: Will Terror Leave Us No Choice? Teachers unions try to use Sept. 11 as an excuse for bad schools
04/23/02: The New Nixon? Al Gore plots his comeback
04/16/02: 'I, Uh, I Have No Comment': A union plays dirty in opposing an antitax initiative
03/31/02: Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!: Filibusters can help the Senate GOP get things done
03/14/02: Red-Light District: It's time to draw the line on gerrymandering
02/21/02: Slippery Slope: Can Dick Riordan beat California's Democratic governor?
02/14/02: Reform School: The Shays-Meehan incumbency protection act
02/07/02: Arizona Highway Robbery: Politicians make a grab for campaign cash
01/31/02: Disfranchise Lassie: Even dogs can register to vote. We need election reform with teeth
01/17/02: Dr. King's Greedy Relations: Cashing in on a national hero's legacy
01/10/02: Oil of Vitriol
01/04/02: The little engine that couldn't--and the senators who don't want it to
12/24/01: E-mail and low-cost computers could be conduits for a learning revolution
12/13/01: How Gore could have really won
12/07/01: Let our students keep their cell phones
12/04/01: Why the White House gave the RNC chairman the boot
11/12/01: A Winsome Politician: She won an election in a majority-black district--and she's a Republican
11/01/01: Bush Avoids Politics at His Peril
10/30/01: Cocked Pit: Armed pilots would mean polite skies
10/24/01: Chicken Pox: Hardly anyone has anthrax, but almost everyone has anthrax anxiety
10/11/01: Will Rush Hear Again? New technology may make it possible
10/04/01: Three Kinds of pols
08/24/01: Lauch Out: Who'll replace Jesse Helms?
08/08/01: Tome Alone: Clinton's book will probably end up on the remainder table
08/03/01: Of grubbing and grabbing: Corporation$ and local government$ perfect "public use"
07/31/01: Affairs of State: The Condit case isn't just about adultery. It's about public trust and national security
07/14/01: The First Amendment survives, and everyone has someone to blame for the failure of campaign reform
07/12/01: He's Still Bread: Despite what you've heard, Gary Condit isn't toast --- yet
07/12/01: Passing Lane: Left-wing attacks help boost John Stossel's and Brit Hume's audiences
06/25/01: Man vs. Machine: New Jersey's GOP establishment is doing everything it can to stop Bret Schundler
06/15/01: A Schundler Surprise? Don't count out "the Jack Kemp of New Jersey"
06/06/01: Memo to conservatives: Ignore McCain and maybe he'll go away
05/29/01: Integrity in Politics? Hardly. Jim Jeffords is no Wayne Morse
05/22/01: Davis' answer to California's energy crisis? Hire a couple of Clinton-Gore hatchet men
05/07/01: Prematurely declaring a winner wasn't the networks' worst sin in Florida
04/23/01: How to fix the electoral process --- REALLY!
04/11/01: A conservative hero may mount a California comeback
03/30/01: Can the GOP capture the nation's most closely balanced district?
03/09/01: Terminated
03/06/01: Leave well enough alone
02/22/01: Forgetting our heroes
02/15/01: In 1978 Clinton got a close look at the dangers of selling forgiveness
02/12/01: Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology
02/06/01: How Ronald Reagan changed America
01/16/01: Why block Ashcroft? To demoralize the GOP's most loyal voters
01/15/01: Remembering John Schmitz, a cheerful extremist
12/29/00: Why are all Dems libs pickin' on me?
Dubya's 48% mandate is different than Ford's
12/13/00: Gore would have lost any recount that passed constitutional muster
11/13/00: The People Have Spoken: Will Gore listen?
10/25/00: She's really a Dodger
09/28/00: Locking up domestic oil?
09/25/00: Hillary gives new meaning to a "woman with a past"
09/21/00: Ignore the Polls. The Campaign Isn't Over Yet

©2001, John H. Fund